Amid workforce shortage, Hanover budget includes higher personnel costs

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-31-2024 7:00 PM

Modified: 04-15-2024 12:50 PM


HANOVER — The Selectboard will vote on Monday on a proposed $35.6 million operating budget for the next fiscal year that increases general fund spending by approximately 6%.

The board will host a public hearing before the vote to allow residents to discuss the proposal and ask questions.

Voters will decide on the final town budget at Town Meeting on May 14. The next fiscal year begins on July 1.

The $1.2 million bump in the general fund is primarily due to higher employee pay scales, improved benefits and a $300,000 hike in health insurance costs, Town Manager Alex Torpey said.

The Selectboard made employee compensation a budget priority this cycle following a six-month staff recruitment and retention study, which found that Hanover’s pay and benefits had fallen behind those offered in neighboring towns, Torpey said in a phone interview.

“We are now in line with what other towns are offering in terms of cost-of-living increases, which range between 4-8%,” Torpey said.

“We have added new benefits such as flexible scheduling, paid family leave (and an improved dental plan).”

The budget includes $17 million to be raised by property taxes, including $12 million for the general fund and $5 million for fire department services — which is taxed separately. The remainder of the budget, such as water and sewer services, is funded by user fees or other revenue streams.

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If approved, the budget would increase the municipal tax rate by about 6%. The new town tax rate would be $4.67 per $1,000 of assessed property value — equivalent to $2,335 on a $500,000 home.

In addition to voting on a budget proposal on Monday, the Selectboard will consider three collective bargaining agreements for the police, fire, public works and parks and recreation employees. The details of these agreements are still being finalized, Torpey said.

The collective bargaining agreements, if approved by the Selectboard, will be placed on the town warrant as separate articles for voter consideration.

At present, 10% of the town’s approximately 150 employee positions are vacant, Torpey said. These include three police officers, a community nurse, a communications officer, a mechanic and a water distribution technician.

The town also is still seeking a rental housing inspector to fill a position approved by voters at last year’s Town Meeting.

Some town departments have to compete with the private sector as well as other municipalities for employees, said Parks and Recreation Director John Sherman, whose department manages the town cemeteries in addition to providing fitness classes, youth camps and child care services.

The budget proposal also increases funding for professional development to help cover employees’ costs to maintain their certifications or licenses, Sherman said.

Capital improvements also are on the horizon. This year’s budget proposal includes an estimated $175,000 to repair the electrical system at Town Hall, which is faulty, Torpey said.

The town plans to take a broader look next fiscal year in order to develop a capital improvement plan to help finance the maintenance of municipal buildings, Torpey said.

A nine-member committee formed last year is creating a plan to help assess town buildings, prioritize facility improvements and to plan the financing of projects.

Many of these projects need to be planned at least five years in advance, Torpey said.

For example, a study of Howe Library conducted about four years ago determined the need for facility repairs and upgrades at an estimated cost of $435,000, Torpey said. While the project has been discussed in administrative and board meetings, the project hasn’t been budgeted.

There wasn’t sufficient time to propose a plan this year to fund the library project, Torpey said.

The public hearing on the budget will be on Monday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in Hanover High School gymnasium. Ballot voting to elect town officials will also take place in the gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

CORRECTION: Hanover’s proposed budget is expected to result in a municipal tax rate of $4.67 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which would be equivalent, in total, to $2,335 on a $500,000 home. The budget’s effect on taxes was incorrect in a previous version of this story.