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Essex merger put on hold because of pandemic

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 2:03 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 11:57 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - Essex voters will not get a chance to vote on a decades-old merger proposal this year due to delays attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essex Town and the village currently have their own charters. In order to merge the two, voters would have to approve a brand new charter, which would dissolve the current ones in place. The Essex Selectboard was initially aiming to put the question to accept a new charter on the November ballot.

Essex Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney says the board was planning to work on the draft charter all spring and summer, but had to hold off to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says they haven’t finished going through the draft charter with the board of trustees.

On Monday night, the Essex Selectboard came to the conclusion that they don’t have enough time to finish the draft charter and meet the deadline in order to put the merger question on the November ballot.

“If we wanted to put this on the November ballot, we have to finish all of our business by August 24, and that’s not far away,” Haney said. “And in order to get it on the ballot, get the absentee ballots printed, get the warnings that are required, we just can’t make it.”

Haney says there are also a lot of questions and concerns that still need to be addressed in the draft charter, such as the creation of tax districts to increase and decrease taxes as the merger occurs, and development.

“We have not had a substantial conversation around the development. Residents of the town are very concerned that a merger might mean increased development and traffic in the town center or the more rural areas of the town,” she said. “And residents of the village are concerned their downtown development and their robust growth in that area will not continue if there’s a merger. So, we have to sit down and have a very thorough conversation around concerns regarding development.”

Haney says the Selectboard will continue working on the draft charter with the board.

Some board members, including Vince Franco, suggested moving the vote to next year.

“I would be in favor of pushing the vote off until Town Meeting Day so we can kind of just take our foot off the gas a little bit,” Franco said.

Haney tells WCAX News that could happen but it’s not definite, considering the future of the pandemic is unclear at the moment. As of right now, there’s no concrete date for when the charter will be ready for the ballot.

Related Stories:

Town of Essex, village of Essex Junction discuss merger

Residents weigh in on possible Essex, Essex Junction merger

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