HARTLAND, Maine — Even though it meant raising their taxes, Hartland voters recently approved several moves that will begin to put the town back on the road to financial recovery.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after years of failing to raise enough money to pay its bills, the town owes the school district, the water company and the county.
Acting Town Manager Larry Post, recently hired to help resuscitate Hartland’s finances, said this week that the town finally is looking at a plan to finish out the year and structure a financial blueprint for the future.
At last week’s special town meeting, voters approved raising the tax rate from $18.50 per thousand dollars of evaluation, to $22. This would mean an increase of $175 for a $50,000 home.
The voters also raised $31,000 for Post’s salary. Asked how long he thought he would remain on the job, Post said, “I have no idea. We have some real problems to solve here.”
Also, town selectmen voided the existing tax commitment and installed a new one that now must be approved by the state Bureau of Revenue Services.
New tax bills will be sent and half the tax amount will be due Jan. 31, Post said. The second half will be due in April.
Post said it was a tough decision by the community, but “the bottom line is we had to. The reality is that we are $873,303 in the hole.”
Once this year’s appropriations and budget are settled, Post said he would be looking into borrowing funds to clear up other obligations.
He said he is looking to combine the town’s current debt and seek a 10-year note. “I’ll do the figures this week to determine exactly how much we’ll need and then I’ll begin talking to banks,” he said. “Then we’ll start to rebuild.”
The financial chaos was revealed this summer after SAD 48 began legal action against Hartland to recoup $400,000 in owed school payments. Post said that the town still owes $325,000 to SAD 48, which has extended time for Hartland to catch up on its debt.
The town also owes $45,000 to the local water company and $300,000 to the county.
Post said the annual town meeting will be held on May 16, to bring it closer to the fiscal year start of July, and this will give officials more time to clarify the financial picture.
“But we are on our way to recovery and we are finally looking at a plan,” Post added.