Democratic mayoral hopeful Miro Weinberger released a five-point plan on Thursday to help Burlington dig out of an estimated $80 million hole.
Weinberger, a nonprofit housing developer and member of the city's Airport Commission, promised at his campaign kickoff (pictured right) that he would offer voters some concrete plans to deal with the city's fiscal problems.
Weinberger is vying with state Rep. Jason Lorber and City Councilor Bram Kranichfeld for the Democratic nomination.
Weinberger claims Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss hasn't been upfront with councilors and the public about the extent of the city's financial troubles or enlisted them in helping to find solutions.
"Clearly, the first job of any new mayor is to put Burlington's finances in order and anyone who wants the job must be willing to do that and show how they're going to do that," Weinberger told Seven Days. "These are my five basic priorities, and I think first and foremost we need to define the problem that we are facing, and I don't think anyone has been able to do that in a way that people can get their arms around."
If elected, Weinberger said he would do the following:
1. Define the Financial Problem: Weinberger claims the Kiss administration has refused to acknowledge Burlington’s financial problem, much less define it. Weinberger estimates that Burlington has at least $80 million of unfunded obligations and potential liabilities for un-financed capital projects: a $50 million shortfall in the city’s Retirement Fund; a $17 million Burlington Telecom liability (possibly more); and $17 million of short-term debt for airport garage expansion and other costs.
2. Fresh Start with Fresh Eyes: Bring a new generation of civic leadership and thinking into City Hall and charge his administration with working smarter and more efficiently. Weinberger committed to finding at least 10 percent of the $80 million shortfall through innovation and savings, and to report on progress toward this goal annually.
3. Resolve Burlington Telecom Crisis: The Burlington Telecom situation is casting a shadow on the city’s finances, Weinberger notes. The credit rating agency Moody’s has downgraded the city's bond rating and has offered a "negative" outlook on the city's finances, citing specifically the Burlington Telecom obligation. That outlook is unlikely to improve until the situation is resolved. Weinberger believes his experience in "tough negotiations" could help BT and the city escape severe damage. He suggests no more public money should be invested in BT, but that the $17 million already invested should be paid back over time. "We don't, however, want to go back to just having one monopoly like Comcast being the only service provider," he added.
4. Put Plan to Fund the Pension System to the Voters: Weinberger believes promises made to current employees must be kept. Upon election, Weinberger would convene a summit of the major stakeholders in the pension issue — including unions, Burlington institutions, property owners and businesses — to attempt to find consensus and negotiate a plan that benefits all constituencies by resolving the city’s largest financial uncertainty. Weinberger would then put that plan to the voters of Burlington for confirmation.
5. Manage the Airport Like an Airport, Not a Cash Cow: In the past, the airport has also helped fund important city services, but that's not possible with the airport’s current finances, said Weinberger, who has been on the airport commission since 2003. Weinberger claims the Kiss administration has rejected proposals by the airport commission to stabilize the airport's finances. Weinberger said he would: resist dramatic fee increases on the airlines; manage the parking garage efficiently and professionally; partner with the region’s businesses to increase the airport’s Canadian presence; and work with the state of Vermont to reduce high financing costs.
Though Weinberger released his plan today, the other Democratic mayoral candidates have hinted at similar approaches.
Kranichfeld has said that dealing with the city's budget and finances must be done more transparently and openly.
Kranichfeld told Seven Days today that the city needed to address concerns raised by the city's external auditors in the most recent audit, and he said those findings, and their proposed fixes, should be made public.
"I want to see a city focused on improving its financial position by having a vibrant downtown, safe neighborhoods, and to do that we need to be upfront with voters and include them more in the budgeting process," said Kranichfeld.
On Wednesday, Kranichfeld released a new round of high-profile Democratic endorsements , including state Reps. Bill Aswad, Suzi Wizowaty and Johannah Leddy Donovan.
Lorber, too, has stressed his background as a small business owner, coupled with a master's degree in business administration, as his financial bona fides. Lorber said the next mayor must be more open and transparent about any of the city's financial difficulties.
The trio recently appeared on Channel 17 to lay out their visions for the city. Here's the show: