Hartford Voters Back Upgrades
Eighteen-month-old Emily Hannux, of Wilder, strains to reach Rizutto, a 5-year-old rat terrier belonging to David Fairbanks Ford, of White River Junction, as her mother, Jennifer, votes yesterday at Hartford High School in White River Junction. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Above: Don and Peggy Jones, of Wilder, look over information before voting on the Hartford town warning. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Sandra Mariotti, center, campaigns for a three-year term on the Selectboard outside Hartford High School. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford — They’ve passed.
Two bonds totaling nearly $14 million that would add $143 annually to the tax bill of a typical home in Hartford were given the OK yesterday by voters, an outcome that took some town officials by surprise. However, a proposed charter change that would give the Selectboard authority to impose a 1 percent “local option tax” on meals, rooms and alcoholic beverages was decisively turned down.
The renovation bond for the 129-year-old Municipal Building, which totals $4.9 million, passed by a tally of 851 to 706, according to preliminary results. The $9 million bond to upgrade athletic and recreational facilities in town passed 891-678 on the municipal ballot, and by 914-662 on the school ballot.
After an initial count was posted at the Hartford High School gym at 7:30 last night, Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg, who advocated for passage of the bonds, said he was “deeply appreciative” toward voters.
“We know that times are still a little tough,” Rieseberg said. “In the long run, (the bonds will) serve the town well.”
Town officials last night also expressed surprise that the Municipal Building bond, which didn’t have the level of vocal support of the athletics bond, was approved.
The athletics bond, a joint project between the school district and town, is set to pay for six different projects of varying costs, the largest of which is $3.1 million allotted for building athletic fields and courts at the so-called Maxfield property along Route 5.
The bond also will go toward paying for construction of a track around the high school’s football field, which will be outfitted with new artificial turf, and a fieldhouse with locker rooms and a weight room. The Wendell A. Barwood Arena will also see $2.5 million worth of renovations.
“Sports teach us a lot,” said Rick Royce, an advocate of the project, after he cast his votes yesterday. “They teach kids how to be leaders. They teach kids to work together, and team building, and how to solve problems. So that’s huge.”
The athletics bond will add $90 per year in taxes on a property assessed at $200,000. The Municipal Building bond will add about $53 annually.
Though both articles passed, the initial pessimism wasn’t confined to officials. A stream of voters leaving the polls yesterday afternoon — most of whom did not want to be named — expressed concern about the large amount of money they were being asked to put up.
“I just didn’t think it was the particular time for them,” said Ken Pierce, noting that he voted against both bonds and the charter change.
The proposed charter change would have given the Selectboard authority to add an additional 1 percent tax in Hartford atop Vermont’s current tax rates, which are 9 percent for meals and rooms and 10 percent for alcoholic beverages.
It gathered 597 “yes” votes compared to 972 “no” votes.
“I thought it would pass,” Selectboard Chairman Parker said after the results were posted. “I think it’s a sensible proposal.”
Skip Symanski, the co-owner of Elixir Restaurant in White River Junction, spent the past several months lobbying against the tax at Selectboard meetings and on the Hartford Listserv. However, he also expected it would pass, and was happy to hear when it didn’t.
“It’s imposing the burden on a small segment on businesses instead of spreading it evenly,” Symanski said when reached at his restaurant last night. “I’m just happy that people saw it the same way, or felt the same way about it.”
The budgets for both the town and school district passed smoothly, with votes of 1,094 to 440 and 1,082 to 425, respectively. The increase in the town budget will raise taxes about 4 cents per $100, adding $80 annually on a property assessed at $200,000. The school’s tax rate rose a penny, which increase annual tax bills by $20.
Those who went to the polls yesterday also had the chance to weigh in on a healthy slate of Selectboard candidates, as seven people vied for three spots.
According to the preliminary results, Parker will retain his spot on the board, narrowly winning a two-year term. His 540 votes beat Karen Ganey, a newcomer to the Selectboard scene, by merely 20. Woodstock police officer and former Hartford board member Mark Donka came in third place with 445 votes.
“(The win) vindicates the things that I’ve advocated for, and the effort that I’ve put forward,” Parker said, noting his long-term desire to renovate the Wendell A. Barwood Arena.
Familiar faces took the remaining Selectboard seats, according to preliminary results. In a four-person race for two open seats, incumbent Alex DeFelice and former Selectboard chairman Chuck Wooster prevailed.
Wooster, who served on the board from 2007 to 2010, led the charge with 883 votes.
“I think he will bring some civility and focus to the board’s activities and conduct,” Parker said, adding that the incoming board will be made up entirely of people with at least a year of experience.
DeFelice came in second, with 840 votes, locking up the final open seat. He said afterward that he was “ecstatic” about the victory. Following those two was Matt Bucy, with 755, and Sandra Mariotti, with 508.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.