Hartford scrambles to revise budget plan after $500,000 mistake the 1st time around

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/21/2022 7:04:11 AM
Modified: 1/21/2022 6:20:46 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Hartford Selectboard agreed Tuesday night to send a revised $18.5 million budget to voters at Town Meeting next month, after the revelation that more than $500,000 in spending had been left out of the initial budget approved by the board earlier this month.

Since the omission was discovered, Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis and Finance Director Gail Ostrout have been working with town staff to reconfigure the budget to account for those items that were left out, with included funding for the Hartford Village Bridge, curbside recycling and emergency dispatch.

The Selectboard hosted back-to-back emergency meetings on Monday and Tuesday to reach an agreement on the amended budget.

“Would anyone dare to make some kind of motion?” board chairman Dan Fraser asked after much back-and-forth between the board members.

Ultimately, member Ally Tufenkjian motioned to approve the fiscal year 2023 budget, which will raise nearly $14.8 million through municipal property tax revenue.

Residents can anticipate a roughly 1.6% increase in the municipal portion of their property taxes, according to officials.

Dennis Brown, Lannie Collins and Joe Major, the board’s vice-chairman, voted against the spending plan.

Major objected that the budget didn’t include money to install parking meters in White River Junction. The cost of the meters would have nearly double the projected tax increase.

Brown cited concerns about overspending and objected to the lack of funding for Hartford’s climate action plan and capital improvement plan, among other infrastructure needs.

Collins was particularly frustrated by the omissions in the initial budget proposal the board approved. He said this year’s budget process lacked transparency and accountability.”

Other members of the board emphasized the need to keep moving forward.

“I think we’ve done the best that we can to hold ourselves accountable and fix the mistakes that have been made,” Tufenkjian said.

Major, even though he opposed the revised budget, said the board needed to focus results.

“I’m not in the blame game. I’m in the fixing game,” Major said.

Board members discussed the federal and state funding that should be coming this summer from the recent federal infrastructure package and American Rescue Plan pandemic relief. But how much money the town will receive and how it could be used remains unclear.

Yarlott-Davis cautioned the board against making any budget decisions that relied on stimulus money.

The new town budget proposal will be included in the school and town municipal report, which will be released by mid-February.

Town Meeting voting is March 1.

Frances Mize can be reached at fmize@vnews.com.

Correction: Should Hartford voters approve a proposed $18.5 million town budget, the municipal portion of their property tax bills is likely to increase 1.6%. A previous version of this story gave an gave an incorrect amount for the increase.

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