The Village of Essex Junction on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a plan to secede from the Town of Essex and establish a new, standalone city, signaling a potential end to this rocky 128-year-old relationship.
Village residents, who make up about half of Essex’s 22,000 population, approved their secession plan 3,070 to 411.
The vote follows decades of acrimony between residents of the distinct-but-overlapping municipalities and could result in the breakup of Vermont’s second-largest town. State legislators and the governor must sign off on Essex Junction's proposed city charter next year before the split is finalized.
Taxes were top of mind for many heading to the polls on Tuesday. Essex Junction residents pay taxes into both the town and village, while non-village residents pay taxes only in the town.
A plan proposed earlier this year would have merged the two municipalities into one while spreading the tax impact over time instead of all at once. But voters shot it down twice — due in large part to immense opposition from non-village residents, whose taxes would have increased.
Six months later, non-village residents now find themselves bracing for bigger increases anyway, given that villagers contribute 42 percent of the town’s tax revenue. To balance the books in a post-secession world, the town would either need to hike taxes or reduce services. Village residents, meanwhile, would pay nearly $200 less a year in municipal taxes.
The two municipalities won’t completely sever ties if the new city charter is approved. Officials have agreed to continue funding a joint police department and say they are working to determine whether it makes sense to share anything else, such as finance and information technology services.
Still, the 7-to-1 ratio left no doubt that officials had made the right choice in leaving the long-standing dreams of merger with the town behind, said Andrew Brown, president of the Essex Junction Board of Trustees.
"At no previous time was merger such a resounding yes," Brown said Tuesday evening. "It is a very clear direction as to the desires of [village residents] about how our governance should be moving forward."