Candid Conversations on Separation

by Irene Wrenner

October 26, 2021

The Essex Retorter spoke separately with "Jennie" and "Eileen," who have different takes on the upcoming vote. Both have lived in the Village for more than 30 years. (Names changed at request of those interviewed based on the volatility of the issues.)

How will you vote on November 2nd? What informed your stance on Separation?

I will vote FOR Separation. I tend to be fairly passive about getting information.

I intend to vote NO. I read minutes, agendas, and documents published by the municipal governments.

Has the official info led you to believe Separation is a good idea?

The flyer I got in the mail this week indicated that it was going to be pretty painless and was going to benefit me financially. I do have lingering questions, however. 

Data can be twisted / skewed any way the presenter wishes it to be.

Could the costs of being Separated have been underestimated?

They said only 3 positions need to be hired. I don’t see how only 3 people can absorb all of the losses of the services that have been jointly shared up until now.

I don’t think [the estimates] will hold up. 

Do you think that the $195 savings will only evaporate ― and make it cost neutral to Separate ― or that Separation will cost more?

I would say that savings is going to evaporate and [taxes would] possibly go up.

I think that any potential savings will decrease ― very quickly. 

Are the savings more, less, or about what you expected?

I would say $195 is a very negligible amount.

Besides a potential tax decrease, any other benefits to Separation?

I was displeased that we would lose our identity in a merger. I want it to still be Essex Junction. I’m very pleased that not only will that name survive, but we will be designated as a City.

I was unaware of the terrible simmering [Town vs Village] problems until fairly recently, when I moved back. I’m thrilled to think that we’d put this to bed.

I don’t see any benefits. My belief is the Trustees are looking to get out from underneath the thumbs of the Selectboard. It will give them more free rein without any constraints. It would give them more opportunity to push their own agendas.

I’m happy with the status quo. I have no issue at all personally with the two entities being as they are.

One concern is access to outside-the-Village parks ― like Indian Brook Park. Right now, Town residents may buy season passes. With Separation, City residents would be eligible to purchase day passes.

I don’t access those parks so it’s a non-issue for me.

There isn’t a lot that I can envision giving up as a result of the Separation. At this point, it seems like there are more benefits. But, as I stated before, I also think there are some hidden costs that we’re not taking into account.

I believe all those concerns are being discussed and there will be resolutions regarding [that] Park.

Another concern is police services. The Town will continue to control the Police Department and contract those services out to the Village. How do you think that will work out? Will the Village eventually develop its own Department?

We need to give the Town ample opportunity to show how this leasing basis will work and develop a set of criteria [for] our expectations. If those expectations are met, it will be a perfectly acceptable thing. If reviews of the criteria point [out] places that are lacking, and those are not remedied, obviously creating our own police force would be the next step.

I don’t believe the town or any potential city can afford to mount a police department on its own.

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The outstanding bond on the Police Station will last another 13 years. At that time, the Town would likely look carefully to see if sharing is working out for both communities.

Given the [proximity], it really makes sense to share. But, at the same time, there could be differences in philosophy, the cost could become too prohibitive, [and more]. A very careful vetting of how it’s working out will tell us what direction to go in.

You acknowledged that the cost isn’t a major component. How is that going to pan out, if the savings promised don’t materialize?

Once the Separation has truly occurred, there really isn’t any going back from it. We made our bed, and now we must lie in it.

If it doesn’t happen, there will be no consequences for the Trustees.

What’s your sense of how Separation will go, as you listen to others?

I believe that it will go quite well because it has been extremely well thought through – or appears to be. I believe we will ultimately be unhappy with the cost, but, like many things, it’s a tradeoff. We want to be our own identity, our own City. And if it costs us more to accomplish that, oh well, that just comes with the territory.

I’m very unhappy that Brad Luck has stated that we need 4 full-time equivalent employees in order to run our entity again.

I’m very unhappy that we’re being told that Lincoln Hall will have to be renovated.

It’s not going to be so simple.

If it fails, we’ll be back to Status Quo. What do you think might happen after that?

I really can’t predict. I am hopeful that maybe we just let things ride. I was looking at the timeline of all the different votes. If it fails… let’s not keep picking at a scab. Let’s let it simmer for a while, and maybe take it off the public agenda so that we’re not talking about it. And then rethink it at some point down the road.

I think we’ll see another merger vote or another separation vote. It’s the history of the area.

It was mentioned that a lot of the consolidations have helped us to share staff and that was thought to be done as a preliminary to merger, which was thought to be an inevitable thing?

I think it was a good experiment, and for the most part it seems that it was successful. Merger was never a truly bad option. It seems the will of the people is not to go in that direction.

One Village Trustee said a few weeks ago that, even if Separation passes, he could see merging in ten years if there were a more amiable Selectboard.

I can’t imagine [those five people] would be the determining factor.

Do you have a sense of what the legislature’s response to this vote might be, if it passes?

Frankly, I think the legislature has so many more important things to debate. Making a determination for a Village that wants to become a Separate City is sort of a no-brainer. I just can’t imagine why it would be blocked on that level, but, knowing the kind of politics that take place here in Vermont, I suppose nothing should surprise me.

The House Government Operations Committee is known for not dealing with complex town questions. What if they sit on it?

If we are held hostage by them, there isn’t really anything we can do. . . . It seems ridiculous, . . . almost disrespectful of them to refuse to approve of something that took us time, money, effort, emotion, in some cases anger. If we finally come to a consensus ourselves, it [would seem] very unfair of them to not validate that.