Hartford Plans to Cut Curb-Side Recycling to Help Solve Budget Crunch

— Residents would lose curb side recycling and a subsidy to Wendell A. Barwood Arena would be cut to help limit a tax rate increase under a proposed municipal budget that’s being reviewed by the Selectboard.

Skyrocketing health insurance premiums, a 3 percent decline in Hartford’s in total property values and an uptick in worker’s compensation insurance are helping to drive a projected increase in the property tax rate, even as overall spending is set to fall slightly.

At the Selectboard’s first budget workshop this week, Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg called the accumulation of factors a “perfect storm.”

“This has probably been the most difficult budget of my time here, probably my career,” Rieseberg said.

Under the proposal , the town tax rate would rise an estimated 3 cents. The annual tax bill for a property valued at $250,000 would increase about $50, to around $1,925.

Property tax revenue is projected to go up about 0.7 percent.

According to Rieseberg, without $500,000 worth of cuts, including the recycling program, the projected tax increase would be twice as much.

Cutting the recycling program, which is used by 40-45 percent of eligible households, would save the town about $150,000. If the program is eliminated, residents would either have to drive to a landfill or contract a private company.

“In my mind, public safety and tax rate control probably trumps collection of recycling,” said Rieseberg, while presenting his budget to the board at Thursday’s workshop.

“It may be one of those things, where we really want to avoid an increase in taxes, that we have to consider terminating,” Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker said yesterday.

Another budget item from last year that was cut from the budget proposal was a $50,000 subsidy for Wendell A. Barwood Arena. The town provided the money to the arena after it suffered several mechanical failures. Now, though, the arena is operating in the black. And, the town is hoping a proposed $8.85 million bond issue will be approved by voters in March. The borrowing would, among other things, provide the arena with a substantial renovation.

The Selectboard peppered Rieseberg with questions about the cuts, but deferred any action on restoring the spending.

In an interview yesterday, Rieseberg detailed the three unforeseen expenses that led to cuts:

∎ Town health insurance premiums went up 43 percent this year. The town had saved about $1 million over the past three years by essentially working through loopholes. Those are now closed — “The party’s kind of over,” Rieseberg said — causing an increase of $235,000.

∎ An increase in worker’s compensation insurance rates added about $125,000.

∎ The town’s grand list went down by 3 percent, largely due to a lesser valuation of Quechee condos. Usually, Rieseberg said, the grand list goes up by 1 or 2 percent a year. The downturn led to a hole of about $450,000.

There was also the mention of creating a Public Safety Director job, which would consist of one person who would oversee both the fire and police departments in a purely administrative sense. Rieseberg floated the idea to the Selectboard, saying that while only two towns in Vermont — Bennington and Barre — utilize one, the position is relatively common outside of New England. Currently, Hartford has no full-time police chief, as Leonard Roberts is serving as interim chief. That discussion was also tabled.

Many of the individual sections of the budget were approved without controversy during Thursday’s meeting.

The next budget workshop will take place at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Building in White River Junction.

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