Elaine Haney’s “Merger FAQ Recap” made me remember a 1979 mission I made to the People’s Republic of China, where I had my first taste of Peking Duck, a delicious delicacy. My delight though was short-lived when I learned the ducks were force-fed to fatten them up for slaughter. Now, after having been stuffed with a steady stream of merger promos, I can imagine how the ducks felt.
In this latest infomercial, Haney answers the question “Why Merge?” I call it the kumbaya version, full of sweet-sounding bromides describing a municipal Promised Land. Yet, after a long career in politics, including as chief of staff to a U.S. presidential candidate, I’m a bit skeptical, believing the latest installment of merger propaganda is driven by what normally motivates politicians: Money and Power.
“Why now?” First, the Money! Going back in time, a December 1974, Burlington Free Press story proclaimed, “Essex Junction Voters Turn Back Mergers;” later, in March 1982, another article headlined “Essex Villagers Reject Merger.” Evidently, with IBM once underwriting some 60 percent of the village budget, villagers — by overwhelming margins — weren’t inclined to share. One trustee told the press that “the vote reflected a wish by villagers to retain the identity of Essex Junction even if it means extra costs.” Today, with no more manna falling from IBM Heaven, village leaders want others to help pay for their identity. People like many of you and me.
Just looking at assessed home values and tax projections, some big winners pop out among the merger ringleaders: SB chair Haney’s domicile could see an estimated $611 reduction in taxes; Trustee Tyler’s post-merger windfall could be roughly $591. As for my modest home, Tyler and Haney would pick my family’s pockets for $329 or more in added taxes annually. So, if you are confused by Why Merge? and Why Now? consider this old saying: “When you see a situation you cannot understand, look for the financial interest.”
“Does it matter if the Selectboard members live in any particular area of the Town?” Politicians are notoriously hungry for power, and that appetite is apparent in Haney’s answer to this question. Haney/Tyler seem to favor an at-large district, claiming “Where a candidate lives in the Town is not relevant because they are elected by the entire population (at-large) of the entire Town of Essex.” Of course, they don’t tell you the downside, where one or two neighborhoods could dominate the Selectboard the way Burlington, with 26 percent of Chittenden County’s population, controls 50 percent of our county’s six, at-large Vermont Senate seats. Williston, with 6 percent of the people, has 33 percent of those seats. Essex, with nearly 15 percent of the county’s residents, has none.
It is relevant where SB members live. Therefore, I favor multiple neighborhood districts, where representatives are familiar faces, not strangers most folks couldn’t pick out in a police line-up. Of course, I’m biased: I don’t lust for power.