Hanover Selectboard settles on $33.3M proposed budget

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2023 4:58:17 PM
Modified: 3/30/2023 12:16:22 PM

HANOVER — Town voters will be asked in May to consider a total operating budget of $33.8 million, an increase of $1.7 million from the current budget, for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

The Hanover Selectboard unanimously approved the budget proposal at a public hearing on Tuesday, which will now go onto the town warrant for voter consideration at Town Meeting on May 9.

The proposed general fund, $19.6 million, would increase the municipal tax rate by 6.5%, the equivalent to an additional $135 on a $500,000 home, or an additional $180 on average with the town fire tax, which funds fire department services.

The increased spending is largely attributable to a $1.5 million hike in salaries and wages, including $975,000 in pay raises aimed at keeping employee compensation competitive with the regional market rates.

The town also seeks a second full-time emergency dispatcher, at $60,000 per year, to provide late-night coverage, as well as an additional $95,000 for additional staffing in the town clerk’s office, which has been inundated with growing responsibilities and service demands, including election compliance duties and right-to-know requests.

This was the first budget created by Town Manager Alex Torpey and Finance Director Ellen Bullion. Torpey, a New Jersey native, joined Hanover last June to succeed longtime town manager Julia Griffin, and Bullion was hired to fill the vacant finance director role in January.

The Hanover municipal budget comprises multiple funds, two of which — the general fund and fire fund — are primarily bankrolled by taxes.

The proposed general fund of $19.6 million covers the majority of town operations, including administration, police, parks and recreation and public works. Approximately $12 million would be raised by taxes and the remainder from state revenues, town fees like vehicle registrations and the town fund balance, a reserve of budget surpluses from previous years used to reduce tax impacts from future expenditures.

Other town services, including ambulance, water, wastewater and parking, are funded by user fees and do not impact the tax rate.

Torpey described the overall budget as “lean and tight,” incorporating new funding for added positions and salary increases while trying to contain the total tax impact. The administration continued making late adjustments to its proposal through Monday, the day before the Selectboard meeting, to trim the tax rate increase.

But members of the Hanover Finance Committee still expressed concern about the proposal’s tax impact.

“No matter how you explain it for people, that (percentage increase) is going to sound high,” Finance Committee Chairwoman Kari Asmus told the board.

Hanover's school tax rate is projected to rise by nearly 7%. Some of the increase is due to rising education costs, but a substantial part is attributable to an anticipated decline in state funding and an enrollment-driven increase in Hanover's share of the Dresden assessment, Hanover School Board member Kimberly Hartmann said.

Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie conveyed confidence in the willingness of residents to support the town budget.

“People understand what’s going on in the general economy and in other communities around them,” Christie said. “They see what the School Board has been trying to accomplish, (who) didn’t even have to deal with a wage negotiation this year (like the Selectboard did).”

The Selectboard entered this budget cycle anticipating up to a 7% increase to the tax rate, which board members felt was a percentage that town voters would accept, according to Christie.

“This (increase) is twice as high as what we have typically brought into town meetings, and we knew that going into this,” Christie said. “And I’m just pleased we were able to get it to 6.5% instead of 7%.”

Asmus also asked the administration to verify whether they accurately calculated a $40,000 interdepartmental charge for town billing services for the water and wastewater department. That billing fee would normally be transferred to the general fund and be added to the end-of-year budget surplus. Asmus said it was not clear to her that this money was recorded.

Bullion said she will review the account and if a correction is needed, the $40,000 will be added to the undesignated fund balance to further reduce taxes. The Selectboard would need to approve the corrected budget at a future meeting.

The budget also proposes using $265,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, for upgrades to office phones, digital technology, electric-vehicle chargers and other items. The town has $935,000 in remaining ARPA funds whose allocation will be discussed in public meetings this spring and summer.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at 603-727-3216 or at padrian@vnews.com.

CORRECTION: Hanover School Board member Kimberly Hartmann said a projected school tax increase is partly due to an anticipated reduction in state aid and an enrollment-driven increase in Hanover's share of the Dresden assessment. A previous version of this story was incorrect in its description of what is driving the anticipated increase in school taxes. 

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