Will residents vote to leave the town and make Essex Junction a city?

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 5:06 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Voters in Essex Junction should be finding ballots in their mailboxes asking them if they want to separate the village from the town of Essex. This comes after two merger votes failed by extremely narrow margins last spring.

For more than five decades, people in the town and village have debated whether to have a unified government or to split up entirely. It’s an issue that hinges on tax dollars and every prior vote has been scuttled by the side that would end up paying more taxes.

Now, trustees in the village say it’s time for a brand new charter that could establish the city of Essex Junction.

“There’s a lot of excitement to frankly just stop talking about governance so we can move forward to what the community needs that we haven’t been able to focus on because of dealing with the issues related to merger and now separation,” said Andrew Brown, the president of the Essex Junction board of trustees.

Brown and the rest of the board have been full steam ahead for six months now, crafting the brand new charter which residents will vote on between now and Nov. 2.

The separation only needs approval from voters in the village, not the town, and Brown expects it will pass. The charter would then need the blessing of the Legislature to make Essex Junction Vermont’s 10th city.

The merger plan that failed last March was also supported by village residents but opposed in the town. The split was most likely over money. Merging would have lowered taxes on average in the village. Brown says separation will bring a similar benefit.

“A city of Essex Junction would actually cost taxpayers 7% less than what the village of Essex Junction currently costs, so yes, it can be done and it will cost less to do so,” he said.

Financial gains for the junction come at the expense of the town, which will lose 42% of its tax base.

Essex Town Selectboard Chair Andy Watts says if the separation goes through, residents should expect a tax hike or firing people and cutting nonmandated services.

“If the tax increase that we propose is not acceptable, what services do we need to cut to get there,” Watts said.

For the last decade, the two communities have been consolidating some services such as the finance department. They also share a police department.

Now, a deal has been struck that Essex Junction, if separated, would contract with the town for their policing services.

Watts says that it’s going to take time to repair those relationships if separation is successful.

“We need to work together to find ways to work together and not be enemies with our former townfolk,” Watts said.

Now if voters and the Legislature approve of the charter, the earliest the city of Essex Junction would become a reality is July 2023.

If the separation is not approved, the junction and town will head back to the drawing board to figure out a way forward.

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