Projected TOV Separation Costs Less Than Merger

1/3/22 Selectboard Meeting Highlights

by Irene Wrenner

January 8, 2022

The packed agenda at the first Selectboard meeting of 2022 included a discussion of anticipated tax increases due to the potential Separation of the Village of Essex Junction from the Town of Essex. 

 

Former Finance Director Sarah Macy has estimated the average Town-outside-the-Village (TOV) household tax increase due to Separation will be $25 less than the $372 annual increase that was projected with Merger just one year ago. This estimated $347 annual increase would be reflected in the FY24 budget which, if Separation passes the VT legislature, would be voted on in March of 2023.

 

Earlier in the meeting, the Selectboard voted to warn the FY23 Town General Fund budget of $16,675,241 for a vote in March. The budget shows an increase in expenditures of $749,113 or 4.7%, over the current budget. The estimated tax increase to a $280,000 Town property will be $59.36 if that budget is approved in the March election.

One Selectboard member, Pat Murray, said he welcomed the new tax, “I support this tax completely, 100%.” He stated the survey results indicate that more education and marketing is needed to change enough minds in order for it to pass. He said that the current timeline is too short to explain and sell it to voters.  

 

Asked for the second time to take a position on Separation, the Selectboard again declined, even after staff offered a list of position statements from which to choose. Nevertheless, Selectboard Chair Andy Watts said he would meet with Village President Andrew Brown to coordinate what both might offer as testimony for Separation to the Vermont House Committee on Government Operations. That body, in turn, may or may not pass the Separation Charter on to the General Assembly for approval.

 

During the Capital Budget conversation, Public Works Director Dennis Lutz recommended spending part of the Undesignated Capital Reserve on repairing the historic Water Tower at Fort Ethan Allen. Its roof, trim and upper window frames need to be restored before structural damage becomes irreversible. 

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The staff provided the following summary of changes this year: 

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He added, “To allow that to fall apart, to me, is a mistake. It’s a shame.” The Town has received some additional funds, such as American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) money,  this year and has some significant surplus funds. If repaired now, the tower could stand for another 50 years, Lutz said. He doesn’t expect those funds to be available in the future.

Later in the meeting, the Selectboard opted to NOT put a Local Option Tax (LOT) question on the March Ballot. Town staff reported results of their recent survey: a majority of respondents did not favor the idea. Most Selectboard members expressed agreement. Dawn Hill-Fleury said, “I really don’t think this is the right time to bring it up. I would really like to see the dust settle on Separation first. And then revisit.“

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View from the Fort Tower (2016)