ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. – The Essex Selectboard and Essex Junction Board of Trustees met Tuesday to continue working out the details of a merger that would go to a vote in March.
At recent meetings, discussion has centered around lowering tax impacts on Essex residents. A survey with respondents from both communities found that tax increases were a primary concern in Essex.
One idea that received some support from town and village officials was a local option tax. Voters in nearby communities including Burlington, South Burlington and Williston have approved the measure in an effort to boost revenue.
Voters would have to approve the levy, which would add an extra 1 percent tax onto state or local business taxes like sales and alcoholic beverage taxes. Essex Junction’s Village Capital Committee said the two communities would receive an estimated $1.2 million annually from a local option tax. Some believe this could lower operating budgets for both the town and village and generate more money for costly infrastructure repairs.
If the idea gains traction, a full report early next year would outline how the funds would be distributed to each community. Unified Manager Evan Tiech, who oversees both the town and village, said the roughly 21,000 people living there are missing out on the benefits.
“When they come here, you collect nothing other than the state sales tax,” Tiech said. “That’s just the construct of what happens when your neighbors have this tax and you don’t.”
Essex Junction has an estimated $11 million in infrastructure projects that officials want to address in the next five to six years, but only $750,000 a year for capital expenditures. Tiech said there’s typically other projects that also get added to the list as needs arise.
The local option tax is viewed by some town and village officials as a good way to alleviate property taxes. Others felt that adding another major item to the ballot when voters already have the merger to consider would be confusing.
“It’s a lot to ask of the voters,” said Essex Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney. “I don’t disagree with the benefit, I think it’s a no-brainer, but now is not the time.”
Haney said she’d still be interested in seeing more research on how a local option tax might benefit the communities.
The Selectboard and Board of Trustees are scheduled to meet again on Monday, December 2.