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Burlington City Council to vote on ballot items

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 6:02 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Are property taxes going up in Burlington? Voters could be asked to decide that on Town Meeting Day if the City Council votes Monday night to put it on the ballot

There are a few ballot items that could impact taxes in Burlington. One is another try at a general obligation bond similar to the one Burlingtonians failed to support in the special election in December. But this proposal is $16 million less than the December bond.

December’s bond came in at $40 million with $10 million dedicated to future improvements at Memorial Auditorium.

The question, if it makes it past the council Monday night, will be asking for less than $24 million, including just $1 million for Memorial Auditorium to do minimal maintenance. The rest of the money will go to updating emergency radio communications, buying vehicles such as three new fire trucks, and repairing sidewalks and streets.

“I believe in many ways these items will cost taxpayers more if there’s a no vote and we have to figure out a way to fix these items after they’re broken or pay for things in the shorter term instead of spreading the cost out over a longer period of time,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Vermont.

Weinberger says that now they have a much better picture of the funds they’ll be receiving in the federal infrastructure plan so they were able to reduce the burden on taxpayers for these improvements.

If it goes to Town Meeting Day, it needs to be passed with a two-thirds majority.

This, along with two other items, will help invest money into the city if they are approved by the council and the voters.

It’s the last day to get something on the March ballot, so the City Council needs to decide Monday evening.

Weinberger says as the U.S. sees record inflation, the city of Burlington is also feeling that impact which affects costs for benefits, supplies and materials in the city.

The future budget is also impacted by other equity investments for the community and pandemic-related shortfalls.

That all adds up to a $7 million shortfall in the general fund.

Weinberger is proposing adding 4 cents to the municipal tax rate to balance the budget and avoid having to cut services. Even with that increase, the mayor says overall tax bills won’t go up.

“Because of the reappraisal and because of the really healthy ed fund and what’s going on broader in the economy, people can vote yes on this municipal tax increase and their overall property taxes will go down because of what’s going on on the ed fund side,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

The City Council is also expected to vote to put a new tax increment financing district on the ballot. This would not impact current taxpayers, but rather borrow on future taxes to commit more than $30 million to help revitalize Main Street with bike lanes, more environmental protection for the lake and overall major upgrades.

“People can vote yes on that and it’s a major project, it’s almost a $30 million project but there will be no impact on people’s tax rates because it will be paid for the people’s tax increment financing district,” Weinberger said.

There’s another item up for discussion that could affect future ballots. The council will also be hearing from the ad hoc committee on redistricting borne out of the recent 2020 census. They were tasked with getting community input on how residents think the City Council district lines should be drawn.

The population of Ward 1 grew while Ward 7 decreased in population, so those will have to be addressed, along with the controversial Ward 8, which is dominated by college students and sees low voter participation.

However, the committee says they did not receive nearly the amount of community input they desired in the short period of time they were given to investigate the issue.

The goal is to get the new districts on the November 2022 ballot.

“People in Burlington are connected to their wards, that they almost in some cases see themselves as a member of a ward before a member of a city,” said Greg Shepler of the Ward 5 Redistricting Committee.

The mayor is also bringing a mask mandate renewal to the council Monday night for approval which would extend the mask mandate into February. He says, however, that as of last week’s wastewater data, he believes the city could be on the downswing of COVID and he encourages everyone to stay vigilant.

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