Burlington officials raise concerns over big-ticket bond measures and taxpayer fatigue

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - How much is too much when it comes to asking Burlington residents to approve two big-ticket bond measures over the next year? It’s a question city officials are asking as they prepare to tee up a $40-million capital spending package and a proposal for a brand new high school.

“We know there is certainly a bandwidth that the taxpayers will withstand regardless of our capacity to borrow,” said Burlington School Board Chair Clare Wool Tuesday night, discussing two bonds that taxpayers could weigh in on -- $40-million for capital infrastructure in December, and then again in November 2022 when the school board will be asking for money to build a new Burlington High School.

The city’s capacity to borrow the money isn’t in question, but Wool says taxpayers’ willingness to take on the debt is. “When we look at the infrastructure bond, we want to make sure that whether it’s an MOU that we understand the things that potentially can wait and that we are not overtaxing the taxpayers at a time when we really need their support for the wellbeing of the city,” she said.

Officials say the school district and city are working together to make sure both can pass. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says the city missed out on a construction season due to the pandemic and it’s important to keep streets and sidewalks in good shape to avoid costlier upgrades in the future.

Taxpayers will likely be weighing in on the capital bond before a decision will be made about the federal infrastructure bill, which could pump millions into the same projects the capital plan is trying to fix. If that happens, the city likely won’t need to borrow the full $40-million.

“If this infrastructure bill comes through fully funded and we secure millions of dollars for streets and sidewalks the way the council approved this bond, we won’t spend this money if we do better than expected,” Weinberger said.

But fellow Democrat, City Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South, disagrees with the mayor and says now is not the time for this capital project bond. She says the city should first find out how much bonding will be asked of taxpayers to build the new school. “I think a lot of taxpayers may recognize that we desperately need a school but if they can’t afford that vote, they’ll vote no, and I don’t think the students of Burlington can afford a no vote on our schools,” she said.

The Burlington School District will be making its decision on the location of the new high school by November 2nd. They then hope to have a price tag for the school before voters head to the polls in December to decide the fate of that $40 million capital project bond.

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