Failed Essex merger headed for possible reconsideration vote

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 12:58 AM EST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2021 at 4:47 AM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - A merger between Essex and Essex Junction failed on Town Meeting Day by just 19 votes, leaving the community divided. Now, a petition is circulating for a possible reconsideration vote.

The decadeslong debate and last Tuesday’s vote have left town and village leaders trying to figure out where to go from here. Voters in the village were mostly in favor of the merger and voters in the town, though swayed, voted it down.

Village residents pay village and town taxes. They say they want more equity. Now the board of trustees is looking at what option the village has moving forward.

“We’re tired of the dance, we’re tired of the status quo and the status quo needs to change,” said Andrew Brown, the president of the Essex Village Board of Trustees.

There is a chance a reconsideration vote will happen based on a petition being circulated.

“Let’s have this reconsideration vote and if the merger passes, that would be wonderful, we’d love it. Many of us believe in one Essex and all that Essex can do for the residents of the community when we are combined together, and if that’s not what the community wants at this point then we need to look at other options,” Brown said.

There are a number of petitions on the table, one to bring the merger to another vote. The second calls for the village to separate from the town should the merger proposal fail again.

One of the main sticking points of the merger was that village residents pay on average $925 for services they’re already being taxed on by the town. For example, people in the village pay for two fire departments, one in the village and one in the town. The merger would equalize the tax rates between Essex Junction and the town of Essex, which would cause a gradual tax increase for members of the town and would be a gradual tax decrease for members of the village.

“In spite of village residents saying that they pay for services they don’t get, they pay for an awful lot of services they do get as well,” said Andy Watts, a select board member for the town of Essex.

Watts says another issue is expensive budget items the village has passed, like an expansion of the library.

“People outside the village don’t want to pay for those things that they never got a chance to vote on. That’s what I’m hearing, ‘I never voted on that, I don’t want to pay for it,’” Watts said.

Elaine Haney just lost her seat on the town of Essex Selectboard by just two votes. She thinks it’s because she supports the merger. She now says she hopes the new leadership will consider the wants and needs of both the town and the village in future decisions.

“Going forward, I think the close nature of the vote shows me that there’s a lot of work to do to repair some divisiveness that’s been going on in the community and it’s an opportunity for more conversation,” Haney said.

The Board of Trustees Tuesday night listened to many questions and concerns from residents about the future.

If a reconsideration vote takes place it will be in April or May. If it were to pass then, it would head to the Legislature. But depending on when they are in session, it could be until 2022 before the decision is finalized.

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