ESSEX JUNCTION — On Tuesday, Village of Essex Junction voters will decide whether to adopt a new municipal charter that would transform the village into an independent city.
Adopting the new charter would separate the village from the Town of Essex, meaning Essex Junction property owners would no longer be financially supporting both local governments, Village President Andrew Brown explained.
Since 1958, there have been many votes about merging with or separating from the Town of Essex. The most recent vote, on a plan to merge the two communities, was in April 2021. It failed by 25 votes.
As a result, the Village trustees created a city charter that eventually would result in separating the entities’ administration, clerk/treasurer, finance, information technology and public works operations.
In case you haven’t been following along, or are still unsure how to vote, the Reporter answered some FAQs.
Q: When is the vote?
Though more than 2,000 Village residents have already voted by mail, in-person voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at Essex High School.
All registered Essex Junction voters were mailed a ballot on Oct. 13. It can be brought to the clerk’s office at 81 Main St. or to the poll on or before Nov. 2.
“At this point we’re making sure that residents understand there’s likely a ballot in their mailbox or countertop or wherever it is they put their mail,” Village President Andrew Brown told the Reporter.
Q: How will the city be governed?
A: The city will be governed by a five-member City Council, elected at large by registered voters. City councilors will serve three-year terms and elect a president and vice president from amongst themselves.
Village trustees serving at the time the new charter takes effect — on July 1, 2022 — will become city councilors.
Evan Teich will no longer serve as unified manager. His contract will not be renewed, according to a joint statement from Brown and Essex Selectboard Chair Andy Watts.
Trustees and the selectboard say the unified manager model functioned well while the two boards worked toward service consolidation and merger of the village and town, but with the village seeking independence, they have indicated it is no longer beneficial to operate under a unified manager model.
The City will instead hire its own city manager.
Q: What will be the financial impact on Village residents?
Separating from the Town of Essex would almost certainly decrease municipal tax bills for village property owners.
Trustees say village residents can expect a 7.25% decrease in municipal taxes because they would no longer be paying for duplicate services from the Town of Essex like parks and recreation and public works.
For the owner of a $300,000 home, that savings equates to $195 annually.
“The city would cost approximately $800,000 less than what we are currently paying,” Village President Andrew Brown said during an Oct. 12 public hearing.
Q: What will happen to the taxes of town outside the village (TOV) residents?
TOV residents would face a challenging increase, as the municipality would need to make up for a 42% loss in its tax base, according to an analysis by finance director Sarah Macy.
To compensate for this loss, Essex Selectboard Chair Andy Watts said the TOV will have two choices: a sharp increase in the tax rate or a decrease in services.
The selectboard is waiting until after the vote to discuss possible cuts or service alternatives, Watts said.
Q: Will Essex Junction still be patrolled by the Essex police department?
Yes. After many joint meetings, the village trustees and town selectboard agreed to continue sharing the Essex police department between the two municipalities for at least the next 10 years.
The same police building and employees will continue to provide dispatch, law enforcement, animal control and community justice services to the town and independent city.
In the proposed contract between the trustees and the selectboard, Essex Junction would pay more of the police budget. Instead of contributing based on its share of the grand list, 42%, it will pay per capita, or 48%.
Q: If the vote passes, what’s next?
Should village voters approve, the charter would then be sent to the Vermont Legislature and eventually the governor.
State Reps. Lori Houghton and Karen Dolan would write a bill for the House Government Operations Committee to take up.
“The committee could pass [our charter] out as it is, come back to us and say it needs work or they could pass it out with their own changes to it,” Houghton said during a May 11 trustees meeting.
If passed by the Vermont House of Representatives, the charter will then move through various committees in the state senate. Once out of the legislature, it would go to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk for his signature.
Essex Junction would become a city on July 1 and establish its own services separate from the town a year later.
Q: If the vote fails, what’s next?
The answer here is unclear.
Brown told the Reporter Village trustees would reconvene and discuss next steps. If the vote is close, the charter could be put on the ballot again.
Watts said he doesn’t see an immediate action step for the town, either.
“I think it’s largely going to be in the village's court as to how they want to proceed,” he told the Reporter last week.