Cutting Spending? We are cutting A LOT!

Our budget discussions have just gotten started and we hear about not cutting spending.
How is cutting seven staff positions, not funding our reserves, and flat funding everything else not curbing spending?
We can’t do anything about the 1% decline in the grand list which will make everyone’s taxes go up at least 1.25 cents.
We also voted, and very strongly I might add, for the Quechee Bridge Bond, municipal building fund, and the rec facility bond. In addition, a majority supported the West Hartford bond. They are adding 5.5 cents to the tax rate this year.
Between those two factors, taxes would have to increase by a minimum of 6.75 cents, if everything else remained exactly the same.However, everything else is not remaining the same.
After five years of no raises, union contracts were finalized last year and so there was a general increase of 2 to 3% in wages across the board. That’s 150,000.
The atrocious healthcare system, with its massive shell game, which Hartford has done it’s best to game over the years, has finally found a way of extracting more than our fair share. That equates to $250,000 this year, it was an additional 300,000 last year.
Also, over the last three years the grand list has declined each year, much of that decline coming on the Quechee condos. It is as if 200 of those 600 condos were bulldozed and replaced by a wheatfield. This has cost the town something like $800,000 a year in recurring tax revenues.
If you really want to help, bring your laptop with you to the budget workshop meetings Tuesday and Thursday this week, and every week in January until we’re done. We are generous in allowing the public to comment on and add information to the discussions were having.
Finally it’s safe to say that any email you get from a member of the select board is them speaking for themselves. If the select board has something official to announce, the town will issue a press release from the select board, or the chair will issue a release in the name of the select board as a whole.
Bill, you do know that our town’s taxes are lower than any of the nearby towns which offer police and fire departments, so this notion that we are driving people away because of taxes is one that I don’t see apples-to-apples evidence for.
As for the argument that we are a “high tax” town in comparison to those around us, that’s not really the case. Here is a table of surrounding Vermont towns ordered from the lowest total tax rate paid by Vermont residents on their home to the highest, along with the percentage difference from Hartford. I’ve also included the non-resident rates as well.
In a nutshell, Hartford is the lowest among towns which offer public safety departments, and even lower than one of the smaller towns which does not. Here is the table:
Municipality Total Rate Homestead HS Diff TOH Total Rate Non-Resident NR Diff TOH
West Windsor 1.46 -29% 1.50 -31%
Bridgewater 1.87 -9% 1.83 -16%
Hartland 1.88 -9% 1.77 -19%
Reading 1.92 -7% 1.56 -28%
Pomfret 1.95 -6% 1.79 -18%
Sharon 2.05 0% 2.01 -8%
Hartford 2.06 0% 2.18 0%
Woodstock 2.13 3% 2.02 -7%
Bethel 2.22 8% 2.06 -5%
Norwich 2.28 11% 2.01 -8%
Windsor 2.48 20% 2.52 16%
We have a lot going for us and if past selectboards had been willing to keep our public infrastructure up to date we would not be facing a decade of one bond after another to get caught up.
Yes, the citizen board that had no money to spend on the task underestimated the rec facility costs, by at least 2 million and perhaps as much as 3 million. Had the public been presented with an 11.9 million bond last year, it would likely have passed and in 2015, when all the costs were in and it had been done for 11.6 million everyone would have a a smile on their face. My takeaway is that it might not be a terrible idea to spend 10 or 25 or 50 thousand up front to get more accurate costs, but then we get criticized for spending money on something the town might not approve. Or maybe we should take any estimate we get, add a 33% contingency, and then set the bond to the nearest 1/2 million. So 9 million x 1.33 = 12 million. There you go, we covered all the bases. After all, it’s all competitively bid. We had a dozen takers on the WABA project and the 3 low bidders were within 20K of each other. So we can be pretty sure that to do WABA right, to do it the way we sold the public on it, it’s going to cost 3.1 million. And the utility work, a throw in on the 2.5 million targeted for WABA? Some throw in. It came in at 400K. So WABA is a cool million over. The track/turf/fieldhouse — at least 1.5 million over, its out to bid now and we should know exactly soon.
You can get mad about not getting the price right, but you agreed, I think, that we had the idea right — to once and for all do the things we’ve been talking about for 50, 20, and 10 years (track / turf / WABA) . What do you think we should do? One think I don’t want to do is to do the work on the cheap, or to settle for less than what we said we’d do, because there were important reasons for each element. I’m feeling like we need to do WABA right or not do it at all and get out of the hockey business — after all, there is a glut of ice in the upper valley, right?
You are correct about the insurance. We should have gotten employee buy in on paying a greater share sooner than we did. But after what President Obama announced today, the whole issue may go away because we can stick with the plan we have now — one deemed inadequate by the ACA and one of the reasons for the premium spike. You’ll be glad to know that layoffs are the most likely way we will make up for the spike if it does come to be.
What is the value of living in our town anyway? What’s the police and fire service worth? The rec department offerings? The highway dept? The enterprises that make water and wastewater possible? $500 a month? $100? $1000? You know none of your tax dollars locally are being wasted. Hunter’s staff is so good at getting every dollar we can that Irene is going to cost us very little, and, arguably, only what we wind up spending on the new park in Quechee — which will be a honeypot for the tourists and wind up paying for itself 20 times over during the next 100 years.
Anyway, steel yourself for any number of bonds over the next several years. We need to work through the TIF projects, the sidewalks and trails projects, the Fairview Terrace retaining wall project. The nice thing is that the TIF stuff should pay for itself, and getting our rec and walking stuff set should make Hartford a pleasant and less costly place to live, attracting more people and distributing the tax burden more widely. That’s the only real way to accomplish what you want to see.
In that case any increase on your tax bill will be offset by an increase in the Adjustment that residents get on their tax bills. In fact any household with an income under 46K should never see their tax bill go up. Hartford residents got $2.9 million off their property taxes last year. So even though the schools levied $18.9 million in taxes and the town $10.1 million for a total of $29 million, 10% of this was paid for out of the state education fund in the form of education tax adjustments, renter rebates, and circuit-breaker adjustments.

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