On page 5 of the merger booklet, it says “Village residents would not longer pay taxes to the Town for services they do not receive.” I had asked that the Selectboard and Trustees document clearly which services Village residents feel they do not receive from the Town or that they should not pay for. I did not get a response, so let’s look at the Town budget. Please note that the numbers I am using are the originally proposed FY22 budget numbers since I don’t yet have a copy of the final budget numbers that will be voted on Town Meeting Day but the numbers will be pretty close and the point I am trying to make will be the same.
The original FY22 Town budget request was $16,094,707 (it is now something less than $16M). If we look at the spending categories, the Unified Manager, Selectboard, Clerk, Finance, IT, Assessing, Health and Human Services, County/Regional, Police, Animal Control, Public Works which includes Highways and Stormwater and Debt are all shared services. All of these services are provided to both the Village and TOV. This adds up to $13,571,859 or 84.3% of the Town budget supporting these shared services.
The categories above, I believe, are non-controversial. It is clear that all of these support both the Village and TOV. The less certain ones are Community Development, Economic Development, Fire, Parks and Rec, and the Library.
I’m going to start with the Library. If you look at the history, the first Library in Essex was in the Village but if you look more closely, you will find that it was a Town Library physically located in the Village. In the 1890’s, there was a State program that providing funding to Towns to establish library collections. Villages were not eligible so the first library, though it was located in the Village, was established as a Town library. Ten years or so later, the collection became too large for the library space and a 2nd Town library was established outside of the Village. Both of these libraries, the Essex Junction Free Library and the Essex Free Library were funded equally from the Town budget. It wasn’t until 1926 that the first Village library was established. So, this is a case where the Town provided a service first so one could argue that the Essex Free Library should not be considered as a service added by the Town after it already existed in the Village. Remember, though the first library was physically in the Village, it was paid for by the Town.
Community and Economic Development might be debatable. Then again, if I live in the Village, what service do the Village counterparts of these departments provide me? They support development and business expansion in the Village which, in turn, increases the Grand List which mitigates Village tax increases. Well, the Town departments do the same thing except in the Town to mitigate Town tax increases. Yes, Village Grand List increases benefit Village residents more because they mitigate both Village and Town tax increases (since the Village Grand List is a subset of the Town Grand List) but TOV Grand List increases also benefit the Village due to the mitigating effect on their Town taxes. Village residents benefit from both Village and TOV Grand List growth (albeit more from Village growth) but, I would argue that Town Community and Economic Development do provide service that benefits Village residents.
For Parks and Rec, the Town and Village are already coordinating programs so I would argue that Town Rec Admin is already a shared service. Parks are available to everyone and so should also be considered as shared. The Village Trustees provide the space for the Senior Center in the Village but the operating budget is provided by the Town.
This leaves the Sand Hill Pool and the Essex Fire Department which truly are available to all but some might argue are redundant. Even if I leave these out, they together comprise 4.6% of the Town budget. So, as I look at it, somewhere between 84 and 95% of the Town budget supports both the Village and TOV but I think that number could be argued higher.
Yes, Village residents pay more taxes. I do not deny that. My point is that saying that Village residents pay for services they do not receive should be quantified so that it is understood what exact services they believe they are not getting so we can work on a solution. Rather than making broad statements about unfairness, let us please discuss details and negotiate an equitable solution.
Again, this is addressing the statement in the merger booklet that Village residents do not get services from the Town that they pay for. I am not arguing that the Village should be happy about paying higher taxes but I do think the broad statement about services should be made more clear by providing details.