In November, the Village of Essex Junction voted by a margin of nearly three-to-one to merge with the Town of Essex, which surrounds it. Now, the entire town — including the village — is being asked to do the same on Town Meeting Day.
The two municipalities have been discussing a merger, on and off, for more than 60 years — the issue first reared its head in 1958.
People in Essex Junction have to pay property taxes to not only their own village, but also the town. A merger would put an end to that. Over the course of more than a decade, taxes would be gradually lowered by 10% in what’s now the village and gradually raised by 12% elsewhere until everyone pays the same rate.
The main purpose of Thursday night’s joint meeting of the Town Selectboard and the Town Planning Commission was to update the 30-year-old Essex Town Center master plan, but the merger did come up. “I’m so excited about this conversation,” Essex Economic Development Commission chair Annie Cooper said. “The level of connectivity happening amongst so many conversations within Essex is just thrilling, especially with the upcoming merger vote. I’m hoping the outcome is positive for merger.”
The Selectboard has held two merger vote public hearings this month. Some town residents have said in those hearings that they don’t like the idea of subsidizing past financial choices by the village into which they had no input. The village would be responsible for all debt it incurs prior to a merger.
There’s a final informational meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m., and there are technological challenges to hosting what could be hundreds of people. “Unfortunately, the (Microsoft) Teams (version) that we’ve been using has a limit of 250 people, and we wanted to play it safe,” Essex deputy town manager Greg Duggan said. “We could possibly expect more than that. There’s an option through Teams called Teams Live that’s for up to 1,000 people, but it was proving a little difficult for us to get a grasp on.”
Town officials have decided to circumvent that problem by moving the informational meeting to the Zoom app. Because a merger would require a charter change, the issue would still need to go before Vermont lawmakers if the entire town approves it.
Within the last decade, the town and the village have already saved money by consolidating their formerly-separate clerk’s offices, finance departments and public works departments, among other things.