Burlingtonians show support for Keep BT Local at a city council meeting.
Updated on March 1, 2019.
Not so fast.
A group of six Queen City residents is appealing to the Supreme Court last week's Public Utility Commission decision to green light the sale of Burlington Telecom. The group members claim that the City of Burlington still owes its taxpayers $16.9 million "that was improperly invested in BT." The sale to Schurz Communications doesn't recoup all that money, the group contends.
In its 51-page decision, the PUC ruled that, while the group's claim had merit, the commission did not have the authority to force the city to pay up.
Jim Dumont, the group's attorney, wrote in the release that in 2018, "the Commission agreed with us that Vermont law requires that BT reimburse $16.9 million to taxpayers." Solveig Overby, one of the appellants, also called the decision "a 180-degree turn" from the commission's previous stance. The sale agreement will net the city $6 million.
Now the state Supreme Court must decide "how are we going to actually enforce the law if the PUC says it's not going to enforce it?" she said.
The group announced the decision to appeal on Thursday. They must formally file with the court within 30 days of the PUC's February 19 ruling. Neither city officials nor Schurz Communications representatives immediately returned requests for comment.
The appeal, which could take months to resolve, will drag out what has already been a decade-long process.
In 2009, then-mayor Bob Kiss diverted $16.9 million in taxpayer dollars to keep the struggling telecom afloat. The city has since worked to revive BT, settle lawsuits filed by creditors and ultimately find a new owner. The Burlington City Council decided in November 2017 to sell BT to the Indiana-based communications company for $30.8 million.
The city has the option to purchase up to a 33 percent share of the telecom.
That's not good enough for the residents who plan to appeal the sale.
"BT has become profitable and could easily repay taxpayers over time," the group said in a press release Thursday.