Hart's Location cherishes a yearly town meeting tradition
HART'S LOCATION — With a three-article warrant whose main item is a not-quite-$32,000 budget, officials here in the smallest of New Hampshire's 234 municipalities don't expect much controversy at the 2014 Town Meeting.
They do, however, expect a big turnout, with possibly up to 25 voters — or a whopping 80 percent of the electorate — in attendance.
Located in the White Mountains, home to Crawford Notch State Park, and crossed by the Appalachian Trail and the Saco River, Hart's Location every four years shares with Dixville Notch the honor of being the first place in the nation to vote in the presidential primary.
Hart's Location is unique, however, in having the smallest population in the Granite State — just 41 men, women and children according to the 2010 Census, which is less than half of the town of Ellsworth and just a sixth of the third smallest town, Windsor. And, as Selectman Mark Dindorf pointed out on Monday, Hart's Location also has the lowest population density in New Hampshire, with a scant 2.2 people per mile.
Despite its size, and to paraphrase what Daniel Webster said about Dartmouth, Hart's Location is a place that some people dearly love and many of them will be at Town Hall on March 11, said Dindorf, to elect new leaders; act on the proposed $31,380 municipal budget; and to "conduct any other business to come legally before the town."
As a prelude, voters will first attend the annual School Meeting, which starts at 4:30 p.m., and where the most pressing matter is the budget, which Dindorf said is about $60,500, or just enough to ensure that should the town actually have students this fall, it'll be able to afford to pay tuition to send one to attend an elementary school and another to high school.
Just one student
For the 2013-2014 academic year, Hart's Location has just one student — Dindorf's daughter Amber, who commutes 60 miles round-trip daily to Fryeburg Academy in Maine, where she is a senior. Having recently turned 18, she is also her hometown's 33rd voter, said her dad.
Dindorf verified the number of voters with his wife, Nancy Ritger, who, in addition to being the supervisor of the checklist is also the chairman of the Hart's Location School Board.
"One of the things about being a citizen in a tiny town like Hart's Location is that many of us have to hold public offices," said Dindorf, who added that he's proud to do his part.
Come School and Town Meeting day, Dindorf sees his fellow citizens acting briskly on both warrants, with the combined business done in under 90 minutes, approximately.
"I don't see any controversies, we don't have any special warrant articles, no zoning articles and in the past we've had more items on the agenda, but this year, happily, things are pretty straightforward which is how we like it," said Dindorf.
Originally from New Jersey, Dindorf came up to the White Mountains in 1979 after college and has lived in Hart's Location since 1990. He is a longtime innkeeper at the Notchland Inn in Hart's Location and is currently in his fourth term as a selectman.
In 2013, Hart's Location voters adopted a $29,350 municipal budget "and we underspent it," said Dindorf, adding that he hoped that might also be the case in 2014. In addition to underspending the budget, he said the selectmen last year reduced the town portion of the cumulative tax rate down to nine cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation and also returned some of the surplus to taxpayers.
"We have no infrastructure in town, so there is very little in the way of services to be paying for," Dindorf explained, although the cumulative tax rate, after adding in the local school and state education taxes and the Carroll County tax, brought the final amount to $4.58 per thousand in 2013.
Dindorf said the 2014 tax rate won't be set by the Department of Revenue Administration for months so he didn't want to speculate on what it might be but he was certain now that his fellow residents will be well represented on March 11.
"We typically have about two-thirds of the community show up for town meeting, sometimes slightly higher if we have contentious issues, but this year I would expect at least half of the voters, so at the minimum 15, 16 voters, and as many as 20 to 25, will attend town meeting."
Dindorf said the experience of town meeting is a uniting, transcendent one in Hart's Location.
"The people who live here, and I can't speak for all of them," he said, "they love the scenic natural beauty, the quiet and I think they are typically rugged, independent souls who in many ways carry on in the tradition of the Crawford family and others who settled and lived here in the past."