Burlington City Council Approves $87.5 Million Budget | Off Message

Burlington City Council Approves $87.5 Million Budget


  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
The Burlington City Council on Monday unanimously approved an $87.5 million spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on Thursday, July 1.

The budget is about $9 million more than the current year's, which amounts to an 11.5 percent increase. The final figure is slightly higher than the version Mayor Miro Weinberger presented earlier this month because the administration made a few additions and other minor changes.
The council also approved a municipal tax rate of $0.67, which is about 4 percent higher than the current year. The rate itself was adjusted downward to compensate for the higher property values that resulted from the citywide property reassessment.

The budget invests in racial justice, including $300,000 for anti-racism training for city employees; $165,000 for a new mural that depicts Black, Indigenous and people of color; and $100,000 for the city's second annual Juneteenth celebration, to be held in 2022. The city's Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, meanwhile, will expand from three full-time staff to eight.

Climate initiatives also feature prominently in the budget. It includes $2 million to pay for efficiency programs and incentives provided by the Burlington Electric Department and $250,000 to develop a roadmap for the Burlington International Airport to become carbon neutral. Another $500,000 will purchase electric and hybrid vehicles for the city fleet.

The budget also includes $1.5 million to complete upgrades to the bike path and $2.2 million to rebuild three miles of sidewalks.

Councilor Karen Paul (D-Ward 6) said the budget process was collaborative, noting that 900 people filled out a city survey describing what they'd like to see in the spending plan.

Numerous councilors proposed initiatives that are reflected in the final numbers, Paul added. Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) had advocated for additional funding for the city's Neighborhood Planning Assemblies, while City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) successfully asked for $15,000 to fund a bystander training program to prevent sexual assault and harassment. Paul helped earmark additional money for Town Meeting TV to cover more municipal meetings.

"This budget is the result of significant partnership, respectful discussion and mutual cooperation," she said.

Later in the meeting, councilors agreed to form a committee to study whether the boundaries of city voting wards and districts should change based on forthcoming U.S. Census data. The study could also change the makeup of the city council.

An Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting will begin meeting in September, when the Census Bureau is expected to deliver population data to the city. A mapping specialist will redraw the boundaries if the results show that populations in the city's wards and districts have changed by more than 10 percent. The council would review those maps in the fall, and residents would vote on the new plans in March 2022, the council's resolution says.

Voters last changed the boundaries in 2014 after a multiyear review. That led to the present-day eight wards and four districts, which are represented by 12 city councilors. Previously, 14 councilors represented seven wards.

The last redistricting process became fraught when councilors couldn't reach consensus and had to bring on citizen members.
"Based on the 2011 process — which took nearly three years and was riddled with a lot of challenges — it seemed prudent for the council to come up with a process from the beginning that we can hopefully agree on," said Paul, who introduced the resolution.

Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) said he supports the review because constituents are often confused by having two representatives — one councilor from a district seat, and a second from their ward. He added that councilors elected to district seats, who represent two wards apiece, have twice as many constituents as their ward counterparts.

Councilors also passed three new city ordinances on Monday. The first requires that the primary heating systems for new buildings use renewable energy sources, such as wood chips or electricity, unless doing so would prove more costly over 25 years.
"We can't allow long-term investments in fossil fuel infrastructure at this point, especially if we're looking to be off of fossil fuels by 2030," Hanson said, referring to the city's net-zero energy plan. "The harder component is going to be figuring out existing buildings, but to move forward now on new construction is super critical."

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) supported the measure but said he doesn't think any builder should be able to get a waiver. "The sense of urgency is missing from this resolution," he said.

Councilors then amended an existing ordinance to allow for-profit companies to monitor compliance with the city's livable wage ordinance. Previously, only nonprofits could serve as the city's "designated accountability monitor" to enforce the ordinance, which mandates a minimum rate of pay for city workers and people working on city contracts. The post has been vacant since last July, when the Vermont Workers' Center stepped down as monitor.
Under the new program, businesses or individuals could serve in the role, as long as they don't hold a city contract themselves.

Lastly, councilors approved a new ordinance that requires the city to set aside 1 percent of capital project budgets for public art. The art pieces would either be part of the project themselves, or the money would fund art installations elsewhere. The measure passed unanimously.

Monday's meeting was also the first to have an in-person component since the coronavirus pandemic began 15 months ago. Although councilors met remotely via Zoom, the city opened a conference room in city hall for members of the public who wanted to participate in public forum. Katherine Schad, the city's chief administrative officer, staffed the conference room and said the only person who showed up had no public comment.

The council will resume full in-person meetings on July 12.

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