HARTLAND, Maine — Selectmen hired Larry Post, the former town manager of St. Albans, to help them find their way out of a financial nightmare.
Hired Tuesday night, Post will be paid $975 per week and will be the designated acting town manager. He has an open-ended arrangement with the town, he said. “I’m simply here to help,” he said, already on the job Wednesday morning.
Post said the idea came from a mutual discussion at a corner store. “The expectations are to identify exactly what the issues are and get started on some solutions,” he said. “We need to stop the bleeding and get Hartland back on track.”
Post resigned from St. Albans earlier this year.
At the Tuesday night meeting, First Selectman Harry Gould told residents that the board had been duped about the town’s financial situation. “We were told the money was there,” he said, referring to two escrow accounts, one for a new community pool and one for a firetruck.
The town is $400,000 behind in its school payments, defaulted on a tax anticipation note and owes the local water company tens of thousands of dollars. The total town debt is $1.6 million.
When selectmen attempted to obtain two loans to pay off the school debt, they were turned down. “We have no credit,” Gould said.
At this point, he said, the short-term goal is to make the December school payment. “January is going to be rough,” he admitted. He said a supplemental tax bill may be sent out.
Gould explained that the problem began in 2005 when not enough money was raised through taxes to cover all the items voters appropriated at town meeting.
He said that last year, $696,000 should have been raised through taxes but only $260,000 was. He said that the board looked into bankruptcy but it is not allowed under Maine law.
The town has been selling wood from town-owned lots, moved the town office from the former Hartland Academy to the old town hall, and laid off several employees in cost cutting efforts.
The board set a special town meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, to vote on selling the academy building and a parcel where the old pool was located.
Town residents also have formed an SOS Fund and will be holding an auction in January, are raffling off a new car, and will be hosting benefit suppers and 50/50 raffles, all to help the town pay its bills.
Meanwhile, Peggy Morgan, who had been the Hartland town manager for decades, remains out of the office. Last month she attempted to return from a medical leave and was fired by the board. That meeting, Gould admitted, was illegal and the action was rescinded, but Morgan has not returned to her post. Her status as a town employee is unclear although town selectmen have not openly blamed Morgan for any of the financial chaos.