By Curt Peterson
On March 7 Hartland voters will be asked to approve, via Australian ballot, the fiscal year town budget of $3,480,358 — $2,992,315 of which will be raised by taxes. This represents a 6.85% increase over the previous year’s budget.
If a property owner is paying $2,000 in taxes, the proposed budget will raise that amount by approximately $137.
The general fund and highway fund are both affected by inflation. The consumer price index, which determines town employee wage adjustments, represents a 6.9% increase in total wages. Health insurance costs for employees increased a whopping 18% for fiscal year 2024, well higher than the inflation rate at its worst.
Law enforcement is in flux — the Vermont State Police, seriously understaffed, is unable to provide even the modest number of hours contracted for during 2023, so the town is going to research other avenues, including the Windsor County Sheriff’s proposal, as well as the town of Windsor and increased responsibilities for the town’s own first constable.
Appropriations —funds allocated by taxpayers to support public service organizations — total $167,107. Three beneficiaries, Aging in Hartland’s community nurse program ($28,200), the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department ($80,000), and the Special Needs Support Center of the Upper Valley ($3,700) will be voted on in separate articles because they have requested increases over last year’s appropriation.
Select Board chair Phil Hobbie told the Mountain Times that completion of the long-time-coming Three Corners intersection reconfiguration would not affect the budget in any way, and that sorely needed renovations for Damon Hall and the Recreation Center, as well as highway projects and paving, which will rely heavily on state and/or federal grants, will remain part of the town’s plans.
While the majority of property owners’ tax bills are “education taxes,” control over the education tax rate lies largely with the state, which negotiates wages and health insurance costs statewide and mandates certain services the local districts must provide.
The proposed Hartland School District budget is $9,991,128, which represents a per-equalized-student investment of $22,841.81. The budget increase over the previous year is 4.28% or $409,779, and the warning estimates the cost to taxpayers of approximately $99 per $100,000 taxable property value (before homestead adjustments).
The district has experienced a decline in student numbers.
As with the town budget, most of the proposed increase is due to “local negotiated wage and benefits changes and Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union assessments, the latter consisting of “increased special education costs and SU negotiated wage and benefits increase for teachers and staff.”