We’re All in the Same Boat Now

The biggest challenge we face as a town is the decline of property values, our shrinking Grand List.

We could level fund, or even cut, our budget and our property tax rates will still increase.

We will face a long series of difficult choices for the foreseeable future.

The decisions we make will need broad support throughout the town.

We can develop that kind of support, find consensus, and act.

We need to raise the level of citizen engagement with the town, we need to make it much easier for folks to follow town business, and we need for people to be proud of the strategy their local government is following. The distinction from village to village is fading fast. Every village has very poor people. Every village has very wealthy people. Everyone is concerned about schools, roads, taxes. Everyone wants a better understanding of what is going on in town, and what the strategic direction of the town will be. Those who have allowed, facilitated or encouraged people over the years to set village against village has no basis in fact and is a problem we need to root out. We must see our town as a whole.

The core value of personal independence with a strong sense of community connection is at the heart of what it means to be a Vermonter.

That spirit shined in the wake of Irene.

Now the time has come to take advantage of Hartford’s contribution to Vermont Strong, the tremendous variety we have in our community, not just between villages, but among the mix of people here in town.

We have a growing and exciting creative economy burgeoning in White River Junction.

We have a huge population living in condos and apartments in Wilder, largely working at Dartmouth, typically younger and thinking about where to put down roots.

These are now permanent features of our town, and we need to bind them strongly to our community.

We need to do this because that is how we shore up our property values, how we carve out a safer and less stressed tax environment, how we make the Vermont spirit work in this new time of danger.

So I say we must avoid unplanned expenses, the kind we get when projects are “guesstimated.” No longer will I take the word of a Selectboard member that the estimated costs are good enough to take to the town for a bond, the way I did for the Barwood Arena. No, we must get a good return on every dollar we spend.

If improving the facilities at the Barwood Arena will help attract tuition students, will be a plus for young families choosing between Hartford and Hanover or Lebanon, then the investment would pay for itself over and over again year after year. But missing the mark by, arguably, 1.3 million makes citizens wonder and gives voice to those who challenge the consensus that this would be an investment.

We need to respect people’s ability to handle accurate and complete information, and stop trying to get away with waving our hands in the air and say everything will work out.  I’ll be out front about one interest I represent — citizens of this town who are interested in less opaque decision making, greater availability earlier of documents pertinent to matters being brought before the board, and fuller, more open written electronic communication among citizens and board members. In other words, better decision-making processes. I used to be one of these citizens, constantly frustrated at the lack of good process and information. That’s one of the reasons I ran for the board. There is a hunger for change in Hartford, a hunger for more and better information dissemination, a hunger to be a town, not villages, a hunger to see lingering issues resolved and forward movement toward a clearly articulated future.

It would be so easy to simply say cut spending, but that would be a false promise in a time of rising fuel costs, reduced federal and state spending, and insane increases in health care premiums.

Instead I say, spend carefully.

I’ve been thinking about what Dr. King said when I was a kid:

“We may have come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

This applies to our town, our villages, our citizens. We’re here being Vermonters, caring about our community.