Council president Christine R. Oldham and treasurer Virginia B. Norris decided not to stand for re-election.
The town of Hartly has come a long way in the last two years and it will keep making progress despite losing two of the five residents on its town council.
“We still have three commissioners, so we still can move forward,” Town Clerk Suzanne K. Morris said. “It does put more of a burden on the three that are there; instead of having five people to figure things out, now we have only three.”
Council president Christine R. Oldham and treasurer Virginia B. Norris decided not to stand for re-election when their terms end April 29. Oldham left the council early by turning in her resignation letter at the panel’s April 6 meeting.
“I decided to step down because of having to prioritize all my personal obligations,” Oldham said. “I felt that with everything I’m responsible for in my personal life, I can no longer keep up with outside obligations.”
Because no one else signed up to run for the vacated seats, elections set for April 29 were cancelled, Morris said. Public Works Director Mark A. Maguire was unopposed and won a second term.
Morris said she and Commissioner Raymond K. Morris are not up for re-election until 2018.
The town of about 75 residents has only around 50 eligible to vote or run for office.
A scarcity of eligible candidates has plagued the town for years. For about five years Hartly effectively had no functioning government, a situation that left bills unpaid and taxes uncollected.
However, a 2015 effort by several townspeople with Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel and Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, helped re-establish town government. Since then the council has updated its comprehensive plan, approved the construction of a Family Dollar convenience store, begun paying delinquent bills and seen to the clean-up and sale of some abandoned or neglected properties. The council has contracted with the Delaware State Police to spend more time in the town.
“Right now I think we’re in a pretty good spot,” Morris said.
In 2016, the town collected property taxes and street light fees for the first time in years, bringing almost $9,000 into its treasury. The town needs the money to pay down its delinquent electric bills, mostly the result of keeping the town’s few streetlights functioning. They once owed about $23,000, but the balance has been reduced to about $13,000.
Hartly has yet to recover from an embezzlement scheme by former town treasurer Richard Casson Jr. He stole more than $89,000 over a three-year period. Casson was in prison for one year in 2004 and since has paid back less than 10 percent of the money he owes the town.
Morris feels the town will continue as long as its residents support it.
“We’ve come so far in the last two years, I can’t see letting it go now,” she said.
“Little by little things are getting better,” she said. But Hartly residents who don’t want to see their town become just another unincorporated Kent County crossroads need to take part in government.
“I look forward to seeing more progress for Hartly, but a town is nothing without the help and support of its community members,” she said.
***SUBHED ‘A Hope for Hartly’
Hartly is recognized as the smallest incorporated town in the state of Delaware, and in 2016 was the subject of a video production, “A Hope for Hartly,” by Ohio documentarian David Kuznicki. A rough cut was shown during a November town meeting, and its main theme, composed by New Jersey resident Brian Katona, won a first-place award at the 2017 Garden State Film Festival.
Kuznicki plans a short return to Kent County later this year to do some additional shooting before declaring the project complete.
What started out as a project focusing on Hartly’s struggle to re-establish itself evolved into a look at small town America, and what he initially envisioned as a relatively short production now has stretched out more than 18 months.
“Documentaries are always tricky,” he said. “As a filmmaker, you have to ask yourself, ‘Where does this story end?’ as real life continues after the cameras finish rolling.”
Later this year, Kuznicki will submit “A Hope for Hartly’ to PBS for broadcast on either its “Independent Lens” or “POV” shows, which highlight independent documentaries.
“I try to walk away from any show and feel like I’m a part of the community I’ve documented,” he said. “I feel like I have accomplished that here.”