Macy Does the Math on Merger Costs
1/25/21 Joint Board Meeting
by Ken Signorello
January 27, 2021
In the midst of an otherwise ho-hum Joint Board meeting on January 25th, the Town Finance Director Sarah Macy provided some merger-cost updates requested by 45 residents back in early December. In addition, her numbers validated information offered by two residents on Town Meeting TV (https://youtu.be/yyv-Gngd6dQ?t=5).
Sarah Macy updated the size of the Merger Tax Shift, which has increased, as FY22 budgets are being finalized. She provided a lot of information, and her presentation is worth watching. https://youtu.be/44TB0eS3kwg?t=3179
The updated numbers show that, in the most conservative of scenarios, the estimated tax increase for a TOV property assessed at 280K is now will average $29 per year, per year. The final year increase is estimated to be $372, up from last year’s figure of $330.
The cumulative tax increase that would be paid by a TOV average-property owner over the 13 years would be $2,374.
On the TIV/Village savings side, it is now $41 per year, per year. The final year savings would be $567. With a cumulative total savings of $2,976.
These same residents were the target of a letter in which Haney characterized the presenters calculation as “absolutely false” and “absolutely NOT correct” and “a serious misrepresentation of the merger plan”. https://www.essexvt.org/DocumentCenter/View/6161/Rebuttal-to-Jan-15-Town-Meeting-TV-program?bidId=
In that letter Haney claims: “the overall increase to an average TOV property tax bill as a result of merger is just under $330, NOT over $2,000.”
In light of the calculation Macy presented, Irene Wrenner, one of the unnamed residents and publisher of this newspaper, requested that Haney’s letter be rescinded. Instead, Haney offered an apology and spread the blame for the error: “more than one board member wrote it on more than one board with staff assistance”. https://youtu.be/44TB0eS3kwg?t=6142
Other signatories to that letter are Selectboard Vice Chair Pat Murray, Village President Andrew Brown and Vice President George Tyler.
Haney deftly changed the topic to how merger would ensure everyone paid the same tax rate for all services. This prompted public member Saramichelle Stultz to complain that she has been paying more tax than outside-the-Village residents, since buying a house in the Village in 1994.
Andy Watts, citing historic tax records, pointed out that for a period, up until 1999 -- due to the IBM tax contribution to the Essex Jct. school district -- Village residents. such as Stultz, were actually paying less in total (school plus municipal) property taxes than TOV residents. https://youtu.be/44TB0eS3kwg?t=6814
Stultz also voiced an assumption that the cumulative merger increase would cease after year 13. The merger tax shift component of a tax bill would indeed stop growing, but the final increase remains part of the TOV’s overall tax burden, from year 14 forward, so long as the community remained in a merged state.
Finally, the boards discussed a variety of locations for hanging printed banners to remind residents of upcoming information sessions on the merger plan. It was noted that the initially-proposed locations were heavily biased toward the Village, while half the Town’s population resides in the TOV.
Haney and Watts then clashed over how much bias, if any, should be allowed in merger marketing materials, which are paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Watts remembered paid-consultants KSV telling the boards that residents they surveyed wanted materials to be unbiased. “Who’s gonna put this together?” Watts asked.
Haney acknowledged Watts’ dissatisfaction with the inaccuracies and pro-merger bias in the Town’s merger communications. With two other members going along with her wish to distribute materials as they are, no changes will be made.
Earlier in the meeting, the Selectboard decided the March 2nd ballot -- for the FY22 Budget, Selectboard, Moderator and Merger -- will be mailed to all active registered voters. The Trustees agreed to do the same for their Budget and Trustee ballot to be voted on in April.