By Elaine Haney & George Tyler

If you go to Google Maps and search for Essex, Vermont, you will get a bird’s eye view of the state of Vermont, and there we are, just east of Lake Champlain, nestled between Colchester, Westford, Jericho, and Williston.

You’ll see an outline of the Town of Essex and its almost square shape, and you may be surprised by how big it is–over 36 square miles according to the US Census. You’ll see a handful of roads like Routes 15 and 128 criss-crossing the entire Town.

If you zoom in a little, you’ll see the tangle of roads at Five Corners, and fewer and fewer roads as you move northeast, northwest, or southeast out to the borders of the Town. At this level you can start to see neighborhoods: Pinewood Manor, Fairview Farms, Indian Acres, Lang Farm, and many more. From this high up, they all look the same.

But there are definite differences between the many neighborhoods of Essex. Out in the rural Town, you’ll drive more gravel roads than paved. There’s a lot of space between neighbors, and cell service is spotty. The Village is the home one of the top five busiest intersections in all of Vermont. There’s almost no open land, and cell service is a little less spotty (let’s be honest).

Despite these differences between neighborhoods, their needs are similar in terms of what they require from their local government. They all need fire protection, and stormwater management, and tax assessment. Every neighborhood, from Brigham Hill Road to Cascade Drive, needs plowing in the winter. Every neighborhood, from Susie Wilson Road to Corduroy Drive, needs wastewater treatment. Every neighborhood in the Town of Essex consists of school age children, senior citizens, working parents, young professionals, and more. Our neighborhoods, no matter where they are located, are far more alike than not.

It may seem like there are vast differences between a neighborhood in the rural Town and a neighborhood in the Village Center. It may feel like the needs of one individual neighborhood are more pressing than another’s. And it is natural and understandable to feel a strong sense of place and even a sense of pride about one’s own little corner of greater Essex. That’s what makes our neighborhoods great–and it’s what has made Essex, VT pop up on multiple “best places to live” rankings in recent years. There is nothing wrong with feeling your neighborhood is the best. But it’s important to remember that your neighborhood is just one of many strong, beautiful, friendly little enclaves that make up the entire Town of Essex, and that it is those neighborhoods together that make greater Essex the wonderful place we call home.

As we continue to discuss the future of greater Essex, it’s important to remember this distinction between our neighborhoods and our Town and our Village. When we talk about consolidating services or merging municipalities, those are Town-and-Village-wide decisions that will affect every household regardless of the neighborhood. We must take a broader view of what is best for all of Essex, and not just what might be best for a particular neighborhood. Talking about merging is looking at this bigger picture.

One of the questions in the recent community survey asked residents if they were aware that greater Essex is comprised of two municipalities. It is surprising how many residents do not know this, though it’s easy to see why: most of our kids attend the same high school, we all pay one tax bill, and we have one police department. But the fact remains that we are two municipalities. The potential merger of two governments we are currently exploring seeks to address some perceived and actual inequities–things that various neighborhoods feel strongly about–so that the entirety of greater Essex sees the benefit.

In upcoming columns we will begin to address some of the concerns we are hearing from residents, based on the results of the community survey and on feedback we’ve heard from all corners of the Town and Village. We will talk about things like what changes in service may or may not occur, what might happen to certain municipal departments, and what might happen to taxes. And we will continue to share how we are working on change that will benefit every resident–for in the end, that is what we all are: residents of the Town of Essex.

You can now visit www.GreaterEssex2020.org for ongoing updates. We will make additions and improvements to this site over the next many months. Stay tuned for next week’s column, and as always, send your questions, thoughts, and concerns 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.