Unification questions coming at Annual Village Meeting

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By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter

There’s a lot going on with next Wednesday’s Annual Village Meeting, and it’s not just the free childcare and community dinner. The budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year is like nothing Essex Junction voters have seen.

The Village Trustees are proposing a budget that shifts the tax burden associated with the village highway department and stormwater management to the Town of Essex in a municipal collaboration that town voters approved earlier this month at Town Meeting Day. It’s part of a multi-year effort by leaders of the two overlapping municipalities to find efficiencies and come to greater tax equity between those members of the community living within the village boundary and those living outside of it.

The $3.8 million budget the trustees will present for voter approval at 7 p.m., April 1, in the Essex High School auditorium shows an increase over the current year of $262,000 (7.4 percent). However, because the Town of Essex general fund will be supporting the village highway department for the first time, the amount that village taxpayers are liable for is being reduced by roughly $450,000 compared to last year. As a result, the annual village tax bill on the average-priced village home ($280,000) will decrease by $124.

Is this an April Fool’s joke? Sort of. Village taxpayers are also town taxpayers, and the tax increase associated with the new town budget is $187 on the average-priced home. So the net result is an increase of $63, village officials estimate.

The majority of the village’s 7.4 percent budget increase can be attributed to the first year of principal repayment on a $3.3 million bond voters approved last year to address the village’s most pressing infrastructure needs. The debt service line item in the budget proposal shows a jump of roughly $155,000. Other increases in the village budget follow typical trends of salary increase in the negotiated contracts of unionized municipal workers ($40,000), a rise in the cost of employee health care benefits ($14,000), and increased savings toward future infrastructure priorities ($41,000).

The trustees propose using $35,000 in unassigned budget surplus to reduce the village property tax burden. Voters will be asked in a separate article whether to transfer $75,000 from unassigned budget surplus for future infrastructure needs. If approved, the remaining unassigned balance would be about $353,000.

The Annual Village Meeting will also feature a presentation of the results of a visioning study on the future aesthetics of Five Corners. The community dinner will begin in the cafeteria at 6 p.m. Childcare is available in the gymnasium provided by Essex Junction Recreation and Parks staff.

On April 14, coinciding with the annual school district budget votes, Essex Junction voters will see three uncontested races for municipal elected offices. Steve Eustis is running for moderator, Elaine Sopchak and Andrew Brown are running for two seats on the Board of Village Trustees, and Linda Costello is running for library trustee. All are incumbents.

Annual Village Meeting

Wednesday, April 1

Essex High School

6 p.m. Community dinner

7 p.m. Budget discussion and voting

Free childcare and senior bus rides available