Hartford: Track, Field Fail; White River School OK’d

  • Quechee resident James Malone walks out of the voting booth in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Quechee resident James Malone walks out of the voting booth in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Richard ÒDickÓ Grassi, and  Sandra ÒSandyÓ Mariotti stand outside Hartford High School in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014. Both are running for Selectboard. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Richard ÒDickÓ Grassi, and Sandra ÒSandyÓ Mariotti stand outside Hartford High School in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014. Both are running for Selectboard.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Quechee resident James Malone walks out of the voting booth in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Richard ÒDickÓ Grassi, and  Sandra ÒSandyÓ Mariotti stand outside Hartford High School in Hartford, Vt., on March, 4, 2014. Both are running for Selectboard. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Hartford — Voters on Tuesday approved a $3.6 million plan to upgrade the White River School but rejected a School Board request to borrow another $3 million to complete recreational projects at Hartford High School.

Meanwhile, residents voting by Australian ballot backed former Selectman Dick Grassi, who ran on a platform of fiscal austerity, in his bid to defeat first-term Selectman F.X. Flinn.

An overwhelming majority, 1,065-546, voted to approve the $3.6 million White River School bond, and a $900,000 Tax Increment Financing bond to make infrastructure improvements on Prospect Street passed by a slightly wider margin.

Voters, however, turned down the $3 million supplemental recreation bond that would have covered a shortfall in funds needed to install a turf field and track at Hartford High School, and to build a new field house, 931-675.

“We need to start teaching the ‘three Rs’ again and not go straight to putting money into athletics,” White River Junction resident Paulagay Adams said after exiting the Hartford High School gymnasium Tuesday afternoon. “I am all for athletics, don’t get me wrong, but academics need to come first.

“In my opinion, the school needs to re-budget itself and not bond everything out,” Adams added.

Resident Henry Small concurred.

“Things are just too tight for people,” Small said, adding he voted against all three bonds. “They have got to draw the line somewhere.”

School Board Chairman Kevin Christie said division among School Board members — signified by a 4-1 vote in December on whether to post a bond to complete the recreation projects — could have been a reason as to why voters didn’t support the supplemental bond issue.

“We weren’t speaking with a common voice,” Christie said at the high school after the results were posted. “One board member went rogue and it clouded the issue.”

School Board member Jeff Arnold, who did not seek re-election on Tuesday, voted against the measure in December and at Saturday’s Community Day told voters he supported a new track but not an artificial turf field.

Unless the board finds a different source of revenue, Christie said the track and turf field will not be built.

“It is kind of a hard pill to swallow,” Christie, a former football coach, said of the bond vote failing. “But out of these kinds of defeats comes resiliency.”

Christie did shed light on what might be done with the money set aside under the $9 million recreation bond passed at Town Meeting last year.

Roughly $1.5 million is left under the bond, which included money to build out the Maxfield sports complex, renovate the Wendell A. Barwood Arena and the Hartford Memorial Middle School, build a new field house and install a track and turf field at the high school.

Christie said the board will likely move ahead with the field house project, which entails building a new structure on the grounds of the high school that will house state-of-the art physical education equipment, and provide locker rooms, classroom space and office space.

“It is an educational room,” Christie said. “Not just a locker room or a big weight room.”

School and Tif Bond

The White River School will get necessary upgrades as residents voted by a two-to-one margin to make improvements to the heating system, the gym roof, bathrooms and flooring inside the more than 100-year-old building.

Some voters outside the polls on Tuesday said they could justify adding roughly a penny and a half onto the tax rate to keep one of Hartford’s educational facilities in operation.

“You can’t have a school without roofs and heating systems; they have to have the basics,” said Joan Vogel, of Wilder. “You can’t have kids running around inside the school with jackets on and without a roof over their heads.”

Others, too, recognized the need for renovations.

“I do think that it is time to do something about it,” said Laurie Heijn, of Quechee. “Obviously, the children have to be educated, and they should be comfortable and have the proper facility.”

An increase in taxes was certainly on several residents’ minds, though.

“We have to do something else,” said C. Nelson, of Hartford. “We are just throwing money at everything.”

Although Nelson voted against the Selectboard’s proposal to bond $900,000 for design, engineering and improvements on Prospect Street in downtown White River Junction, the majority of residents, 1,082-525, voted in favor of the bond, which is not expected to affect the property tax rate.

The payments on the bond are scheduled to be paid back by revenue generated by a new office complex development, which is located in the town’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. Only if the development flops and the revenue isn’t enough to cover the payments, would residents become liable to pay the bond back.

“I think people voted in favor of the bond because it affords the town the opportunity to make infrastructure upgrades without having to raise taxes,” Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster said after the numbers were tallied. “It is a great opportunity for White River to redevelop.”

Selectboard Changes

Grassi, a former Selectboard and School Board member, defeated one-term incumbent Flinn in a tight race for a three-year seat on the Selectboard.

Grassi won with 812 votes, compared to Flinn’s 730.

“I have ran in a lot of elections before and I just threw my name out and the voters made a decision,” Grassi, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, said. “A lot of people stepped forward. It was amazing.”

Grassi said he doesn’t know whether the new Selectboard will change the way it votes on certain subjects compared to the previous board.

“I don’t want to try to predict anything,” he said.

Although this marks the end of Flinn’s first term, he said it doesn’t mark the end of his advocacy in the town.

“I will continue to attend meetings and to be involved in the town,” Flinn said after the results were released. “It was a very, very close election. I lost to someone who is very well known in town.

“I will find out now what it is like to have free time on Tuesday nights,” Flinn joked before heading to Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction to convene with other residents and officials.

Well-known developer Matt Bucy and Sandra “Sandy” Mariotti, an operating room technician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, won the four-way race for two seats on the Selectboard.

Bucy won 877 votes, and Mariotti 684, beating out Luke Eastman, 605, and Susan Foster, 524 votes.

Bucy and Mariotti will take Sam Romano and Bethany Fleishman’s seats on the board. The two will join Wooster and Grassi, as well as board members Ken Parker, Alex DeFelice and Simon Dennis.

Retired Hartford High teacher Paul Keane will take Arnold’s seat on the School Board.

Budgets and Articles

Both the town and school budgets passed by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday.

Voters approved the $14.5 million town budget by 1,092-498, while they approved the $34.5 million school budget, 1,059-542.

The town budget represents about $1.1 million more in spending than voters approved last year, with the amount to be raised by taxes increasing by 8 percent to roughly $11.3 million.

The municipal portion of the tax rate will rise 6.7 cents to 85 cents per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a $250,000 home will pay about $2,125 in municipal taxes.

On the school side, the budget represents roughly $1.5 million more in spending over what voters approved last year.

The passing of the school budget and the White River School bond will increase the tax rate by just shy of 7 cents, to roughly $1.45 per $100 of assessed value, meaning owners of a $250,000 home would pay about $3,625 in school taxes if they don’t quality for Vermont’s income sensitivity program.

Results show all other articles on the warning passed by overwhelming majorities.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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