Hartly’s long climb back

HARTLY — For Delaware’s tiniest town, things are looking up.

Two months ago, Hartly had no local government and a dim future. The town still has no government, but its prospects are brighter now.

A December meeting of more than 100 individuals, including two state lawmakers, made it clear people care about Hartly. The gathering also helped set the path forward.

Citizens of Hartly discuss the town’s fate
(Matt Bittle/Delaware State News)

At least three residents of the 74-person municipality would have to run for town council, allowing things to start up again.

From there, Hartly could begin collecting taxes — something it has not done, residents said, in about five years — as well as paying back its debt and providing some services once again.

Thursday’s meeting focused on continuing progress made two months ago.

With elections set to be held in April, two interim commissioners were appointed to go with Ray Morris, the last remaining town council member.

Technically, Mr. Morris’ term has expired, but he has been acting as the lone government representative.

Because the charter allows only residents of the town proper to serve on council, there is a limited pool. Of the three dozen individuals in attendance Thursday at the Hartly Volunteer Fire Company, eight were from within the town limits.

From among those, five expressed an interest in running for council.

Two Hartly residents, Suzanne Morris and David Brown, were selected as interim commissioners, while others volunteered to serve on committees to help the municipality gradually get its business in order.

The three interim leaders will help prepare for elections to be held at the end of April, with the assistance of the state board of elections.

From there, three residents will be chosen for council. They’ll have power to begin collecting taxes and setting the town’s finances in order.

There is some bad news. According to Mr. Morris, the taxes paid by the town’s small population won’t be enough to cover expenses.

However, after elections are held, fundraisers directed by council members can bring in money.

Plus, Hartly should not lack for outside aid.

Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, who helped run the meeting, said he has received many calls from concerned citizens and businesses who want to help.

“If you’re willing to step up and be on town council, you will have friends,” he said.

Thursday was just one step, but it’s a marked change from the state the town has been in over the past half-decade.

“It sets an example for other towns that are in the same fix,” said Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, the other legislator at the meeting.

Ms. Morris said afterward she plans to run for town council in April and is hopeful Hartly will begin functioning again.

However, she also had a cautionary note as the townspeople try to overcome a very large obstacle.

“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” she said. “I fear that people here think that a year from now we’re going to be the old Hartly town that everybody knows, and that’s not the case. That’s not how things work.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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