Trustees Take Two Tracks Toward Separation
4/14/21 Trustee Meeting
by Irene Wrenner
April 20, 2021
The Village Trustees set a Separation plan in motion at their April 14th Meeting, the day after Merger lost at the polls by a final margin of 25 votes.
A Village-only advisory question asking for the preparation of a Separation Charter, if the Merger vote failed, received 76% approval.
Andrew Brown was re-elected Village President and Raj Chawla elected Vice President.
The Trustees appointed Evan Lawrence to the Bike / Walk Advisory Committee and Amber Thibeault appointed to the Town’s Cannabis Study Committee.
The primary agenda item was to debrief the election results, particularly the Merger and Separation questions.
Long-serving Trustee George Tyler summed it up: “We’ve had two very emphatic no’s from the Town about Merger… The Town just does not want to have us become a large community.”
Technically, only the budget for the Town would have increased. Had Merger passed, the population and boundaries of the town would have remained unchanged.
Tyler continued, “I think the clear answer we have to send back is that the disparity in funding and the responsibility in the tax burden is unsustainable for the Village, and so we must take action.
“We’ve been saying that all along … Our community in the Village is emphatically telling us that [Separation]’s what they would like to do, so I think it’s something that we absolutely have to take seriously.”
Chawla expressed disappointment. In his opinion, the Village presented “a fair, respectful, honest offer.”
Opponents of this Merger plan claim the population of the TOV (Town-outside-the-Village) was prevented from participating during the three-year Merger deliberation.
Chawla said he was “excited that people can see a future for the Village.” Given the high voter support for the advisory question, he urged moving with deliberate speed. However, he was not ready to commit to voting in November.
Brown noted that, if a Separation Charter were approved at the polls, the transition period would be complex, agreements would need to be dismantled, and so forth. He suggested creating a committee to study Merger Alternatives.
Brown also introduced the idea that the Village could annex certain TOV streets prior to the formal Separation.
Brown expressed yet another alternative: TOV residents could petition the Village not to Separate!
Throughout the meeting, the Trustees heard suggestions on how to proceed from both staff and residents.
Among those who spoke were Former State House Rep Dylan Giambatista; Gabrielle Smith, board member at Heart and Soul of Essex, which has announced it will disband; Brad Luck, EJRP Director and the driving force behind the failed 2016 proposal for a Recreation Special Taxing District; Sue McCormack, facilitator-for-hire for school and municipal conversations, and Annie Cooper, who initiated recent petitions for a Merger re-vote and Separation advisory vote.
Cooper, a Village resident, said she felt conflicted about continuing to serve the Town as a member of the Economic Development Commission. She submitted her resignation to Selectboard members the next morning.
Village resident Sam Hooker, originally from the City of Rutland, cautioned, “Separation may not be a panacea.
"We would still have to deal with our neighbors in the TOV.”
After dismissing the idea of a Merger Alternatives Committee, the Trustees narrowed their focus to studying a single alternative: Separation.
Brown suggested that the Village thoroughly explore Separation by Thanksgiving, so the 2022 legislature might act on it.
Brad Luck offered to lead the Separation effort. He envisions a committee to engage the public and host community conversations about the future.
Luck suggested the Trustees could, concurrently, draft a charter, undo the current consolidations, build a budget and design an organizational chart for a Separation plan that could then be debuted by both the outreach committee and the Trustees at a large gathering in the late summer or early fall.
Chawla admitted, “This is a big move. In a lot of ways, I think it’s bigger than merging, and I just want to make sure we’re doing it right.” He emphasized the need to engage the community in the Separation process while visioning for the future.
Mike Sullivan, Elaine Haney, Marcus Certa, Alise Certa and Annie Cooper volunteered to help.
Tyler cautioned against dismantling all intermunicipal agreements forged over time. Sharing some functions — such as the Police, Joint Stormwater Committee, the Assessor, the Administration — might be economically advantageous. He urged approaching the Separation process “objectively and dispassionately with an eye towards saving money.”