$96 million Burlington budget passes City Council, rebuilds Police Department

Vermont Business Magazine At its meeting Monday tonight, the Burlington City Council voted to approve Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Fiscal Year 2023 $96 million budget in a unanimous vote. The mayor's office described this as continuing the administration’s strong record of carefully stewarding taxpayer resources while making substantial new investments in public safety, progress toward Net Zero, and in critical public infrastructure. Burlingtonians can expect maintained public services and an overall property tax decrease due to a reduction in the statewide property tax rate.

“Despite high inflation, and constrained revenue, this budget uses federal assistance and the City’s strong financial position to make progress on the community’s most urgent challenges,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “I want to thank CAO Katherine Schad, the entire department head team, and my colleagues on the City Council who worked hard for many months to make tonight’s action possible.”

Police Department Rebuilding Plan Investment

The budget fully funds a robust rebuilding plan to hire officers back to the 87-officer authorized cap of the Burlington Police Department. The police chief has set a goal to achieve 85 officers by July 1, 2025, through increasing our Police Academy class size by 50 percent, doubling the number of lateral hires, and improving our retention rates of current officers.

To read Mayor Weinberger’s Budget Memo to City Council, click here

A three-year rebuilding plan invests $1.2 million to keep current officers in the Police Department and attract new officers. This recruitment and retention plan allocates funding for a range of items, including: a competitive contract; signing bonuses; and incentives such as housing stipends to live in Burlington, education, and childcare.

The budget also significantly expands resources in other public safety personnel, including the number of the BPD’s Community Service Officers (CSOs) from 10 to 12 and doubles the number of Community Service Liaisons (CSLs) from 3 to 6. (CSOs perform foot patrols and respond to a variety of quality-of-life complaints. CSLs are social workers that work in the police department and focus on mental health issues, substance use disorder, and homelessness.)

The budget also reserves $400,000 for the creation of a Crisis Response Team Program inspired by the CAHOOTs program in Eugene, Oregon.

Net Zero Energy City and Climate Emergency Initiatives

The FY 23 budget continues the administration’s priority to invest toward our Net Zero Energy City goals and to fight the climate emergency. These initiatives are largely funded through Burlington Electric Department revenues, federal grants, and the Net Zero Energy Revenue Bond. These investments include: More than $2 million for customer strategic electrification incentives and programs, such as rebates for heat pumps, e-bike, e-mowers, and home charging stations; $1.5 million for energy efficiency incentives and programs; adding EV charging infrastructure and continuing to replace our City fleet with electric and hybrid vehicles.

Rebuilding Infrastructure

The City budget makes substantial investments in Burlington’s streets, sidewalks and transportation. With voters’ support of the Capital Infrastructure Bond on Town Meeting Day 2022, the City will continue addressing the backlog of investments in our streets and sidewalks. The FY 23 budget allows historic reinvestments in transportation and City infrastructure including: $1.5 million of bike and pedestrian improvements; $1.6 million to rebuild three miles of sidewalks and resources to complete a new citywide sidewalk condition assessment so that the Department of Public Works can update its target for work moving forward; and $1.1 million to develop a shared use path on Intervale Road.

Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging

Since creating the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department (REIB), the City has dramatically increased its investment in the department making Burlington’s REIB department the most substantial in Vermont, and larger even than the State government’s office. In FY 23 we will continue this investment with a $1.8 million budget. This budget will enable REIB to continue a range of programs, including: anti-racism training for all City employees; continue the tradition of hosting a Juneteenth celebration; and administration of BIPOC grant programs, including a $190,000 Empowerment Fund and an upcoming revolving loan fund using ARPA funds.

Property Tax Rates

In recognition of the challenging financial times many Burlington residents continue to face, the City budget maintains the General City tax rate at the same level as last year. As a result of a new state law, the education tax rate will decrease this year due to a $90 million surplus in the state’s education fund.

Other Council Action: Short Term Rental Ordinance

The City Council also passed, by an 8-2 vote, a Short-Term Rental Ordnance, which is the last of five key policy reforms that was proposed as part of Mayor Weinberger’s 2019 Housing Summit. The other policy reforms were increasing the Housing Trust Fund, eliminating parking minimums, upgrading our standards for energy efficiency in rental housing, and making it easier to build accessory dwelling units.

The final ordinance restricts short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties or in exchange for renting another unit at a below-market affordable rate. The ordinance will also impose a 9 percent short-term rental tax, a portion of which will go to the City’s Housing Trust Fund.

“This new regulation provides an important balance of protecting the City’s housing stock while still providing some flexibility for homeowners to manage their small-scale properties, and generates substantial new revenue for affordable housing through the Housing Trust Fund,” said Mayor Weinberger. “While we have much more work to do to make good on the promise of housing as a human right, tonight’s action on short-term rental regulation completed the five major reforms laid out in the Mayor’s Housing Summits of 2019.”

6.27.2022. Burlington, Vt. – Office of Mayor Miro Weinberger