The Village of Essex Junction and the Town of Essex first brought up the idea of merging into a single community back in the late 1950s. It has not happened, but the town and the village may be voting on the issue again next November.
With that in mind, the Town Selectboard and the Village Board of Trustees have been working together to try to overcome potential hurdles. On Tuesday night, members of both boards discussed one obstacle that may have been the key factor in the most recent merger vote, in 2007, going down in defeat.
The two communities’ Subcommittee on Governance went over how property taxes would work after the potential merger. The current proposal would raise taxes in what’s now the town and lower them in what’s now the village. One of the measures the subcommittee spoke about to address that is a phase-in period, of a length to be determined, when property taxes would gradually be raised in the town by a set amount per year.
This would prevent taxes from having to be raised by a more substantial amount all at once. George Tyler, vice president of the Essex Junction Village Board, cited that possibility of a more drastic increase as the main reason why the 2007 merger attempt was voted down.
As currently proposed, the new, merged governing board would have two seats for the village, two seats for the town and three at-large seats. The only person to speak up in the public comment period was Ken Signorello, a town resident who opposes that structure. “Two from the village kind of cancels out two from the town, so they don’t really count, so it’s the three at-large that are the big issue. You’re going from a situation where currently, it takes three to have a majority, to a situation where it takes two to have a majority,” he said. “I really want to encourage you to abandon that idea and go to a totally district-based system, three and three. You want to have fairness? You want to have a chance of this thing flying? You’ve really got to show that you’re improving a situation, not making it worse.”
Tyler said the subcommittee would actually prefer a different structure as well, but he said the proposed structure comes from the notion that the 130-year history of the village and the town as separate entities can’t be simply wiped away through a single ballot measure. “We said we’d like to see it all at-large,” he said. “We think the best thing to do would just be to say, if you’re elected to a board, if you’re elected to the new board, you represent the whole community. You’re not here to represent your neck of the woods. You’re here to represent the whole community, so you’ve got to learn and understand and care about the whole community, but we’re kind of acknowledging that there is this transitional period where the village and town are coming together and there’s going to be some uncertainty.”
The full Essex Junction Village Board and the full Essex Town Selectboard have a joint meeting at the village offices next Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Subcommittee on Governance will have its next meeting on December 12.