March 20, 2023

HSB Budget/Candidates Night Minutes 2-27-2023

Town of Hartford


Monday, February 27, 2023   7:00 PM 

Meeting Minutes

School Board Members Present: Kevin Christie, Peter Merrill, Nancy Russell, Russell North, Douglas H. Heavisides Sr.

School Administrators Present: Tom DeBalsi, Roy Hathorn, Jacob Vezina

Select Board Members Present: Mike Hoyt, Dan Fraser, Lannie Collins, Rocket, Kim Souza, Mary Erdei, Ally Tufenkjian

Town Administrators Present: Gail Ostrout

1. Call to Order & Ground Rules Review by Chuck Wooster, Town Moderator 

To ask a question, questioners should move to the microphone at the front of each aisle. Questioners must be a  registered voter in the Town of Hartford. Questioners will be asked to identify themselves and state where they are from. 
Each questioner will have a 60 second time limit in which to pose a question about either the town or school budget.  
Questions will be answered by budget presenters, up to 2 minutes for the primary answer.  
Moderator Wooster welcomed the audience to the meeting. He outlined the upcoming three “town meeting” meetings: tonight’s Budget and Candidates Night; Saturday, March 4th Annual Town and School District Meetings; Tuesday, March 7th, Australian ballot voting. Budget discussions can take place tonight and on Saturday. Candidate discussion will  only take place tonight.

He thanked the Town and School Meeting Committee: Susan Manley, Ryan Scelza, Nikki Boyle, Emily Santaw, and Adam Ricker, who received a round of applause. 

He thanked the many town volunteers and welcomed others to review the annual report that includes all the volunteer positions and committees.

He thanked the audience for coming out tonight and participating in the democratic process. 

He proposed that employees of the town or school district be allowed to speak regardless of their hometown. There was no objection. He further asked nonresidents to identify their hometown. 

At 7:10 PM there were more than 100 people in attendance.

2. Town Budget by Mike Hoyt, Selectboard Chair and Gail Ostrout, Acting Town Manager 

Mr. Hoyt introduced Ms Ostrout who then introduced the Town Department Chairs. Ms Ostrout shared that she lives in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Mr. Hoyt reviewed the general fund background: current budget $18,478,171; the proposed FY24 $19,244,123, a 4.1% ($765,951) increase over FY23; the non-tax revenues increase of 7.4% or $198,943; the current draft budget leaves $15, 346, 547 to be raised by taxes.

The local option tax is collected on rooms, meals, and alcoholic beverages. It is proposed to use this funding for three libraries. The unassigned fund balance of $1M is proposed to be allocated to many accounts, some include: WABA, playground, several reserve funds, curbside recycling. The ARPA funded project's balance was $2,866,147.68 as of Dec. 31, 2022. Several projects will get some of these funds: Parks and Rec mowers and skid steer, police cruiser and fit up, camera system for public safety, training system for police, Fire, refurbish EONE fire engine, downtown parking meters, Bugbee Sr Center building assessment, water main replacements, bridge maintenance, solid waste operations/capital assessment, Route 14 West Hartford bike/pedestrians improvement. This represents $2,605,863.30 Total Board Approved Projects.

Mr. Hoyt reviewed the funding obligations: personnel costs, healthcare, and other operating costs. Many of these lines include inflation increases.

What does it buy? Some examples: IT systems security upgrades, 1 police cruiser replacement vehicle, community safety review, all lease payments, long term debt, police wellness, fire alarm monitoring system, auditor services, computer equipment, sand and salt for roads, cemetery upkeep.

Sue Buckholz: concerned about the libraries, West Hartford library stays in because the town owns it? What happens if Article 21 fails? Mr. Hoyt responded, yes, the libraries will receive funding if the article fails. 

Kathy Malisek, Wilder, can the cannabis sales tax be used for the local options tax? Mr. Hoyt replied, no, according to the charter and our current language the Local Option Tax is for rooms, meals, and alcohol only. Language changes are proposed, which would have to be approved in the charter, possibly next year.

Jeff Arnold, Wilder, salaries? Police Chief and Fire Chief differences? Number of captains? Could you put the number of positions next to the data points? Ms Ostrout replied, the police chief line includes the chief and the deputy. There are 4 captains in the Fire Department.

David Briggs, WRJ, was not in favor of the local option tax but is glad it’s going to the library. He asked about the debt amount. Ms Ostrout answered not available tonight, referenced the Annual Report, and will have the information made available.

Gabrielle Lucke, Hartford, thanked Ms Ostrout for making the commute for serving the community. She asked about the process of finding a new town manager. Ms Ostrout responded, they are looking at a vendor to assist with this, any expense will be covered in this current budget.

Mike Morris, Hartford, safety review of $50,000, what prompted this when there are local safety officers? Mr. Hoyt responded, it’s a way to get a helpful sense of the community. Kim Souza said the board has heard about concerns from the public. Rocket explained his vote against this budget item, we have several safety officers that can offer assistance with this.

3. School Budget by Russ North, School Board Member 

Mr. North addressed the body with a presentation. This will be available on the school district’s website.  The proposed budget has a 7.5% increase which would maintain the investment in our schools and is status quo. The budget of $ 47,607,131 is for the entire district including the collaboratives and the HACTC. The educational spending of                 $ 27,853,257 is covered by the state educational tax. The equalized pupil amount of 1311.85 does not reflect the student population growth at the elementary level. The state uses a weighted system in figuring this. Statistically in VT only one in four people pay the full tax rate due to the income sensitivity program. He shared the proposed revenues from the collaboratives. This year the board is recommending to use some of the fund balance, $550,000, to offset the tax increase. The high school tuition revenue increase also helps the increase. He reviewed the line items with increases. He identified each school’s percentage of the budgeted expenses. Some increases to the general fund include: salaries, health insurance, building expenses, new accounting software, sped tuition, 2.5 pre K and .5 Interventionist, SAP. He showed some income sensitivity examples using different income and home values. The equalized pupil, common level of appraisal, and yield all impact the taxes, based on numbers from the state. Some of the additional positions, formally covered with ESSER funds, were to help students' mental health needs. The teacher shortage has impacted the district, it must stay competitive. This year the district has twenty-five teachers with provisional licenses. He then shared some positive data from the Panorama survey and several photos and examples of student activities.

Jeff Arnold, Wilder, budget increase and student population, salaries and benefits, can’t afford the increase to his taxes, need to do a better job negotiating. Mr. North responded that the district needs to stay competitive and the loss of students over the district doesn’t mean you can cut staff.

Mike Morris, ESSER funds, $4.4 M in the last year, where is it reflected in the budget, why is there an increase in the budget. Mr. North replied that many dollars were spent on ventilation and staffing. Mr Morris asked specifically what was it spent on?

Mr. DeBalsi addressed the body. We have done many presentations on where the monies were spent. Most of this money was spent on defending Covid and keeping our schools open: substitutes, tents, summer activities, after school activities. Specifics will be available Saturday. The money is not allowed to be taken off the bottom line. 

4. Candidates to present themselves to the Citizens of the Town  

Moderator Wooster drew names to determine the order of candidates within each group for contested races.  Each candidate introduced themself in a speech of up to 4 minutes. 

Town Moderator & School Moderator: Chuck Wooster, did not make a formal statement since his moderating the meeting tonight would be the “test”.

Treasurer, one year: Joe Major, welcomed everyone, works for both the town and school district, review payroll, accounts payable, expenses, liaison between banks and entities, all warrants are paid, was appointed in April 2022, thanked John Clerkin who was tireless in his efforts to the town, Howard University graduate, officer in US Army, exec dir of UVAC, serves on many boards, asked for votes on March 7th, acknowledged Donna Nadeau’s passing last week.

2 Year Candidate for Selectboard

Lannie Collins, thanked all, no prepared speech, best speech comes from the heart, lifelong resident, a solid understanding of the town is important, HHS alum, Hartford fire dept for 15 years, National Guard vet for 20 years, attended select board meetings over 4 years before getting on the board, have gone through a few transitions over the last few years, some dept heads have stepped up into new roles, has different values than the other board members, good diversity, offer an additional lens which would strengthen the community and the board, would like to get back to the administration of the town, infrastructure, depts, all voices should be heard across the spectrum, establish a communication with the schools, asking town what they need

Janelle Sahutski, she/her, Quechee, looking for a rural community when moving here, gave her varied career past, volunteers on the diversity community, The Haven, green up day, Pride parade, believes Hartford’s historic past should be saved, offers respectful communication, fresh perspective, uses trails and parks, wants to stay and serve here, will continue to work for Hartford

3 Year Candidate for Selectboard

Michael Hoyt, currently the chair, West Hartford since 2018, grew up in Norwich, a year of transition, at the beginning didn’t have a real plan with people in interim roles, amicable parting with the town manager with a settlement in Dec, appointed a new police chief, have a permanent public works director, beginning  the town manager search, would be honored to continue to serve on the board to see this work continue, get town manager, charter changes, grant funding in place, thank you all, continue the good work the town employees and select board has done over the last year

Patrick Francis Danaher, Dothan, Hartford, thank you to all for joining, inspired by Rocket, born, raised and schooled in Hartford, believes the board is out of step and wants to help the board return to the administrative duties it’s charged with, fixing the infrastructure, clear budget, carrying out the will of the people they represent, parking meters, library funding, need best talent and the policies are driving away the best, is the board working for us? We want answers and action, has ideas and history, worth his time to step up, go out and vote, change taking place, important to have a say in the change, JFK quote, time to give back, stand up and act, a choice for change

2 Year Candidate for School Board: Douglas H. Heavisides Sr., born here, grew up in Wilder, graduated HHS, worked at DHMC 40+ years, retired for 12 years, served on the Wilder School Committee and the Facilities Committee, volunteered to fill in this winter, running again

3 Year Candidate for School Board: Kevin “Coach” Christie, welcomed everyone to HHS and hurricane country, actively involved in the community and the schools since 1973, coaching, substitute teaching, began teaching fulltime in 1986, hopes that we can all work together, doesn’t consider himself a politician but a public servant, believes in our community, would like to continue to grow that, will like to help with that, appreciates your vote

5 Year Term W. Hartford Library Candidate: Laura Renee Brooks, elected last year to the board, moved to West Hartford in 2020 with husband and five children, teaches 1st grade at OQS, reinstated the Farmer’s Market last summer, opened the library as a warming station, invited all to the West Hartford library’s “living room”

4 of 5 Year Term W. Hartford Library Candidate: Patricia Newton Gray, not in attendance

5. Open Question and Answer Period 

To ask a question, questioners should move to the microphone at the front of each aisle. Questioners should be a  registered voter in the Town of Hartford. Questioners will be asked to identify themselves and state where they are from. 
Each questioner will have a 60 second time limit in which to pose a question. Questions may be directed to a single  candidate or generally. If the questioner does not specify, the Moderator chooses the primary responder. 
Questions will be answered by selected candidate(s), up to 60 seconds for the primary answer. Other candidates in the  same seat will have 30 seconds to answer. 
After all members of the public have asked their first question, a second round may commence as needed. 
Ken Parker, Hartford, fed up with the condition of the roads in town, thinks the board is remiss for not putting more money into the paving budget, gave history of budget and paving cycle which helps to preserve the condition of the roads, most highway mileage of any town in the state, the proposed budget would do about 5 miles, building up an expense in the future, unexpended fund balance money is there for this, real problem down the road

Lannie Collins responded, easy pot that has been used, can’t keep taking from the paving budget, new public works director, hopefully we can correct this

Dan Fraser, Hartford, appalled that we have a facility that isn’t accessible and asked the candidates to come off the stage. Mr. Christie replied he was fine with the arrangement and the candidates stayed seated. 

Kathy Malisek, Wilder, paving, broken water mains in Wilder, CLA: 70%, legislature requires reappraisal, Mr. Hoyt responded that there needs to be a plan from the accessor in place on how this will be done. Rocket responded about the CLA adjustment and how the taxes may not go down. She further asked Mr. Danaher how many meetings he’s attended He responded he attends some on Zoom.

Mary Alice Leonard Heath, WRJ, asked Janelle and Patrick how many meetings they’ve attended, Janelle has watched meetings on Zoom, and started attending in person once she announced her candidacy. Patrick watches on Zoom. Ms Heath asked about the safety survey study, how does the select board interface with the employees. Lannie responded, study, study, study, told to trust the experts. West Hartford bridge- both fire and acting police chief said no safety concerns but the board still wanted the safety study. Mike replied we do interact with the chiefs, both come in to speak with the board, this isn’t intended to be negative of the fire or police. Important for people who don’t feel comfortable. Janelle has heard that some kids at school feel unsafe, this could be an area that needs to be addressed. Kids are feeling unsafe walking to school. Not all people feel comfortable speaking with the police.

Mary Lou Scelza, Hartford, have social workers to address the needs, has major concerns with the budget, Bugbee Center study could be done by local contractors, parking meters weren’t supported by town a few years ago, 

Suzanne Abetti, WRJ, 2009 no parking problem, always been careful about the 2 hour limit, never been enforced, citizens said no- how can it show up again- how will it be enforced, parking attendant would be more money or put the job on the police dept. Lannie addressed this, spent money from TIF district to build up the downtown, housing has been addressed with more apartments but the apartment residents park on the street, they should be parking in the South Main lot, illegal in VT to chalk tires, idea is to turn over parking in downtown. Patrick asked how this came up. Lannie replied that there have been complaints about parking, the need is to turn over the parking.

David Briggs, WRJ, paving ratios, $1.4 M to keep up with the 11 year paving cycle which would require long term debt. He asked how each candidate feels about long term bonds? Mike Hoyt replied he’s in favor of it. Lannie said you can’t keep kicking the can down the road, you need to do better planning for bond debt. Patrick supports it.

Mike Morris, Hartford, meters, ballot was to use LOT money for meters, not if you want meters. Water main work? Mr. Hoyt replied that the ARPA money is proposed to do some water and sewer work. Mr. Morris said the ARPA money should be used for all, not just some (water and sewer users). Lannie replied. Mr. Hoyt said the four projects were funded through ARPA because they were high on the list and shovel ready. This increased the paving budget line. 

Mary Alice Leonard Heath, planning dept should think carefully about giving variances to developers, not realistic to say that studio apartments will have only one car. She asked Mr. Christie about the previous school safety comment. Are the schools addressing safety? She lives on Hanover St, concerned about people on the street. What is the school doing to keep the students safe? Mr. Christie replied, it’s not part of the safety study. He referenced the School Emergency Committee who meet regularly to address the concerns. Many steps have been put in place with active patrols during high movement times. He invited people to come to the board, when concerns are shared,  an active report is done to provide further information. Mr. Heavisides replied that when the WIlder School was remodeled security was taken into consideration. You have to have an entry pass to get in.

Chico, Hartford, meters, in general not against meters, consider it real estate that you pay for, can’t live without a car, move toward systems that reduce your need for parking. Lannie referenced Advanced Transit in the downtown area but it doesn’t come out to outside areas, and needs to be expanded. 

Jeff Arnold, Wilder, school budget increases, why aren’t we getting the results? Mr. Heavisides, don’t have an answer, just begun to get involved, don’t have the facts. Mr. Christie, when you look at where the students go after high school, some go into the military, some into trade (HACTC great programs), we need to do a better job with the data about where the kids are going. He’s pretty proud of what we’ve done with what a Hartford graduate looks like, and gave examples of some students. Mr. DeBalsi reported on tracking graduates. We're not expecting all students to go to a four year school, they have to figure out what they want to do. We need to figure out a different way to measure student success.

Mr. Wooster announced at 9:45 PM there were more than 50 people in attendance.

Jeff Arnold, Wilder, asked about SAT scores. Mr. Christie responded that we have other ways to measure our positive outcomes. 

Ken Parker, referenced Zillow, rating schedule for schools in the community, Hartford schools : HMS 3 out of 10, DBS 6:10, HHS 5:10, WRS 7:10. What will the school board do to raise these scores? Mr. Christie replied that the last two years have been difficult. Prior to COVID we were implementing a new curriculum, Dr. Robinson is working with the elementary staff to work on this. Mr. Heavisides replied that COVID has done many things to many people, we have to look at doing things differently. Lannie responded this is a good example of the town, school, and the community working together.

Kim Souza, Hartford, selectboard member, asked Patrick for examples of what he would like to do to change the board. He thinks that the board doesn’t represent all cross sections. Mike Hoyt responded we’re elected, if you want to change the balance of the board then go vote. Lannie responded that the board is focused on Diversity, Equity and inclusion. If the board is leaning to the left then we need more diversity on the board. He doesn’t come from the same foundation as the majority of the board which makes him a good candidate. Janelle thinks that people elect the candidate who they think will represent them. 

Elyse Holsworth, Quechee, parking meters, using Hanover as a guide may not be useful because Hanover has had meters, what are you going to do once you get the meters? Lannie responded, everything that’s been presented to the board is that they will pay for themselves. Ms Ostroutl responded that ARPA expenses have already been approved. 

Mary Alice Leonard Heath, WRJ, meters, will I be able to find a place to park? 

6. Close Meeting 

Mr. Wooster thanked all for coming to the meeting. He closed the meeting at 10:00 PM. Saturday’s meeting begins at 9:00 with “Coffee with Committees” and the business meeting starts at 10:00 AM.

Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey

Hartford School Board Recorder