Essex Junction was created by the Vermont Legislature in 1893 as a second municipal government in Essex, along with the Essex Town municipal government. By incorporating as a village, people in the most rapidly growing part of Essex, around the crossroads we know as 5 corners, were able to tax themselves for municipal services that the rest of the town didn’t want or wasn’t able to provide, such as schools, fire, and police.
Under Vermont law, the people and businesses in the village were still considered part of the town and had to pay taxes to the town.
This probably wasn’t too much of a burden for Essex Junction residents when the Essex Town government outside the village was small and the town was mostly undeveloped and rural. But as the town developed it created duplicate municipal services for town residents outside the village that village residents were required to support. Throughout the twentieth century the financial strain on village residents caused them to seek tax relief either by separating from Essex Town and becoming a city, as Winooski had done with Colchester and St. Albans city had done with St. Albans town, or by merging the Village and Town governments, so that all costs would be equally shared. Local records suggest there have been over 20 failed attempts to merge or separate. The last merger attempt was in 2006 when it was approved by both sides but overturned on a revote in 2007. The village last attempted to separate in 2000 but the town disagreed with the separation and the Vermont legislature refused to take sides.
Getting Village residents and Essex Town residents outside the village to agree has always been the challenge. Most of the time they disagreed over how the costs of operating municipal services would be redistributed throughout the community. But there have also been concerns about identity, with the Village wanting to retain its “village-like” identity as a close knit community interconnected with sidewalks and a downtown, and the town wanting to preserve its character as a more rural and suburban community.
In 2018 the Essex Junction Trustees and Essex Town selectboard began working on a new plan for merging the Village and Town. They created a Subcommittee on Governance to consider ways to improve local government, ranging from merger to separation. Based on the findings, the Trustees and Selectboard decided to pursue merger. On November 3, 2020, the Village voters passed a merger plan and charter proposed by the the Trustees by a vote of 3,453 to 1,205. However, in March, Town voters, including those in the Village, rejected the merger plan and charter proposed by the Selectboard, 3,737 to 3,756. A reconsideration vote held on April 13, 2021 failed again by a vote of 4,200 to 4,225.
The merger plan called for all village and town services – police, fire departments, libraries, parks, and public works departments – to continue providing the same level of services as they are.
Prior to the April 13th reconsideration vote, Village of Essex Junction voters presented a petition to the Village Trustees to place an non-binding advisory vote on the 2021 Village Annual Meeting ballot. The Trustees approved Article 6 as follows:
Article 6. By a non-binding resolution, shall the Essex Junction Board of Trustees be advised to draft a charter to create the independent City of Essex Junction, for consideration by the Village of Essex Junction voters no later than November 2021, should efforts seeking a vote for reconsideration on the issue of merger fail. We advise that the charter shall not include any union municipal districts, interlocal contracts, special tax districts or other relationships within the Town of Essex for the provision of Village Government services. The only exception may be for the consideration of police services.
The voters passed the article by a vote of 2,690 yes to 709 no. This does not "bind" or make any legal charter change.The positive vote advises the Board of Trustees to begin work on a new draft charter for voters, since the vote to reconsider the Plan of Merger failed.
Official Vote Results
November 3, 2020 Village Special Meeting (PDF) (Vote by Village voters to approve Charter for Merged Municipality - Village version 9-24-2020)
March 3, 2021 Town Annual Meeting (PDF) (Vote by Town voters, including those in the Village, to approve Charter for Merged Municipality - Town version 1-11-2021)
April 13, 2021 Village Annual Meeting (PDF) (Vote by Village voters to approve Article 6 non-binding advisory vote)
April 13, 2021 Town Special Meeting (PDF) (Vote by Town voters, including those in the Village, to reconsider the March 3 Town vote to approve the Charter for Merged Municipality - Town version 1-11-2021)