Officials Mislead Voters in Merger Presentation
At their presentation on 1/14/2021, three Selectboard members met in the Town Meeting TV virtual studio to present their take on the Essex Merger.
Besides their quorum being a clear violation of Vermont’s open meeting law, they presented the tax increase for Town-Outside-the-Village taxpayers in such a way as to mislead the public. They tried to convince Taxpayers that the additional tax on a $280k assessed home would be $330, or $25/year over 13 years.
That is simply not true. Although the additional tax in Year 13 alone would equal $330, they failed to account for the incremental increases in each of the prior years. Add them up and you’d pay $2,062 over the course of the tax shift period. [Note: this number is based on FY20 calculations, which have been updated to $2,374 for FY22 since this letter was wrtitten.]
You can see why someone who would financially benefit from the merger could be miffed and might lash out after we named the true amount of “merger tax” the TOV taxpayer would pay over the course of 13 years during our presentation. https://youtu.be/yyv-Gngd6dQ?t=5
In the meantime, Haney and company continue to falsely advertise the merger tax increase as $25 per year. But it compounds! It is actually $25 per year, per year. Why do they continually fail to mention this and get so upset when we do?
Could it be because Haney and her neighbors anticipate a financial windfall from a merger?
After being called out for our 1/15 presentation, Haney accused these “residents” of providing misinformation. Then she further obfuscated the issue by introducing a $1,500 tax amount in her “Serious Misinformation” letter, on page 2. Neither TV presentation, pro or con, involved a base taxation amount.
Our presentation answered one main question: How much additional tax will a $280k assessed value homeowner in the TOV pay over the course of the merger phase-in period? Based on the information officials presented, but didn’t sum up on 1/14, the answer is $2,062. No introduction of straw men will change that.
The other three issues Haney raises in her recent post are red herrings.
1) Officials did not discuss capital on 1/14, so neither did we on 1/15. Village capital deserves a show all its own.
2) She removed “same day voting” from her list of merger advantages after being called out on it, but she couldn’t resist splitting hairs on that moot point anyway. So let’s take a moment to remind Village residents, with merger, they will no longer have an independent vote on Village matters.
3) Haney claims that Village Debt sticking with the Village was not poor negotiating; they have no choice. We don’t buy it. The Town has no trouble writing a check for some $1.3 million and handing that over to the Village to cover part of its current expenses.
We do appreciate Haney’s notification that the Town Parks and Rec net expenditures are larger than we were able to glean from the Annual Report. Again assuming the TIV/Village residents get to use all of town parks, increases the benefit they receive for their Town taxes.
One of the pro-merger pitches: this sacrifice will be rewarded with tax savings, long term. After all, while TOV taxpayers will pay more and more over time due to a merged budget, the TIV/Village will see savings. How much? The chart presented on 1/14 shows an average of $36/year. But wait, that compounds, too! So using the staff’s estimate, the owner of a $280K property would see a total tax reduction of $2,970 over the 13-year transition period.
Readers will have to decide for themselves who misleads. On one hand you have some (not all) public officials who fail to simply add up the numbers correctly, and, when called out, make false and disparaging accusations so you won't look twice. Meanwhile, they have no problem flaunting Public Meeting Rules.
On the other hand, you have citizen-taxpayers concerned about the true cost of the merger proposal on the table. Who simply took the information as presented and did the math.
We hereby challenge any public official Selectboard or Trustee to a public debate on merger, moderated by a member of the news media with debate rules proposed to and agreed to by all parties.
Ken Signorello and Irene Wrenner
Up, Up and Away!
On January 25, 2021, Finance Director Sarah Macy confirmed that our calculations were sound, contrary to the SB Chair's accusations.
Macy also provided updated figures for FY22.
The additional merger tax in Year 13 alone would equal $372, up from $330. For an average $280,000 property in the TOV, the cumulative merger tax would be $2,374, up from $2,062.
These numbers could have been included in the 48-page booklet mailed to voters but SB Chair Haney decided unilaterally that the lower FY20 numbers would be sent out in that pro-merger document.