The town owed five years of back payments to Delmarva Power

The town of Hartly, Delaware’s smallest incorporated municipality, reached a major milestone Thursday, emerging from years of debt.

Following its Aug. 10 meeting town commission president Mark Maguire said Hartly has paid off $27,000 owed to Delmarva Power, zeroing out more than five years of obligations to the electric company.

Delmarva Power kept the town’s street lights burning during the roughly half-decade when there was no effective government in the town, population 74, Maguire said. Hartly had been unable to pay its debts without a functioning town commission empowered to collect taxes and accrue other revenue.

Paying off Delmarva Power was a collective effort, Maguire said.

“We had a building permit from the Family Dollar store that went toward some of it,” he explained. “We devoted a lot of money collected from our holiday event last Christmas, and some people just donated money.”

The town learned in July 2015 of plans by the Family Dollar chain to build a store at the corner of Main Street and Arthursville Road. Opened in late 2016, it was the first major business to come to Hartly in years, providing a major financial boost for the town.

“The town commission was responsible for some of it, but the community did a lot,” Maguire added. “Hartly’s community goes out a lot further than the town’s boundaries. There are a lot of people who don’t live in the town limits, but who have a feel for Hartly.”

Speeders being caught

Hartly has seen other improvements of late, including dealing with its traffic situation.

Because it is so small and lies along two major county roads, Hartly has a speeding problem. Drivers rarely observe the town’s 25-mph speed limit, a situation that prompted the town commission to hire state troopers. They patrol about 12 hours a month and have brought about $600 into town coffers. Actually, the figure is higher, but some scofflaws have yet to pay their fines, Maguire said.

In February, a speeding tractor trailer flipped onto its side while driving through the town, the 13th such accident since 1994. Since then, DelDOT has installed new signs, directional arrows and warning strips to slow down speeding drivers.

Tentative 2018 budget

Maguire announced the appointment of town resident Rebekah Legar as the commission’s fourth member; she was out of town Thursday night, but will be sworn in at the October meeting, he said.

Hartly’s five-member commission has been operating with just three -- Maguire, Raymond K. Morris and Suzanne Morris -- since April.

The panel also gave preliminary approval to a 2018 fiscal spending plan, which will take effect Jan. 1. The budget is balanced between expected revenues and planned expenses of about $24,000.

The town still is owed about $900 in outstanding property taxes and penalties, Suzanne Morris said.

Commission members also voted on a proposal to raise the town’s property tax from 0.005 percent to 0.0075 percent of the assessed value of the property when the new budget takes effect.

In addition to keeping the town solvent, the money would help establish a savings fund for unexpected expenses or future expenditures, to include the possibility of buying land for a town park.

The final budget will be voted on at the October session.

Additionally, commission members voted to bill town residents $70 annually as a means to keep the street light fund solvent. That will be added to property tax bills.

Hartly still is recovering from an embezzlement scheme by former town treasurer Richard Casson Jr., who stole about $89,000 over a three-year period more than a decade ago. Casson was ordered to spend one year in jail and to pay back the money, but so far has returned only a fraction of the total. Suzanne Morris said he is expected to repay only $600 in 2018.

Maguire said the town also has made progress in cleaning up three eyesores, including clearing out one property that had become known simply as the “trash house.” It has been sold, Maguire said.

Two others, including a former bank, still are for sale, he added.

“Overall, I think that since we’re out of debt, we’re moving in a very good direction,” Maguire said. “A lot of people were concerned about that, but it’s a big rain cloud off the town commission.”