For Hartford Budgeteers, It's Back To The Drawing Board
Hartford was one of the few towns in Vermont that turned thumbs down on both its school and municipal budgets Tuesday night. But voters will get another chance to weigh in at the end of the month.
Hartford’s town budget would raise taxes by about 9 percent, but Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg says those increases are necessary to fill some long vacant positions, and to pay off debts already incurred. Still, Rebecca White, a Hartford native and University of Vermont student, wondered if some of those new employees could be phased in. And she wasn’t sure the budget process had been thorough and transparent, especially when she heard a select board member criticize it.
“And so if there’s members of the select board and members of the community that have researched into this and say, ‘Hey, I think we need another go at this,’ and the tax rate is a 9 percent increase, then I say, ‘Yes, we need to re-look at this, and if we can come up with anything better, then that’s a step in the right direction,’” White said.
But now White won’t just be watching that revision process from the sidelines. She has just won her own race for Hartford select board, at the age of 20.
“That was something that really I think people saw as a qualifier, the fact that I was willing to run at age 20 and also that I am comfortable speaking about issues that often affect people in town that are excluded,” White said.
"If there’s members of the select board and members of the community that have researched into this and say, ‘Hey, I think we need another go at this,' ... then I say, 'Yes, we need to re-look at this, and if we can come up with anything better, then that's a step in the right direction.'" - Rebecca White, select board member, Hartford native and University of Vermont student
A proud alumna of Hartford High School, White does support the education budget that most other voters rejected.
That defeat surprised Lori Dickerson, who was re-elected to the school board.
“But having heard that there was so much against the town budget, I think maybe some people were of the mindset, ‘Let’s just say no to everything and see what they can come back with,’” Dickerson said.
Unlike most towns, Hartford holds its annual floor meeting several weeks after its election. So the revised town and school budgets will come up for another vote. Between now and then, school and town officials will have to scrutinize every penny to see if they can squeeze out more savings.
Flat funding, Dickerson said, actually means cutting programs or staff layoffs, because costs—including health care—are rising for programs already in place.
“Voters were clear, they said, you need to address needs versus wants. So now … we are going to have to have a serious discussion of needs versus wants, and what that means to the voters,” Dickerson said.
That floor meeting takes place on March 28.
UPDATE: Michael Morris, Rebecca White's opponent, has requested a recount.