I attended the Governance Subcommittee Meeting on March 5th.

That night Library staff and board members formally requested that, if merger passes in November, the Brownell and Essex Free Libraries be allowed to remain separate entities.

Three Village residents and one TOV resident serving as Governance Subcommittee members agreed.

The Libraries are one set of four departments that, today, remain not-consolidated under the Town government.

The other three are Planning, Fire, and Recreation. (EJRP and EPR have co-located but are still run separately.)

Language in the draft “merger” charter indicates the Fire departments would also be allowed to stay separate.

All of this separation amidst consolidated departments sounds less like merger to me and more like the Separate-and-Share proposal unveiled last fall by TOV resident and Village business owner Ken Signorello.

SAS suggests that, instead of being merged into one, each of these four departments have options. Their Village and Town counterparts can:

  • remain separate entities with their control and budgeting controlled by the Village or TOV respectively — with reciprocity where appropriate;
  • consolidate into a single entity under one municipality with contracting for service by the other, as was done when the TOV contracted with EJ Fire prior to 1973; or
  • consolidate into a single utility-like entity that could contract with the TOV, Village and other neighboring towns.

SAS might cost less, more, or similar to merger but would provide greater local control than merger, based on what’s best for each department.

As a supporter of SAS, I’m delighted that the separation of the Libraries and Fire departments is something the Governance Subcommittee agrees with.

In a merged-budget scenario, I do wonder, how would the Brownell Library be treated? The FYE2020 budget for Brownell was $740K, while EFL was $396K. Would a more conservative Selectboard choose to equalize spending?

That same night, requests were made of staff to price out the costs of both SAS and a complete separation, as well as the costs of merging, so that voters have more data on which to base their decisions, come November. Stay tuned!

Irene Wrenner

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