Burlington Budget Deficit Balloons to $13.1 Million | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Burlington Budget Deficit Balloons to $13.1 Million


Published April 25, 2024 at 4:31 p.m.

Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak on Thursday - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak on Thursday
For months, Burlington officials have forecasted a $9 million deficit heading into the next fiscal year. On Thursday, that number grew to $13.1 million.

Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak delivered the bad news at a press conference Thursday at city hall, where she was flanked by department heads. Higher-than-anticipated insurance costs and a calculation error are to blame for the $4 million difference, she said.

The spending squeeze is the first major challenge for the newly elected mayor and could make it harder for her to enact some of the public safety reforms she promised on the campaign trail. But Mulvaney-Stanak seemed undeterred and pledged to work with her team and the city council to adopt a balanced budget before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.

“Closing this deficit is doable,” she said. “I'm committed to delivering a budget that is affordable to taxpayers, sustainable and right-sized based on the needs of our city.”
City officials first identified the deficit in December. At that point, they expected receiving $4 million less in revenue, mostly due to the end of federal coronavirus aid. Expenses were also growing: The city would need an additional $3.4 million for employee salaries and benefits and another $1.6 million for non-personnel items.

On Thursday, however, Mulvaney-Stanak said officials had forgotten to include the cost of employee benefits in their calculations. Salaries and benefits will actually cost an extra $7 million, including $2.1 million for health care and $500,000 for dental, workers compensation and other benefits. The health care plan itself was also more expensive than anticipated.

Mulvaney-Stanak acknowledged that an error was made but praised chief administrative officer Katherine Schad, who helps craft the budget, for flagging it.

“I really appreciate when a leader can say there was a mistake done in the calculation and quickly work to remedy that,” she said, “and then, more importantly, came up with solutions.”

At Thursday's press conference, Schad outlined some possible ways to close — but not eliminate — the gap. Schad said the city can raise $1.8 million by enacting the 3-cent public safety tax that voters approved on Town Meeting Day. Another $1 million could come from doubling the gross receipts tax, from 2 to 4 percent, that hotels pay. The city also has about $2 million in unspent coronavirus aid, she said.

The city has also said it expects to find additional savings in an ongoing efficiency study of several departments.

Many of those ideas were already being considered even before the budget gap widened. But officials hope to find enough money to avoid employee layoffs. “That will be one of the last options we’ll consider,” Mulvaney-Stanak said.

Despite the budget woes, the mayor said she would still like to to carry out her public safety agenda. She recommitted to rebuilding the police department to full staffing but acknowledged that wouldn’t happen in just a year. The department is allowed to employ as many as 87 officers but currently has just 65.

Mulvaney-Stanak also said she still hopes to hire a special assistant for public safety, a new position she’d proposed on the campaign trail. The temporary staffer would be charged with coordinating the city's response to overdoses, mental health crises and crime — work that's currently shared by staffers in several city departments.

“I think that’s a smart investment,” she said. “We’ll see when we get there.”

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