Cash: In addition to countless hours of staff time, more than $16,000 has been spent on a special attorney to answer questions. Another $50,000 was allocated by the Selectboard in 2019 to hire facilitators and consultants, including market research firm Kelliher Samets Volk (KSV).
Efforts: Results of that expenditure -- two surveys and several focus groups -- have been patently ignored by the governing boards. For example, the Trustees chose the least-popular representation model (hybrid) and ignored the most-popular (district), when drafting their version of the charter.
Opportunity Costs: While other towns work to address issues like economic development, climate change, and homelessness, Essex is re-directing a major portion of its government resources toward forcing its nested communities to "merge" their budgets -- in other words, shifting taxes from one part of town to another -- something we've tried to do unsuccessfully since 1958.
Benefits of new ideas
When will we have the courage to re-frame the issue? When will municipal staff and elected officials convene a group of knowledgeable residents to brainstorm alternatives that would resolve
(at last) all of the taxation, representation, access, identity, and transparency issues that dog us? (Merger only shifts tax.)
One creative solution offered in July 2019 by a Village business owner / TOV resident resolves those issues and more. It would allow the Village and TOV to share functions as desired, without brute-forcing all to merge. Ken Signorello's matrix "Separate-and-Share vs. Merger" is worth a peek.
Finance Director Sarah Macy has calculated the costs of separation, as of Sept. 28, 2020. She determined the costs to both parts of town, for either merger or separation are about 20% (up or down).
The difference from merger and the advantage of separating is that assets and control of those assets remain with one part of town, in many cases, rather than both. For example, the TOV would own and run the Essex Free Library, while the Village would own and run Brownell.
...What ideas do you have for resolving our nested-government conundrum?
cOSTS To study merger
The Merger Survey (Sept. / Oct. 2019) aimed to provide further input to the Town and Village governments' latest Merger Campaign.
Click to see Survey Questions.
Click to see Survey Results from 844 respondents (4% of total pop).
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Directions for taking the survey more than once on a single PC:
Right click on the link to open the survey and select ...
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Hold down the OPTION key, and then Right-Click (or Control Click) on the link Choose “Open in New Private Window”
A total of 51 residents, selected by market research firm Kelliher Samets Volk from 80 applicants, met in 90-minute listening sessions held August 13-15, 2019.
Click to see a Summary of Focus Group comments.
The Future of Essex Survey (July 2019) aimed to provide input to the Town and Village governments' latest Merger Campaign, begun in Summer 2018 and expected to culminate in a vote in Nov. 2020.
Click to see Survey Questions.
Click to see Survey Results from 700 residents.
Tax Shift from Village Budget
Average ($280k) TOV property owner would pay $329 more per year in taxes. This money would pay toward Services, which only Village residents have approved, and Tax Breaks, granted by the Village Trustees, to developers (see below).
Costs of Combining Functions
What's the cost of combining the Town and Village Comprehensive Planning and Zoning documents into a single set of plans and regulations? We're talking hundreds (or thousands) of hours, likely paid to consultants to make this happen. Other departments are also anticipating costs to merge. Back in 2006, the SB said their merger plan would save no more for 10 years, if ever. The current SB should be just as honest about how the lack of savings in their 2020 plan.
Right-sizing Staffing Levels
Staff levels have been kept artificially low to keep taxes low and make it appear that "consolidation" saved money. Merger would provide an opportunity to staff up with no finger-pointing between the former TOV and Village. Except that cat got let out of the bag, when the Town / Village Manager admitted he needed 6 more employees in August 2020, with or without merger.
Capital Cost Shift from Village
The Village has $11m in anticipated costs for infrastructure (before the floods of Halloween 2019). What unknowns await in the years ahead?
Tax Stabilization Agreements
Properties such as 4 Pearl St. (site of (McGillicudy's), 8 Pearl St., and the Whitcomb Farm received generous tax waivers approved by Village Trustees, who were elected by Village residents. Will TOV residents be asked to pick up this tab under merger?
State Road Taken Over by the Village
A decade ago, in order to alter traffic flow on Route 15, Village Trustees chose to take on costs associated with plowing, striping, spot paving, and repairing Route 15 from Five Corners to Susie Wilson Rd. TOV residents will pay for this road under merger.
School Building Taken Over by the Village
Several years ago, the Village voted to withhold the Park St. School from being transferred to the merged school district. Therefore, the Village assumed the costs associated with renovating and maintaining it. As of 12/4/19, this building needs a new roof, front door, and brickwork. TOV residents will pay for this building under merger.
'Runway Lights' on Pearl St.
The Village was awarded a million dollar grant to spruce up the main entrance to Champlain Valley Expo but neglected to select energy-efficient light fixtures. Will TOV residents have to pay to light up the night because decision-makers were energy unaware and fiscally irresponsible?
The Village Trustees agreed to partner in a redesign of the Town's former website. Once the work got underway, the Trustees reneged. Will TOV residents have to pay to maintain a separate website for the former Village if merger passes?
Extending Village-quality/quantity services to the entire town shall result in one of two things -- still higher taxes or a cut in the services. Or perhaps a bit of both.