Town Meeting: Hartland more than doubles funding for community nurse program

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2023 9:01 AM

HARTLAND — In the first in-person Town Meeting at Damon Hall since 2020, Hartland voters approved all articles as warned in about 2½ hours.

That included general fund and highway fund expenditures totaling $3.5 million. That is up nearly 7% from the $3.26 million total budget approved last year.

The amount to come from taxes for those costs is $2.8 million, which is up from $2.58 million last year.

Town Manager David Ormiston said the increase is in line with inflation and largely attributable to increases in wages and health insurance for the town’s employees.

Ormiston said the town is “walking that tightrope” with the aim of “keeping fixed costs in line with what the taxpayer can reasonably afford and where the town is currently and kind of managing that.”

Voters also approved all appropriations on the warning, including about $28,000 for Aging in Hartland’s Community Nurse Program, up from $13,500 last year; $80,000 for the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department, up from $73,000; a new appropriation of $3,700 for the Special Needs Support Center of the Upper Valley; and $55,000 for other social services.

The increases for the nurse program and fire department were at least in part driven by increasing demand for the services.

The nurse program will turn 10 next year. While it began in 2014 as one nurse working eight hours a week, it has grown to two nurses providing as much as 30 hours of care per week to people over 60 in Hartland who qualify for the service. About one-third of the town’s residents, or 1,300 people, are over 60, noted Katie Williams, one of the two nurses.

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The nurses aim to help residents to get the care and resources they need to be able to age safely in place. The program got four new referrals last month, Williams said.

“It ebbs and flows, but the program is absolutely growing,” she said.

Jeffrey Bell, a resident and volunteer with Aging in Hartland, said that the nurses can help address feelings of loneliness that older people, especially those in rural areas, might have.

“As I’ve been working with Aging in Hartland, the work that the nurses do is incredible in terms of getting to people and sitting with people,” he said.

Similarly, the Hartland Rescue Squad also has seen more calls of late. Last year, it had 333, which was up from 281 the year before and 267 the year before that, according to the Town Report.

Fire Chief John Sanders said the reasons for those calls are wide-ranging, including mental health issues, young children choking and opioid overdoses. While the fire department has first responders, the town contracts with surrounding communities for ambulance services when patients need to be transported.

Sanders noted that the Hartland Fire Department is run by volunteers, but at some point that may need to change.

“If we continue to trend up, we might start talking about some other options,” he said.

While the budget and bigger-ticket items drew little conversation, resident Bruce Renfro raised his hand to ask for an explanation for the $2,000 requested by the Hartland Farmers Market. Rebecca Genovese added that residents might wonder why they are being asked to support the market now that it has moved to Artisans Park in nearby Windsor.

Those concerns, however, weren’t enough to deter voters who supported the request as part of a block of appropriations for social service agencies.

During “other business” at the end of the meeting, resident Sue Reilly asked that the Selectboard consider creating a committee to weight the benefits and costs of moving Town Meeting to a different location, day and time, “so that people who are obliged to work have the possibility of joining us in this wonderful meeting.”

An unofficial straw poll, where the moderator didn’t count hands, showed that those in attendance were divided on the suggestion.

The election of town and school officers, as well as voting on all school articles was by Australian ballot on Tuesday.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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