April 10, 2011 -- Mayor Bob Kiss, P-Burlington, joins Kristin Carlson and Darren Perron to discuss the State of the City, taxes, Burlington Telecom and more.
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>> good morning everyone I'm Darren Perron.
>> and I'm Kristin Carlson.
Thanks for joining us.
Our news maker this morning is Burlington mayor bob kiss.
We will talk about the state of the city, taxes, Burlington telecom and much more.
>> Thank you for joining us.
Let's start with the Burlington airport.
This week we learned that you are set to name Scott Carr as the director there.
He would replace Brian Searles who is with the Shumlin administration y did you pick him?
>> let me just say we are moving in that direction and of course it needs approval by the city council, but i set in place a pretty expansive interview process with 22 people who participated in interviewing 5 qualified candidates.
And out that of process, over two days, the appointment team that was involved in the process recommended to me that scott was the best candidate for the job, and he brings a lost skills and experience to the position.
And i think he will complement staff that we already have in place at the airport.
>> now, there have been some questions about his resume.
He ‑‑ there was an investigation of some mishandling of invoices allegedly at the Florida airport.
He left suddenly.
His job in Texas at the airport there.
With the confidentiality agreement.
You can see why some people would say that this guy is coming with baggage.
What do you say about that?
>> well, actually, because you can google people and see all kinds of history, actually a discussion in the interview process about the issues in titusville and amarillo and scott had left titusville before any review of any issues regarding that airport, and taken the job at amarillo.
And in terms of the financial issues in titusville, the ‑‑ there was an inspector general process that really found nothing to address in terms of scott's performance and money that had been involved in that process was returned to the titusville airport in order to build the project that they had anticipated earlier.
In terms of amarillo, scott did leave with a severance package that then precludes him from talking about the issues but it really was around the future course of the airport between he and the ‑‑ the city manager essentially of amarillo, at least that's how i understand it and that ‑‑ on that basis they parted ways.
But, it ‑‑ he has a form that talks about the ‑‑ the fact that he could be rehired at amarillo and has very positive reviews from all the years that he spent there.
>> so as you said, mayor, this is a recommendation that came from a panel who interviewed 22 people.
And now it is going to be something that city council will review on, and we caught up with curt wright, let's listen to what he had to say about this selection process.
>> why they feel this person is the right choice, would have to be ‑‑ for me they would have to be head and shoulders above every other applicant in order to select somebody that comes with these type of issues.
>> head and shoulders above.
>> do i.
I think ‑‑ i mean i don't know about head and shoulders but very positive interview and this included 5 members of the airport commission and other people closely involved with the operation of the airport and in interviewing the and i dates in the end, scott was the unanimous recommendation of what ‑‑ called bait pointment team so he brings experience.
Like i said and i think people can see that he would join the staff we have to ‑‑ i think energize the airport.
>> i have heard that some local vermonters didn't even get an interview.
These are people who have a lot of experience leading large organizations.
They have worked under governors and administrations and didn't even get the interview.
That was one of the concerns that curt had.
What do you think about that process?
>> well, before i even began the interview process, i invited 12 people familiar with the airport or working at the airport to he view all the rescue mills and write the top 6 for each of them.
Out that of process, you know, i actually could see who rose to the top and i picked 5 people that we were going point view out that of process.
And for myself, what i wanted if could i, was someone who had experience running airports.
And i know that people can run other organizations and can have skills and experience, but the fact of the matter is, if we can find someone who has done a good job of running airports, that's going nobody my view the best person to choose.
And experience in this process with 22 people, think bore that out.
They chose someone who has run airports to be the ‑‑ their chief candidate.
And for me that, makes a lot of sense.
>> one of the things that we are hearing with scott carr, we did a story the other day on him, and we have been flooded with e‑mails from people he used to work with, some anonymous, some not anonymous and i've not sure if you have heard some of this but some of the e‑mail comments we have gotten from people that is he has left behind a poorly managed airport that he bullied employees and quite frankly they are glad to see that burlington is going to take him.
Have you heard any of those comments?
>> haven't had any of those sent to me directly so ‑‑ i guess i can look for them but they are not ‑‑ as far as i can tell on my e‑mail, coverage.
I know anyplace you air manager, you often face potentially people who didn't choose your course or your management style so you can have people follow behind you, you know, concerned or complaining about the ‑‑ your performance.
But they sent ‑‑ we saw in terms of scott' interview and history and capacity and resume, it was very positive and it did have the support of the review process.
>> what does he bring to the table, then, that you think sort of set him ahead of the rest of the game?
What can we expect at the burlington airport with mr. Carr in charge over there?
>> well, i mean it is premature for me to set his goals, but i think we have an irport that really continues to be poised to be very effective and have these connection beings to the eastern townships which is important.
We serve all of vermont and upper new york state.
We have a great mix of airlines and so i think scott will bring sort of a capacity to sustain our momentum and to work with the airlines and to potentially expand our capacity to meet ‑‑ get people across the country.
And partly i'm counting on that.
Now, he will be working closely with the airport commission.
The airport commission is the ‑‑ the civilians sort of connection to that representing our interests in helping to manage the airport.
So that's gene richards ace is the chair and that commission has been very supportive of recommending scott to be the next director of aviation.
>> you have had a very busy week.
You also delivered your state of the city.
This is your 6th term, 6th year as mayor.
Is that right?
>> that's right.
Starting my 6th year and this is my 5th state of the state.
>> 5th state of the city so your 5th state of the city.
How would you say burlington is doing?
>> think it is doing very well especially in comparison to many other communities around the country.
We have done very stable housing stock, very low unemployment rate think there is a lot of energy in the ‑‑ terms of economic development in the city, both marketplace and around town as a whole.
We have been anchored by the hospital and the colleges in terms of jobs and job growth and so in comparison to many places, where cities are being forced to close hundreds of police ‑‑ fire stations and eliminate teachers jobs and senior centers, we ‑‑ so far have been able to remain stable or grow and that's been a very positive.
>> one of the things you brought up during your speech is this idea that you going to call on taxpayers to reconsider a tax increase and before ‑‑ a hundred assessed value on a home.
That is something that voters clearly rejected on a vote of 68% to 32%.
Why do you think, given that margin, they would reconsider?
>> well, first time around it was a tax increase of up to 4 cents.
And that was because it looked like we might have a 1.4 million dollar gap for next year's budget and that would take 4 cents to close.
Partly i was doing up to 4 cents because we didn't have all the information we needed to be able to nail that down.
We have more information so what i would be going back to voters for now would be up to ‑‑ would not be up to ‑‑ it would be 2 cents.
And so that is half of the up to 4.
What we have been able to see is that sales taxes are about 7% ahead of last year.
Rooms and meals are about 10% ahead of last year.
So some of the rev news ‑‑ revenues are stronger and the other variable we are looking at is the cost of health care that.
With it be up more than last year.
But, what we are thinking is that we will be able to put this budget together with the 2‑cent increase.
So i will be considering going back to voters with that.
But before we get there, we will keep looking carefully at all the elements of the budget.
If we can avoid asking for a tax increase, now we haven't had one since 2004.
At some point i think we have to ‑‑ we have to make investments in the city in order for the city to meet all of its costs but we have been working hard to try to not do that.
But i'm concerned that this year we may need that 2 cents to balance our budget.
>> so 2 cents you think would balance this budget.
Maybe explain how we got into this situation.
I know that cities and towns across the country are really facing this.
Why the 1.4 million dollar budget hole in burlington?
>> well, it is things like cost of living adjustments and just general inflation and things like health care that we have actually been able to ‑‑ were level funded but look look like it is a good chance that it could go up for 2012.
And those kinds of costs ultimately have to be covered.
And we have done pretty well without having to have general services tax increase because we have ‑‑ we have actually been working to develop other sources of revenue.
But, you can't always predict that.
And this year it looks like we may need to turn to the general city tax to be able to cover the gap.
Which we are more likely project being at 750 thousand dollars roar than 19.4 million that i was talking about earlier
>> when voters rejected that tax increase, some people thought it was a referendum a little bit on you and your administration.
I think you rejected that and you said no that wasn't the case.
But again, why do you think this will be different?
You are saying it is only two cents.
But, what do you think, you know, we are still in a recession, a lot of entrepreneurs are feeling the pin.
How do you sell this to your residents and say this is the time to make this investment?
>> partly ‑‑ i mean the city council has to accept some responsibility in this so we need to move this forward together.
I will be work being with the council to get their endorsement to put it in the ballot but also for them to work with me to help people understand the importance of this investment.
It really is an invest.
In other words for us to keep momentum going forward in the city and that is what builds jobs, gives people better pay, keeps them in their homes.
You need to make that investment.
So what i'm counting on is for people to see that we are not going to do this casually.
We will look carefully at it and i appreciate the cost of a gallon of mill is going up and gas is going up but i hope that people can see that an investment in burlington is part what of is the solution to being able to pay for these needs from other sources in the future.
If we make a two‑cent investment in 2012, i feel pretty strongly that that will also be an investment to get us through 2013.
Because it helps create momentum in the economy in burlington and continues to generate the interest and excitement that attracts people in businesses to burlington.
So, it has got to be looked upon as partly ‑‑ an immediate cost but an investment in our future.
I think if we sell that it way, and explain it that wake that people can appreciate it, the importance of it.
And like i say, this really does require support as well from the city council.
And we will be working with the council to try to make sure they understand where these costs are coming from and how important they are.
>> we will take a brief break and continue our conversation with burlington mayor bob kiss.
A lot more to talk about.
Stay with us.
>> we continue our conversation now with burlington mayor bob kiss.
We were just talking about the proposed 2% tax increase.
You are thinking possibly may, june that, we would have a special volt on that?
If we move ‑‑ if we move forward on that, the council would have to pass that shortly probably at the april 25th meeting of the council and then it would appear as a ballot item and a special election end of may, first week of june.
>> now, a lot of folks that we talked to around town meeting day in regards to the 4‑cent proposal, had said that given the troubles that burlington telecom that they could not support a tax increase.
Given the fact that burlington telecom is still sort of, you know, trying to get out of this hole here, why do you think that this time, two cents, even, would pass and change the minds of burlington voters?
>> again, we keep having to just have that conversation.
They are unrelated issues.
The 16.9 million deb to it pool cash is money we have accounted for in our audit.
It is actually earning interest, which becomes a cash flow positive into the city's budget.
And we are working you know with the financial advisors to find the financial solution going forward that will allow to us recover the deb to it pool cash over time.
So we are trying to deal with that.
Burlington telecom responsibly at the same time being responsible we need to build a budget pails based on the realities of the city of burlington.
I hope people realize that.
If need be, we will try and avoid it but if need be, if we kneel feel like we need that it is important to the future of the city.
>> if voters do say no, what will you read into that?
>> well, i ‑‑ again, it might that be it is a difficult economic times and people choose not to make than i vest.
But there will be consequenceles and that's what we want the council and people of burlington to know what they are.
Will be reductions in staff and services.
Because we can't pay for everything with the money potentially that we have.
And then as a result, we will need to make changes.
And most of the costs, 80% of the costs of the city of burlington are in people who provide services so often that's where then if you need to reduce the cost of got, you eliminate people and programs.
And so that will be the information that we have to share before we get to a vote.
>> let's talk about burlington telecom.
It is still 50 million dollar in debt you.
Have been one of its steadfast supporters saying no this will work.
This will work despite current concerns from the state.
Regulators, city counselors do.
You think anything went wrong with burlington telecom at any point?
>> well i think the 50 million dollar pricetag is greater than we could afford in terms of being able to meet the ‑‑ the city's obligations in terms of paying that all back.
And you know, so in ‑‑ and we have a lease purchase agreement with city capital that we have agreed is terminated and we're trying to move forward on that.
But bee spent a long time trying to restructure that loan with city capital in a way that was potentially beneficial to them and to the city, maintaining bt as thes.
We are still in that conversation.
So i can't see our ‑‑ i think what do i see is that bt is an incredible resource to the city.
Ab are an economic development tool.
The it is green infrastructure.
All that of is good and performing the way we hoped it would.
The financial end of it didn't work out the way that we had hoped and now we are in that process of trying to solve it.
And i think there is a solution there.
>> but if you say, mayor that the financial end has not worked the way we hoped it would, that sounds like something went wrong.
>> well, you know, as this project developed, i had always anticipated i would be another refinancing and potentially out that of refinancing partners that would have been the solution, there wasn't another refinancing.
And so then we ‑‑ we were left in the situation we con manage our way forward in terms of meeting all of our financial obligations and so we have terminated the lease purchase agreement with city capital.
So i think that's all sort of the process that we are in.
But i think there is a constructive way out and i think our financial advisors are optimist take we can make our way through that.
>> is that way out a ‑‑ either it being purchased and taken out of the city's hands or partnering?
>> i think it will be, and i hope it will be partnering and what ‑‑ my sense is in talking to terry coreman our financial advisor, all the people we are talking to, the strategic investors and financial investors, he definitely includes the fact that there needs to be a way for the city to repay its debit to pool cash.
And so i think the city will continue to be a part of the system going forward, but i'm pretty convinced that we will have partners in that process.
>> speaking that of pooled cash, there is still a civil lawsuit out there in regards to that.
And a criminal investigation.
As to whether that money was siphoned out illegally of city's pooled cash.
Tj donovan, we said ‑‑ he said that at this point, he has gathered all the information.
We are just waiting on a decision.
Do you know anything about that, where that stands?
>> well, i mean, i generally don't comment on litigation that is underway or investigations that are underway.
And so i won't today.
I would say that there is nothing been siphoned off of anything that ‑‑ you know all of the money that has funded burlington telecom has been accounted for and our auditors do that.
But there are issues that are being reviewed and we will participate in in any way we can as that moves forward.
>> do you think ig anything was done not on the up and up, illegally?
>> i have said i don't think there is any misfeesans or malfeasance.
We are out of compliance with our certificate of public good and we are in a cure phase of trying to resolve that.
And as a ‑‑ as utility, think that is the process that we will follow.
And other utilities would follow as well.
>> you are starting your 6th year as we mentioned.
Are you going to run again?
>> too early to tell.
I mean, i definitely in the fall i will make that decision.
But i think there is a lot to do between now and, say, november and i think that's sort of the time to ‑‑ for people to decide what their political futures are
>> what will help why you decide that?
>> definitely things like solutions to burlington telecom would be help: again i feel like it is such an important investment, that it is so valuable but we would resolve the financial path forward and this would be a plus in terms of ‑‑ of my thinking about running for a third term.
>> do you have any looking back, any regrets at all?
>> in being mayor?
>> or something you did while mayor.
I'm very ‑‑ i appreciate sort of having had this opportunity, and i this.
Burlington is a great city.
You see from people around the country, you know the accolades acknowledge the work that we have all done in creating burlington as a place that people choose to live.
So as sort of part of the process, i feel good about being there.
>> best place to raise a family, healthiest, least angry most recent ‑‑
>> which i'm sure you might to disagree with, with some of the meetings you go to.
>> we have seen recently work on church street and also, it is hard not to notice that there had been a lot of vacancies.
It seems as though that is turning a tide here.
Things are improving on church street and new we have this big lower church street project.
Update us on why that was important to the city.
>> those investments have been slated for a while and they are finally coming to fruition.
So the businesses on lower church street now will have some of the same treatment that business on the rest of the blocks hab and will make it more desirable for people to eat and be present there.
St. Paul street will also get some improvements.
Cherry street, intersection in church street will get some improvements and as well as by the ‑‑ so that ‑‑ the whole area will also get new lighting on the marketplace.
Very positive in terms of maintaining sort of the infrastructure of the downtown.
Vacancy rate in the marketplace has dropped from 11% to 6% and i think you are right.
You know, people are ‑‑ businesses are continuing to move back into where there are vacant spaces.
Old navy moved.
It is unfortunate in some respects because that was affordable clothing in downtown.
But you see that dish think there are two new businesses that have planned to move in there and so where there are vacancies, businesses seem to be moving back.
So very positive, and i think it is ‑‑ it attracts people.
The fact that we have been able to keep a vital downtown, coupled with the ‑‑ our connection to the water front has been really good.
>> speaking of the water front, out of the headlines now for a little while is the manufacture moran plant.
Can you give us an update on that.
A couple partners pulled out.
Are we still trying to move forward with trying to redevelop that site?
>> the two partners, the center and ‑‑ i'm sorry, did the
>> children's museum.
>> children's museum has pulled out but the
>> climbing wall.
>> climbing wall, the group, the company from scotland, we are still working with them to put together their development agreements.
But they are both definitely interested partners and once we get those development agreements, then i think that will proceed.
And we also have a tiger grant which is going to be doing improvements at the north end of the water front around lake street that is an element of what will make the moran project work.
And that kind of work should begin the summer as well.
>> what kinds of things are you talking about at that area?
Because there is the skate park is there.
There is not a whole heck of a lot else, though.
>> skate park actually will be remove baud there will be a new skate park as part of moran so will be new parking places and capacity to have that work and in support of moran.
Reconfigure racialings of the streets with their improvements.
And then just the whole area, will begin to be improved around moran in anticipation of work.
>> any other potential partners who want to go ‑‑ i mean, this a huge building.
It is a prime location.
Any other partners interested in any of them possibly that could generate tax revenue for the city?
>> well, so the ‑‑ the area that is like not committed right now is 7000 square feet so we feel like the financing this we have in place doesn't have to rely on that third partner.
As we develop the moran building, it will be actually easier to attract the third tenant into moran so i'm sure there is going to be some tenant who comes in who will contribute to taxes certainly will pay the fees to make moran work.
And i mean i think it will be a very exciting addition to the water front once we are able to put that all in place.
>> we will have to leave it there.
There thank you for your time.
>> thanks for watching everyone.
Have a great sunday.
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