Essex and Essex Junction voters to decide on merger

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 12:35 AM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2021 at 4:44 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Members of the town of Essex and village of Essex Junction gathered for an informational meeting ahead of Tuesday’s vote on a potential merger of the two.

Back in November, people of the village of Essex Junction voted 70% in favor of merging the two municipalities which have very similar populations, but now the whole of the town of Essex along with the village will weigh in on Tuesday.

“I think the merger will make Essex fiscally and operationally sound and strong going into the future,” said Elaine Haney, the chair of the town of Essex Selectboard.

Haney spoke about how she believes merging will streamline the processes of both municipalities. She says merging will create one governing board, one budget, one set of ordinances, and that it will benefit both places in the future. Part of the merger also would ensure no one will lose their jobs, but rather reassess their needs as people retire or get jobs elsewhere.

One of the most talked-about points of the merger is in order to equalize taxes, residents in the town outside the village will be paying an average of $25 more per year and village voters will pay on average $36 less each year for the next 12 years. These numbers are based on a $280,000 property value equaling a total change of an increase of approximately $330 for the town outside the village and a decrease of $470 for the village.

“There is sacrifice involved with this and we are asking town residents to make this choice so that we can all move together and pay fairly and equally for all of our services and allow everybody to have access to all of those services equally,” said Haney.

Town residents in the village are currently paying on average $925 of taxes for services they already tax themselves for, which is why the equalization will be happening according to town and village leaders if the merger passes.

“We couldn’t integrate the two budgets without causing a relatively small tax increase. We’re hoping that once we if the merger is approved and we are putting things together, we might be able to lower that even more,” said George Tyler, the vice president of the Essex Junction Board of Trustees.

Multiple departments have been consolidated between the town and village over the last several years and the remaining departments such as fire, recreation, library and community development would need to be brought together over the next three to five years by the town manager.

Members of One Essex which is in support of merging the towns together were out holding signs to get others on board as well on Monday.

“The village of Essex Junction was created in 1892 so they can build sewers. The sewers have been built we think we can work together better as a community with one municipality and not with two overlapping municipalities,” said Brian Shelden, who organizes the One Essex organization.

Some 4,000 votes have already been cast for Town Meeting Day 2021 in Essex before meeting day, but not all residents were in favor of the merger.

“If a wedding is the analogy, I believe this marriage as proposed is most like a Las Vegas wedding. Seemed like a good idea at the time but the morning after things may look a little different. I’ll be voting no on this merger plan,” said Ken Signorello at Monday’s informational meeting.

If voters pass the merger, two different versions of the charter from the town and village will head to the state Legislature for approval. There, discussion will begin on whether the final charter will have seven select board members, which is in the village charter, or six which is in the town’s version.

The charter change can be seen here.

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