HARTLAND – Acting Town Manager Larry Post, who recently was hired to help resuscitate Hartland’s finances, said Friday the town “is on its way to recovery.”
The first step, he said, was a recently completed intensive study of the town’s budgeting records for the past half-dozen years.
Post was hired last month after the Board of Selectmen fired 30-year-veteran Town Manager Peggy Morgan just days after Morgan attempted to return to her job after a medical leave for cancer treatment.
Post’s charge was to immediately assess the town’s financial picture, suggest short- and long-term solutions, then create a long-range planning strategy, which will include a five-year capital improvement plan.
Through an intense post-mortem of the town’s audit reports and budgets, Post discovered that the town had simply not budgeted for expenses. He said the problems began in 2005 when $100,000 in a lump sum payment to the Hartland Pollution Control Facility, under an agreement with Irving Tanning Co., was never built into the proposed budget.
The town also failed to include loan payments for a $105,000 firetruck in the yearly budget, as well as payments for tax abatements and long-term bond payments.
Post said these were “errors in budgeting” and said they appeared to be unintentional.
For this year alone, he said, about $475,000 in expenses were not included in the budget.
A special town meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, at the town hall to change the tax rate and raise the additional money. Post said there is a revenue cushion of $150,000, so about $325,000 will need to be raised. Another $31,000 will also need to be appropriated to pay Post’s salary.
The new tax rate will increase from $18.50 per $1,000 of valuation to $22. This would mean an increase of $175 for a home valued at $50,000.
Post said the special town meeting will be followed by a selectmen’s meeting where the current tax commitment will be voided and the new one installed. He did not yet know when taxes would be due.
Post said that action at the meeting would solve the problem for this year only.
“The reality is that we are $873,303 in the hole,” he said. Once this year’s appropriations and budget are settled, Post said he would look into borrowing to clear up other obligations.
The financial chaos was revealed after SAD48 began legal action against Hartland to recoup $400,000 in owed school payments. Post said that after this month’s payment of $82,445, the town would owe $248,000.
SAD 48 has agreed to give the town time to catch up on its debt.