Hartland voters reject school budget in petitioned revote

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-29-2024 7:10 PM

Modified: 05-31-2024 11:09 AM


HARTLAND — Voters defeated a previously approved $11.1 million school budget on Tuesday, 551-537, in Australian balloting.

A total of 37% of Hartland’s registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, which was 457 more people than on the first budget vote in April. The same proposed budget prevailed by nine votes in April, when 631 Hartland residents (21% of registered voters) went to the polls.

After the low voter turnout and close margin of victory in the April election, residents Randy Shambo and Benjamin Sirois circulated a petition for a revote. In an interview earlier this month, Shambo said that the April 2 school budget vote had been properly warned and notices posted, but that “a lot of people missed it.” In addition, Shambo said that he opposed the proposed budget because of its impact on property taxes.

Tuesday’s result leaves the district without an approved budget a little more than a month before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

“I’m feeling pretty disappointed,” Hartland resident Linsi Nylund said by email Wednesday. She and her fiancé are considering relocating out of town. “We bought our own house in Hartland in 2021 thinking this was an amazing town that cared about the future of the children in the community.

“The fact that the vote barely didn’t pass is pretty frustrating,” she added. “It’s just a really disappointing time.”

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote, yard signs along Route 5 in Hartland encouraged residents to vote no, while people took to the local Listserv to praise the School Board and urge residents to support the budget.

Throughout this year’s long budget season, Hartland School Board Chairwoman Nicole Buck emphasized that the School Board has discretion over a relatively small portion of expenditures and that the cause of property tax increases this year has more to do with soaring home values in the past year than with increased school budgets.

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“There are very few cuts the board can make and those small cuts will have very little impact on the tax rate but will impact the kids,” Buck said by email Tuesday evening.

In February, the board approved an $11.5 million budget, only to rescind it just over a week later in order to make more than $500,000 in spending cuts designed to mitigate the tax burden on property owners.

The budget voters rejected on Tuesday was expected to result in a tax rate of $2.32 per $100 of property value up from a rate of $1.82 for the current year. The increase was driven in part by increased home values.

Households with annual incomes under $128,000 receive tax credits from the state, and though the percentages vary slightly each year, “on average, 65 to 70% of Hartland residents receive some state payments” that mitigate their tax bills, Hartland lister Stacey Bradley said earlier this month.

Those who qualify for income-sensitive tax credits may also benefit from a one-time tax credit as part of a relief measure passed by the state Legislature this session and currently awaiting Gov. Phil Scott’s approval.

The School Board may warn subsequent elections with a seven-day notice.

If July arrives without an approved budget, the board could borrow 87% of this year’s budget from the state in order to pay operational costs. The town, however, would be required to pay interest on that loan.

The current interest rate is 6.45%, Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Christine Bourne said Wednesday.

“I don’t know how we will operate a school” at 87% of its budget, Buck said in an April interview.

The board will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to talk about its next steps.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.

CORRECTION: Hartland residents Benjamin Siroi s and Randy Shambo initiated a petition to hold a revote on the school budget following April 2 balloting. A previous version of this story included an incorrect first name for Sirois.