Essex resident who helped draft proposal now says merging unwise

By Victoria Welch
Staff Writer
Burlington Free Press
Jan. 17, 2007

ESSEX—Hugh Sweeney told members of the Essex Town Selectboard and about 150 fellow Essex residents Tuesday that he was going to vote against merging the town and village next week. Although he was co-chairman of the task force that drafted the proposed merger plan, Sweeney said he could no longer support that idea.

Why? Because town residents weren’t going to enter into a merger with an open mind, he said.

“You can’t have a marriage with a partner that doesn’t want it,” Sweeney said Tuesday night during a public hearing at Essex High School. “Going forward with this plan of merger is not a good idea.”

Sweeney was one of many Essex residents—some also residents of Essex Junction—to voice their frustration over a plan that, after more than two years of planning and discussion, will again go before the town for a vote.

If residents vote yes Jan. 23, Essex and Essex Junction will submit to the Legislature a plan to dissolve into the town of Essex Junction in 2009. If they vote no, the two municipalities will remain in their status quo relationship; Essex Junction residents will continue to pay taxes to both the village and town.

The Essex and Essex Junction governments asked their constituents on Nov. 7 whether the municipalities should merge. Residents answered yes: the village approved the measure, 2,922 to 1,085, while the town approved it, 4,376 to 4,167.

Next week’s revote was prompted by a petition with more than 1,600 signatures. Town residents who live outside the village said the results showed that they had voted against merger and that the vote only carried because of the village voting. Because Essex Junction residents pay taxes to both communities, they voted in one election as town residents, and as village residents in the other.

The majority of those who spoke Tuesday said they weren’t necessarily against the idea of merger, but were opposed to a proposal that they said answered few key questions and stirred up too much animosity among neighbors. The right plan for merger might be out there, they said, but the plan up for revote wasn’t it.

“We’ve been two separate communities for 114 years,” town resident Jim Overfield said. “It certainly would not hurt to stay that way for a few more years so that when we do merge, we get it right.”

Residents told the Selectboard that they felt they had no say in the proposed name of the new community, an issue that they felt was one of the most emotional involved with the merger process. Some said Essex was the community from which the village distanced itself to become Essex Junction in 1892.

“We’re Essex Town. We are one town,” town resident Grant Corson said. “Essex Junction, they created themselves, they can dissolve themselves.”

Hans Mertens, the village co-chairman of the merger task force, reminded the assemblage that the community had asked for resident input on the name and all merger matters. He said the name of a community should not be the deal-breaker for a possible merger.

“For 200 years, we were the town of Essex. Before that, we were in New Connecticut!” Mertens said. “This is one more evolution. Relish it! Go with it! Grow!”

Town resident Steve McQueen said he was frustrated that people were voting against a name, not necessarily the governing structure outlined in the proposed charter.

“We are already one town. We are the town of Essex,” McQueen said. “What we call ourselves does not dictate how we govern ourselves. We’ve always had this us-against-them situation. It’s now us against us.”