By Elaine Haney & Andrew Brown

The Town of Essex Selectboard and the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees have been meeting jointly for the last several months, preparing for a dialogue with the Essex community regarding our consolidation efforts going forward. In June 2018 both boards created a joint governance subcommittee tasked with researching potential new governance structures. In December, after researching and vetting over a dozen possibilities, the subcommittee recommended two options to consider: a single municipality with one charter, and a single municipality with one charter that includes up to two special districts. Another option is the current governance structure we have now: two separate municipalities with separate charters, sharing some municipal services under contract.

In order to narrow down the choices, the subcommittee considered how each governance model answered a particular set of questions, among them: Does this model reduce the number of times residents have to vote? Does this model reduce or eliminate duplicate services? Does this model allow for better integrated planning? Asking these questions helped the subcommittee identify potential governance structures that would best suit our community’s needs.

There are many additional decisions to be made alongside the choice of governance structure. How will municipal departments be organized? How many people should be on the new governing board and how should they be elected? How will we address capital budgeting? How can we ensure appropriate levels of taxation across the entire community? Both the Selectboard and Trustees have ideas about the answers to these questions, but we need community input to ensure we are on the right track. We need to know what is important to community members from every corner of the Town and Village, and what they want to see in their local government.

This is where you come in.

Recently the boards hired market research firm Kelliher Samets Volk (KSV) of Burlington to help us collect your opinions, concerns, and aspirations for your local government. The joint governance subcommittee, along with Town and Village staff, will be working with KSV on a robust outreach program to collect this information. This process will start this first week of July and end in October. KSV will also review the results of several recent Town-wide efforts, including the reports of the Heart & Soul, Essex Governance Group (EGG), and Thoughtful Growth in Action (TGIA) initiatives.

The first step is a community-wide qualitative survey, which has been released this week. This survey will ask questions related to residents’ awareness of and interest in merging Town and Village government services. It will ask about what residents consider to be our most pressing issues, and the perceived benefits and challenges of merging, and will offer an opportunity to provide comments. The survey will be distributed widely through email, municipal websites, Front Porch Forum, and social media. Printed copies will be available at the libraries, municipal offices, and the senior center. We hope that you will fill out the survey, and share it with your neighbors—it is essential that folks provide their input into the future of our community.

Following the survey, there will be six focus groups, and another, different survey. We will write more about these opportunities for input over the next few weeks. We are raising your awareness now so that you can keep an eye out for the survey and participate from the start.

The Selectboard and the Trustees are looking forward to hearing from residents all over the Town and Village. We want to hear your concerns, your expectations, and your questions. When the survey comes your way, please be sure to fill it out and also share it with your neighbors and friends.

We’d like to thank The Essex Reporter for providing us with this column space to communicate with Essex residents on a regular basis about our consolidation initiative. Stay tuned for future updates, and if you have any questions, please reach out to us at ehaney@essex.org and abrown@essexjunction.org. You can also reach out to our municipal manager, Evan Teich, at eteich@essex.org.

Elaine Haney is the Town of Essex Selectboard Chair. Andrew Brown is the Village of Essex Jct. Board of Trustees President.

Editor’s note: The Reporter is providing the trustees and selectboard a regular space to discuss consolidation-related issues. Want to respond to something in the column? Send a letter to news@essexreporter.com.