Thursday January 12, 2017
For months, the city’s administration, along with the head of each department, has been hard at work creating and refining an FY 18 budget that comes in under a 3 percent tax increase, as per city council’s request. At a January 9 special council meeting dedicated to the budget, councilors heard from all department heads and Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard that the proposed budget will come in at a 2.97 percent increase.
The proposed budget meets the current level of service and all of the city’s contractual obligations. It continues support for the sick bank and the stewardship fund as well as the housing trust fund, and funds 2/3 of the capital improvement program (CIP). The budget does not provide for a stabilization fund or provide for an increase in the stewardship fund. While there was 1.5 percent growth in the grand list last year, this dollar amount was negated by the airport settlement. Major cost drivers came from health insurance at an 8 percent increase and over $300,000 in pension contributions.
The proposed budget total for FY18 is $14,411,418; this is the amount of the General Fund budget, less revenues which are raised by the property tax. The total General Fund is $24,166,563. The bottom line, in terms of tax impact, would be an increase of $49 per year or $4.08 per month for the average homeowner, and a $33.22 per year increase or $2.77 per month for the average condo owner.
While most department heads presented budgets that did not have major changes from the prior year, what became evident throughout the evening is that the number of projects in the works is truly astounding. Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner and Project Director Ilona Blanchard highlighted several items, including numerous housing developments such as the O’Brien Brothers development and the Cider Mill Phase II coming online. The Tilley Drive transportation study, the scoping of four bike and pedestrian projects, and City Center park are only a few of the items city staff will be working toward.
After department presentations, the council heard comments from the public. Bob Britt, a member of the South Burlington Bike and Pedestrian Committee, expressed support for Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux’s proposal for a bike and pedestrian coordinator who could actively seek grants for projects. Britt also expressed his desire for re-striping of roads to occur twice annually. He noted that there is growth in the use of infrastructure, but the budget for maintaining it has remained the same for the past four years.
Sam Swanson, a member of the city’s energy committee, asked to restore the line item for efficiency improvements to $100,000.
Carol McQuillen of Common Roots asked for several items. First, she announced that the organization has received a generous gift to install a sprinkler system, which has been deemed necessary at the Wheeler House where Common Roots is headquartered. However, in order to go forward with the installation, a 4-6 inch water line will need to be constructed at an expense of roughly $75,000. The council said they would consult with public works on this item and consider it further at their meeting on January 17. McQuillen also requested that Common Roots’ lease at the Wheeler House be extended to ten years (an additional 8 on the two remaining). The organization would also like to continue farming the 2 acres they have tilled for organic produce growth.
After hearing from members of the public, Pat Nowak wondered if it might be prudent to not only hear from social service agencies during budget time, as they do annually, but also from community organizations and committees that may have specific requests as were noted that evening, instead of hearing from people at the “10th or 11th hour” during a tight budget year.
The Common Roots item as well as the overall budget will be discussed and warned for action at the next meeting, Tuesday, January 17, at City Hall.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent