The Village of Essex Junction is an incorporated municipality within the Town of Essex. The governments of the two municipalities, the Town and the Village, have been consolidating services and departments since 2013, and are now exploring the concept of a complete merger.

By Andrew Brown and Max Levy

It should be no surprise to anyone in the public, or to any Town Selectboard or Village Trustee member, that at the end of the day “taxes” are the Marcia Brady of the family. During most board meetings the word “tax” comes up and the notion of how taxes will be impacted is at the forefront of our minds during specific budget development meetings.

We are often asked, “Why merge now?” One reason is because each year that passes is another year where the cost to merge in the future goes up. This is largely due to the reality that the Town and Village have employees. Employees deserve to earn a wage that is livable. This means that as the cost of living goes up, employees deserve to have their wages go up as well. Additionally, we contract for services such as construction, legal, auditing, etc. Each of our contracted service providers also deserves to earn a livable wage. Not to mention the ballooning costs of health insurance for employees. All of this combined equates to costs increasing every year to provide Town and Village services we currently have. It is in part because of this reality that the Town and Village began exploring how to work together to reduce the amount of growth in taxes. We cannot escape the ever increasing costs of operating the Town and Village. But we can temper them over time by making good financial decisions.

Since 2013 the Town and Village have consolidated some of the services which have historically been provided by both governments. Having one government provide a service for both communities is not only more efficient, it also costs less in the short- and long-term. These consolidations have benefitted both the Town and the Village by reducing the amount of taxes we need to raise. As Max Levy shared during Town Meeting this past March, here is the approximate amount of money–your taxes–Town and Village residents saved from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2019 due to consolidations:

During that six-year time period, over $2 million in tax dollars stayed in our pockets instead of going to the Town and Village governments. For the fiscal year we are currently in, July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, the approximate amount of money (taxes) Town and Village residents are estimated to save is:

Both Town and Village residents will keep nearly $700,000 in our pockets this year. Consolidations provide an ongoing savings that we will continue to realize and that will increase over time the more we consolidate services, tempering future increases.

Another answer to the question, “Why merge?” is to continue to find efficiencies that can better control costs over time. The above savings were publicly vetted through the annual budget process, approved  by voters, and enacted through signed agreements between both the Selectboard and Trustees. Any additional opportunities for consolidation and savings that could be achieved by merging are being explored by both boards, with the intent that potential savings like these will be built into the budget of the newly unified community. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that many factors influence tax rates, including inflation, grand list growth rate, economic conditions, and urgent capital needs, all of which will occur whether or not we merge. The long-term savings we seek must take those unavoidable increases into account.

There is so much more to say on the topic of taxes, and in this column over the coming weeks and months we will share our thoughts and concerns, and do our best to answer yours. Please feel free to contact Elaine Haney (ehaney@essex.org), Andrew Brown (abrown@essexjunction.org), or Evan Teich (eteich@essex.org) with your questions and comments, and keep up to date on the process by visiting GreaterEssex2020.org.