Hartford Funds New Administrative Post 

White River Junction — The Selectboard decided to fund an assistant town manager and two other positions at its Tuesday night meeting, potentially paving the way for someone to aid Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg in Hartford’s daily operations.

The board added $106,000 of expenses to pay for an assistant town manager as well as human resources and information technology personnel that would be shared between the town and school district. Of that amount, $60,000 is earmarked for the latter two positions. The remainder would pay for about half of the assistant town manager’s annual salary because the position wouldn’t be filled until halfway through the upcoming fiscal year.

“I feel pretty strongly that this is one of those situations where we need to make a commitment to get this job fitted out and filled up,” Selectboard Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn said. “We’re only adding more things to the plate of the executive in this town, and my own personal observation is that we are absolutely stretched to the limit.”

The move to fund the positions and add personnel comes at the same time Reiseberg is seeking to save at least $90,000 annually in the budget by eliminating the job of police chief and appointing a newly-created “public safety director,” who would oversee the administrative functions of both the police and fire departments.

Selectman Simon Dennis, who supported the additions, said that much of Rieseberg’s job amounts to “triage” of town business that results in “certain crucial aspects of the role of town manager not being completed, or not being completed as well as we’d all like to see it happen.”

“Putting this job in the budget is, to some extent, investing in the development of our town,” Dennis said.

Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker, another supporter, said he had been an advocate of appointing an assistant town manager for the past three years, and as time goes on the potential for a “succession plan” becomes more and more important.

After a 45-minute discussion, the board voted 4-2 in favor of the move. Selectman Sam Romano voted against it because he wasn’t convinced of the necessity of a human resources position for the town. Selectman Alex DeFelice, though in favor of having an assistant town manager, maintained that the budget for fiscal year 2014 is too tight to put it in place.

“Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to see these positions filled, I don’t agree with it,” DeFelice said.

Though some board members expressed concern around the lack of clarity in how the HR and IT positions might be implemented — they ultimately may not be funded if the school district decides against them, an issue that Rieseberg said is still up in the air — they agreed that the appropriation of money for an assistant town manager was necessary, despite the tight budget and potential tax increase that it would bring.

Rieseberg, when asked for his view on the matter, ultimately deferred judgement to the Selectboard. He acknowledged, however, that even though an assistant town manager would provide a huge productivity boost that would be evident for the town, potentially cutting other town positions or programs to make room could lead down a problematic path.

As the discussion wound down, DeFelice worried that the public might not be willing to pass two bonds — $8.85 million for widespread athletic field project and $5.2 million for a Municipal Building renovation — at Town Meeting if taxes go up as a result of higher budget spending.

And there was the issue of the public safety director, which had, earlier in the night, turned into a protracted discussion.

“I can’t in good conscience not think about not adding a chief, and adding an assistant town manager,” DeFelice said, prompting Parker to say that he would rather use $100,000 gleaned by eliminating the police chief position to get more patrol officers on Hartford’s streets.

“Maybe sometimes, in the end, you don’t save; you reposition your assets,” Parker said. “I’m concerned that we’re not filling a very, very serious void in the management of this community.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com. .27-3248.