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Essex merger reconsideration vote set for April

Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 9:33 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - The fight to merge the town of Essex and the village of Essex Junction continues. Next month, all 22,000-plus residents will reconsider the proposal, again.

The long-anticipated vote to merge the town and village failed by a mere 19 votes on Town Meeting Day. A petition signed by more than 5% of the population has it back on a ballot, this time for the April 13 election, the village’s annual Town Meeting Day. Every registered town and village voter will get that ballot in the mail. It will also include the school budget question.

Village residents must make an additional decision: If the merger doesn’t pass, should the village separate from the town? It’s an advisory vote, so the result is nonbinding. The Essex Junction trustees could use that information to pursue community discussions about the possibility. Ultimately, only village residents can vote on whether to separate from the town.

“They’re showing that they still want to merge. But if they can’t, then they’re going to pursue other options, and that’s a risk that the town is taking at this point, and that’s why I’m so concerned,” said former Essex Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney.

She says separation could put a financial strain on both communities. However, she says right now, there are too many variables to cite specifics.

State statute requires that the number of votes to pass reconsideration must exceed 66% of the votes that prevailed in the previous vote. In other words, since 3,756 residents voted “no” on March 2, the merger needs at least 2,479 “yes” votes to pass, and the “no” votes can’t exceed 2,479.

Because it’s a charter change, the Legislature will ultimately have the final say on any vote.

The Town Clerk must have ballots by April 13.

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