Essex Junction celebrates its independence
ESSEX JUNCTION – There’s a new town in town.
After more than a century tied to the city of Essex and decades of debate over how to rightfully tax residents of both communities, the former village of Essex Junction became Vermont’s 10th city on Friday – officially separated from the rest of the city.
By 5:30 p.m. that day, the patio at 1 Main Street at the city’s Five Corners intersection had filled with hundreds of people gathered to celebrate their own Independence Day. There was free food, bouncy houses for the kids and lots of music, including – fittingly – Starship’s 1985 classic, “We Built This City.”
Volunteers handed out merchandise of all shapes and sizes bearing the title of this song, including colorful T-shirts, tote bags, car magnets and temporary tattoos.
Listening to music and clutching a new tote bag, Jennifer Coulter, who grew up in Essex Junction, moved to attend college, then returned in 2007. The split from the town of Essex “has been a long time coming,” she said.
“People have tried for a long time to bring town and village together and unfortunately it didn’t work,” Coulter said. “I think it was time for us to have autonomy.”
Essex Junction voters overwhelmingly passed a charter change in November to form an independent city, sending the measure to Montpellier for approval by the legislature and Governor Phil Scott. Previous efforts to merge the village and town had failed.
Scott signed the charter change in late April, and it went into effect Friday.
What was at stake in the debate over whether to merge or separate the town and the former village was, in large part, taxation. City landowners pay taxes to town and city governments, supporting services in both. But city owners only pay taxes to the city government, which means city owners pay higher taxes.
Former village officials said the split would ease the tax burden on city residents while eliminating duplication of some city services.
In accordance with the charter change, the town and city will continue to share certain services until July 2023. Essex Junction will continue to collect taxes on behalf of the city and pay them to the city in two final installments: one the October 15 and the other. April 15, 2023.
A notable change that took effect on Friday: the city’s governing body, formerly known as the “Board of Directors”, became the “City Council”.
Several local and state officials addressed the crowd at the celebration on Friday, including Andrew Brown, chairman of the new Essex Junction City Council.
Brown thanked “village administrators and community members who came here before all of us,” noting that the process of achieving separation was long and, at times, difficult.
“If you had told me 10 years ago,” he said, “that we as a community would be where we are today, I would have thought you were all crazy. And yet we are.
Coulter said she believes the separation will ease long-running tensions between town and city officials. Next to her was Denize Barewicz, who has lived in Essex Junction since 1978 and said for years she had supported a merger.
“But now that we’re a city, I accept it,” Barewicz said. “I love this place.”
Towards the end of the festivities on Friday, attendees emerged in the middle of the Five Corners intersection and posed for a group photo.
Representatives Lori Houghton and Karen Dolan, Democrats who represent Essex Junction and sponsored the Charter Amendment Bill, H. 491, also spoke at the celebration. The two lawmakers challenged residents to stay engaged in local government by attending town meetings, joining government committees and supporting future community events.
“Our work doesn’t end with creating an independent city,” Houghton said. “Our work begins again tomorrow to make Essex Junction the best place to live in the state of Vermont.”