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Hartford Takes Step Toward Adopting New Town Sales Tax

Hartford — The town took a step toward enacting a sales tax that would affect the prices of meals, alcoholic beverages and temporary lodgings in Hartford.

The Selectboard passed a motion last night requesting the town’s Charter Commission to recommend an amendment that would give the Selectboard authority to impose a 1 percent local option tax, which would go on top of the state’s current meals and rooms taxes, which are at 9 percent, and alcoholic beverage tax, which is at 10 percent.

Board members were quick to point out that, despite rumors the town wanted to adopt a broad tax, it would be applied only to purchase of food, drink and hotel rooms. Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker estimated that the new tax could generate $200,000 to $250,000 in revenue for the town annually.

The motion passed 5-2, with board members Sonia Knight and Alex DeFelice voting against it.

“I believe that the economy has not turned around enough that I can support the additional tax,” DeFelice said.

Selectboard Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn countered that the amendment did not mean the tax would be immediately adopted, but would simply give the board the authority to enact it at some future date.

Over the course of the discussion, board members outlined the steps the charter amendment would have to go through before Hartford residents would see the extra tax.

The Selectboard appoints members to the Charter Commission, which is tasked with reviewing and recommending amendments to the town charter.

First, the Charter Commission would bring its proposed amendment to the Selectboard, which could then tweak the language. Afterward it would go to a town-wide vote, potentially at Town Meeting. But that vote only puts the power in the hands of the Selectboard; it doesn’t impose the tax outright.

“It’s basically enabling legislation for you,” said Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg.

Late last month, a similar 1 percent local option tax was shot down by voters at a special Town Meeting in Brattleboro, Vt.

Parker, who was in favor of the tax, said it would predominately affect visitors — people coming in from out of the area, renting rooms and going out to eat in Hartford restaurants. Because the tax isn’t excessive, he said, it wouldn’t cause a “competitive disadvantage” with hotels and eateries across the rive in New Hampshire.

According to Parker, there are about 1,100 rooms rented out annually to people from outside of the community.

Selectman Sam Romano voted for the motion, though he had reservations. He said he wanted to make sure that the Selectboard had a “firm idea” of what to the tax revenue would be used for, which it could then present to the electorate. Instead of funneling the money into a general fund, he said, it should be designated for a specific purpose.

“Then, I think, people would be more receptive to adding it on,” Romano said.

Chuck Wooster, who sits on the Charter Commission and attended last night’s meeting, told the board that two public hearings need to be held 30 and 60 days before Town Meeting for the charter amendment to get on the ballot. Flinn responded, saying that one is already scheduled for Jan. 22. Another has not yet been set.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

CLARIFICATION

This story has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following clarification ran in the Friday, Nov. 9 edition of the Valley News:

A majority of the Hartford Selectboard wants voters to consider enabling the board to impose a “local option” tax of one percent on meals, rooms and alcoholic beverages. The existing state taxes on meals and rooms are 9 percent; the alcoholic beverage tax is 10 percent. Proponents said no consideration is being given to a local option tax on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax. An article and headline in yesterday’s Valley News were unclear on these points.