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Burlington Council Approves Another Electric Rate Increase


Published June 6, 2022 at 10:55 p.m.
Updated July 5, 2022 at 4:44 p.m.

Burlington Electric Department general manager Darren Springer - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington Electric Department general manager Darren Springer
The Burlington City Council on Monday unanimously approved a nearly 4 percent rate increase for Burlington Electric customers, giving the utility its second rate hike in as many years.

Burlington Electric Department general manager Darren Springer told councilors that the rate increase is primarily driven by a higher cost to transmit energy over the regional grid.

"We've seen that cost rising over the last several years," Springer said. "It's rising again."

Springer added that the department's $20 million revenue bond, which voters approved in a special election in December, kept the rate increase from being even higher.
Last year's 7.5 percent rate increase was the utility's first hike since 2009. With this year's 3.95 percent increase, the average residential customer will pay an additional $3.10 per month, though Springer said Burlington Electric's total rate would still be lower than the state average. To offset the recent rate changes, the utility will provide a 12.5 percent discount for low-income customers, he said.

The state Public Utility Commission still has to review the increase, but customers can expect to see the new charges on their August bills.

Later Monday, councilors formally adopted the method of ranked-choice voting to be used in council elections from now on. The system was officially approved last month when Gov. Phil Scott allowed a city charter change on the matter to become law without his signature. But the council still needed to spell out in an ordinance exactly how the voting system will work.

Under the new rules, voters will rank multiple candidates in order of their liking, rather than just choosing one. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, that person wins; otherwise, the election goes to an instant runoff. The last-place finisher is eliminated, and votes that were cast for that candidate are assigned to those voters' second choices. The process continues until one candidate hits the 50 percent-plus-one threshold.
Burlington used ranked-choice voting more than a decade ago but abandoned the system after the controversial 2009 mayoral race in which Progressive Bob Kiss won despite failing to earn the most first-place votes over three voting rounds. Scott reflected on that controversy when he permitted the change to pass, saying the election "yielded flawed results."

The council approved the ordinance Monday on an 8-3 vote, with councilors Mark Barlow (I-North District), Sarah Carpenter (D-Ward 4) and Joan Shannon (D-South District) voting no. Councilor Perri Freeman (P-Central District) was absent for the vote.

Voters will first use the system in the March 2023 council elections, when the four district seats — held by Barlow, Freeman, Shannon and Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) — are up for reelection.

Those districts may change, however, once councilors redraw the city's voting maps. Monday night marked the third council discussion on redistricting, though it ended again without consensus on how to move forward.

Since 2015, the city has been divided into eight wards and four districts — North, South, East and Central — for a total of 12 councilors. Each district is composed of two wards, giving residents two elected officials: a councilor from their ward and another from their geographical district.

New U.S. Census data every 10 years triggers the redistricting process, which is meant to ensure that voting districts have roughly equal populations. But some sections of Burlington have grown faster than others, meaning some of the present-day boundaries don't pass constitutional muster.
A solution has so far eluded councilors. Monday night, they heard from members of the public who have drawn up their own maps and bandied about their own proposals. Some favored having 12 wards with one councilor apiece; others vehemently opposed it. There was similar division over the concept of "at-large" councilors, who would represent the entire city instead of specific districts or wards.

Councilors also debated whether they really need to add the new maps to the November ballot or if they could wait until March 2023.

At one point, Council President Karen Paul (D-Ward 6) called for a straw poll on various proposals, but the discussion was halted when Mayor Miro Weinberger said the process violated the council's procedural rules. The council's parliamentarian — Stephen Ellis, a lawyer who is filling in because the city attorney post is vacant — agreed, and Paul abruptly moved onto the next agenda item.

Once approved by the council — and then voters — the new maps would take effect in 2024.

Also Monday, councilors postponed discussion on how to regulate short-term rentals, vowing to take up the topic at their June 20 meeting.