[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.]
This week’s column is part two of the results of the recent resident survey. It covers attitudes about budget voting, taxation, municipal services, development, identity, and communications. You can watch a video of the survey results and read the full report at www.GreaterEssex2020.org.
Municipal Budget Voting
Nearly three-quarters (74.17%) of residents disagree with continuing to vote on municipal budgets during annual meetings. Of those that disagree, 86.28% would rather have more people be able to have a say in the budget and believe Australian ballot would accommodate that. Also, 85.65% say they don’t believe those who are able to attend annual meetings represent the entire community.
The survey contained information about municipal tax rates, stating that Village residents currently pay more in municipal taxes compared to residents of the Town outside the Village. It was explained that a move toward a single municipality would result in tax rates meeting somewhere in the middle. Respondents were then asked whether they would support having a single tax rate.
Of the respondents 66.11% support a single tax rate; 33.89% were opposed. Village residents in 8-2 are overwhelmingly in favor, with 41% indicating it would result in their taxes going down. That wasn’t the top reason they support a single tax rate, however.
Across all districts, residents supporting a single tax rate say they feel it is fair because everyone is an Essex resident — 80.39% of those in favor of a single tax rate said this. The other top reason is the belief that a single tax rate would help ensure the quality of municipal services, and that access to those services would be maintained throughout all of Essex —– 73.26% of those in favor of a single tax rate indicated this. Half of those in favor said a single tax rate would make it feel like a more unified community.
A third of the community, however, does not support a single tax rate, with the strongest opposition coming from 8-3. The top reason for not wanting a single tax rate, cited by 76.31% of those not in favor, is the belief that not everyone benefits equally from municipal services and shouldn’t have to pay the same rate.
Slightly more than a quarter, 25.12%, of respondents indicated they would like to see a single tax rate achieved in no more than 5 years. 18.6% indicated no more than 3 years. Some respondents who did not favor merger reported feedback that the question on timing forced those who are not in favor of a single tax rate to make a choice without giving them an option to indicate they wouldn’t support it, and KSV agrees with that feedback. That could in part explain why the majority of those that would disagree with having a single tax rate would want to push it out as far as possible: 58.99% of those who oppose merger indicated timing of no more than 12 years, or 22.75% of all respondents.
Just 28.08% of respondents indicate concern that merger would decrease services that contribute to their quality of life in Essex, such as the availability of recreational programs or the frequency of street plowing. This finding holds throughout the different areas of the community.
Those that believe merger would impact municipal services are concerned about public works (60.76%), recreation (59.49%), libraries (56.12%), and planning/community development (52.32%). TOV residents were more likely to express concern over planning/community development, whereas Village residents were more likely to express concern over libraries, recreation, and the senior center.
More than half, 53.91%, of respondents said there are aspects they both like and dislike regarding development in Essex. District 8-3 residents were more likely to dislike how the community is developing (32.09%), compared to 21.80% of District 8-1 residents and 19.71% of District 8-2 residents. Nearly 20% of District 8-1 residents and 18.55% of District 8-2 residents say they like how the community is developing, compared to 10.32% of District 8-3 residents. The survey finds that District 8-3 residents are more concerned about potential negative impacts related to development resulting from merger.
The survey also asked how important it is to retain the character of the rural parts of Essex. Nine in 10 residents say it is at least somewhat important, with over half (53.67%) saying it is very important, including 4 in 10 of Village residents and 76.13% of District 8-3 residents.
The survey did not specifically ask about names for a single municipality, but did ask about the importance of identity. Village residents are slightly more likely to want to hold on to some aspects of the existing Town and Village identities.
Sixty percent of Village residents supported the idea that the Village should be known as the unincorporated Village of Essex Junction, with no separate governing body or taxing authority, in an effort to retain the Village’s historic identity in a merged community. Forty percent of TOV residents supported this.
Throughout all phases of research, residents have said they want the two governing bodies to provide more details and information related to a potential merger question.
Residents prefer information to be sent directly to them, whether through mail or email, including Front Porch Forum updates. Direct communication is recommended, however, ever-present resources like the Town and Village websites and www.GreaterEssex2020.org are also valuable places for residents to receive information. Survey comments showed a desire for merger information to be communicated early, often, and objectively.