Separation likely after failed Essex-Essex Junction merger re-vote
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After a decades-long effort to merge Essex Junction and Essex, the Village of Essex Junction is now considering complete separation from the Town of Essex.
“The village has said, ‘Enough is enough. Merger is not palatable to the entire community,’ and as such it’s time we move forward in our own direction,” said Andrew Brown, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees President.
Brown says they are moving forward with a mindset of separating after another merger vote failed with the Town of Essex and Village of Essex Junction. The two communities have been discussing merger or separation for more than 50 years now. The merger vote failed by 17 votes on Town Meeting Day, prompting a reconsideration vote last Monday, which failed by just 26.
The Village also had an article on the ballot asking voters if they’d be in favor of separation, if the merger failed, and voters were overwhelmingly in favor of separation.
“The future is an amazing opportunity to make a new community. This hasn’t happened in any of our lifetimes, let alone the last time a separation happened was Winooski and Colchester over 100 years ago. Soon, the capability to create a new community from scratch, in all honesty, is a very exciting process that I’m personally looking forward to going to,” said Brown.
One of the main issues with merging was that Town taxes would go up while Village taxes would go down, thus equalizing the two.
Now that separation is firmly on the table, the Town of Essex is bracing for a future without the village.
“There are definitely going to be tax consequences -- 41 or 42 percent of the tax base will go away, but so will half of the services we will have to provide, so there will be half as many people,” said Andy Watts, the Town of Essex Selectboard Chair.
Watts says he believes there’s a lot of angst at this point between the Town and the Village. In fact, he says that analyses done say Town taxes could go up anywhere from 19 to 50 percent. He says with the Town being so opposed to the merger, and the village overwhelmingly in favor, he has a tough time seeing a compromise, instead of separation.
“I am sad that we don’t seem to have a path forward together. Although, potentially, even as separate entities, we can certainly cooperate on many things,” said Watts.
The separation will also involve undoing the consolidation of Village and Town departments in the last seven years. Residents will also have to decide what happens with the Essex Police Department, which is now used by both the Village and Town. Options for the Village will be to either contract out, share the department, or create their own force.
The Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees plans to put forth a separation vote to the Village residents in November. That would be a special election, so if the vote passes, the community could get the charter change to the legislature for approval by the time it reconvenes in January.
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