(Host) Several towns and villages around Vermont have debated whether to merge in recent years. But the village of North Bennington may take the opposite approach. Voters in the village gather for their annual meeting on Tuesday. An item on the warning asks if the village’s 1,400 residents want trustees to explore seceding from the town of Bennington.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) The village of north Bennington is five miles north of Bennington’s town center. There’s a row of ramshackle factories, a bank, firehouse, post office, school, a village square with a store and a few other businesses. The village offices are in a vintage Victorian train station dating back to 1880.
(Ron Pembroke) “Unfortunately it’s always locked, there’s no staff here.”
(Keese) Ron Pembroke is the chairman of the village trustees. If he and some other village officials have their way there will be a part time town clerk here, a village administrator, maybe even a grant writer.
Right now the village relies on a mix, of services funded by village taxes and services funded by taxes paid to the town.
Villagers pay more taxes than other Bennington residents. But Pembroke says they get less in return. He says it’s been a sore spot for decades.
(Pembroke) “That’s because they pay village taxes and also they pay general fund taxes to Bennington for a number of services that Bennington does not allow the residents of north Bennington to access.”
(Keese) Services like economic development. The village could use some infrastructure improvements. But Pembroke says Bennington is rightly focused on its own downtown.
Another issue is police coverage. Traffic in the village has increased as Bennington’s commercial growth has inched towards North Bennington. The village has had to pay the county sheriff to supplement the coverage it gets from the town police.
When the town unsuccessfully tried to limit the size of commercial buildings, villagers favored the restriction. Pembroke says village interests are consistently overwhelmed in town-wide voting.
Bennington officials say the issues that divide the village and the town could be worked out. Sharyn Brush is chairman of the town select board. She says officials had begun negotiations with the village.
(Brush) “And then the next thing I heard they want to bring it up at town meeting, do they want to split away from the town of Bennington.”
(Keese) Brush believes the trustees are underestimating the cost and difficulty of a divorce, and overestimating the advantages.
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says the last successful separation she’s aware of was in 1921. That was when the village of Winooski broke away from Colchester. She says the trend has been for villages to merge back into towns.
At Andy and Mike’s restaurant in North Bennington, the thinking seems to be more along those lines.
(Man #1) “I often thought, why doesn’t North Bennington consolidate into the town of Bennington?”
(Man #2) “The costs that would be incurred by a small community like North Bennington would probably not justify its separating from Bennington. Perhaps a better arrangement could be made with Bennington for services. That’s the way I feel.”
(Keese) Village officials say they’re eager to hear what their neighbors think at the annual meeting.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.