Essex Road Sign

Eyeing a possible November vote on the issue, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees started working on the detailed process of separation Tuesday night.

The board decided at its April 14 meeting that it would allocate some time during each of its regular meetings through the fall to prepare for a vote by village residents on whether or not to separate from the Town of Essex and become the incorporated City of Essex Junction.

That decision came on the heels of a second town-wide vote on a proposed plan for merger which was once again defeated April 13 – along with a village-specific vote that showed significant support from its residents in pursuing separation.

The trustees, with feedback from the public, moved forward with that decision and conducted its first work session April 27.

Leading that discussion – focused around goals, operating principles, and community conversations – was Essex Junction Recreation and Parks Director (EJRP) Brad Luck who had been tabbed as the staff project coordinator since he is a village-only employee and would not possess the same conflict of interest as staff members who are employees of both the village and the town might have.

Luck presented a document he compiled through trustees’ feedback to him which stated the board’s goal and how that goal would be achieved. The initiative took on the name “Essex Junction Independence” at the suggestion of Board President Andrew Brown and listed the objective as being: “To create an independent Essex Junction, ensuring that it: has a foundation that provides for economic and political stability, reflects the Village character, has opportunity for growth, and looks towards the future.”

Essex Junction Independence was listed as needing to consist of four points:

  1. Being a village-led process that is future oriented. Village staff and officials will steer clear of distractions and act with civility, transparency, and deliberateness.
  2. The trustees will work to develop consensus and speak with a consistent voice.
  3. Village staff and officials will engage with, bring together, seek input from, and work to inform the community.
  4. Village staff and officials will work with the selectboard and maintain a healthy relationship with the village’s neighbors in the town.

Luck went on to explain that there will be five main bodies of work that will need to be completed – laying a framework for the conversations that will need to be had: creating a charter, determining organization and a budget, identifying items to work with the selectboard on, listening to village residents, and educating and informing residents.

A snapshot of a potential budget for the project of seeking separation was introduced to the trustees, Luck saying he had created it using “educated guesses.” It amounted to a range of $46,000-61,000 with attorney consultation being an unknown line item that was listed with a range of $5,000-20,000. A $25,000 special election in November accounted for a bulk of the projection.

For community feedback, Luck said he would like to create online surveys that would be available each Wednesday following trustees meetings for immediate responses throughout the process.

An important piece of the process, Luck said, will be the community conversations. He suggested allocating $10,000 for that grassroots, community-led effort which would help develop village-centered values and a vision for the future – as well as learning of concerns residents may have of separation so those can be addressed. That funding would come from the EJRP budget, according to Luck.

“You have a lot of really great people in the village who have some energy and passion around this – around our future,” said Luck, “and I think we should tap their energy and their expertise.”

The board of trustees gave a consensus in using $10,000 of the unspent Community Events line in the recreation department’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget to pay for the conversations – which is envisioned as being autonomous from the trustees. Elaine Haney had volunteered to lead the group and was approved to do so.

Luck quickly touched upon a general timeline he had listed in his presentation and said he expects to have something more detailed at the next work session scheduled for May 11:

  • May/June - Charter development and review
  • June/July - Organization and budget; Selectboard conversation
  • August - Hear findings from the community conversations and ensure alignment where appropriate; Review and finalize charter and documents; Prepare informational materials
  • September/October - Village summit; Public hearings; Vote warning
  • November - Vote

Here are three other takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting

Bike/Walk Advisory Committee’s budget and purchasing rapid flashing beacons

The trustees unanimously approved assigning any unspent funds in the Bike/Walk Advisory Committee’s (BWAC) FY21 budget as of June 30, 2021 for the same purpose in FY22. BWAC Chair Micah Hagan said the committee is hoping to roll over whatever is left of the budget’s $7,000 that has not been used by that date to join FY22’s $10,000 for the purchase of two rectangular rapid flashing beacons.

It was noted that those two beacons would likely be installed at the Main Street/Pleasant Street and Lincoln Street/Central Street intersections to improve crosswalk safety.

Potential ordinance to control commercial trash truck activity

The issue of commercial trash trucks causing a great deal of noise in the early hours of the morning led to the trustees discussing whether an ordinance should be adopted to limit the hours those trucks can operate within the village.

Village staff had reviewed similar ordinances that are in place in Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski and suggested something similar. But what exact hours that would entail was the heart of the discussion. Recommendations about prohibiting pickups before 6 or 7 a.m. were offered – one member of the public saying a compromise of 6:30 a.m. could work as well.

The trustees asked staff to continue conversations with the collection companies to see what sort of impact such an ordinance would have on services and if they would consider any flexibility in operations.

Graduations coming to the Champlain Valley Expo

The trustees approved an additional four amplified sound waivers to the Champlain Valley Exposition (CVE) for the purpose of high school graduations in June.

CVE Executive Director Tim Shea said the waivers are more so needed because the stage will be set up facing east – making the residences in that direction able to hear the sound more easily than they normally would when stages are set up facing west.

According to Shea, Center for Technology, Essex and Champlain Valley Union High are set to graduate June 10 and 11, respectively, with both South Burlington High and Essex High graduating June 12, and none of the events are expected to last much later than 8 p.m.

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