Burlington election to determine balance of power on City Council
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Town Meeting Day got off to a slow start Tuesday in Burlington. With thousands of votes already cast through mail-in ballots, officials reported low in-person turnout. Infrastructure and city policing policy are some of the main issues in Burlington, with eight of 12 City Council seats up for grabs.
Burlington officials say upwards of 6,000 mail-in ballots were cast city-wide before Tuesday. That compares to 8,500 prior to last year’s Town Meeting Day.
In Ward 7, the three candidates in the hotly contested race stood outside the polls to welcome voters. “It’s cold, and at the same time, it’s fun because people are showing up. We are interacting with them, I think it’s all good,” said Councilor Ali Dieng/I-Ward 7.
“I want to greet the people coming to the polls, answer any questions that people have on their way in, thank them for voting even if they are not voting for me at least they are exercising that right,” said Aleczander Stith, a Democrat for City Council.
“I’m standing out here partially because I actually want to be able to interact with constituents. Through the winter and COVID, it’s been really hard to get to know people in person, so I’m really enjoying all the social interaction I’m having here,” said Olivia Taylor, a Progressive for City Council.
Many people we spoke to said that the biggest draw this election was weighing in on the City Council, where 8 of 12 seats are up for grabs. Currently, Progressives hold six seats, giving them the power to block key votes, such as approving the mayor’s choice for police chief.
“I don’t want to necessarily say who I voted for but I think things have been going well overall and I just want to make sure that things keep going the way that the city should be going,” said Matthew Clay, a Ward 7 resident.
“I just think it’s important to change the course of how things are going in Burlington a little bit. I’ve been unhappy with some things and you gotta get out and exercise the right to vote,” said David Baldwin, another local resident.
Other voters in the Old North End only had one candidate on the ballot for council, however, they still wanted to weigh in on the issues. Most we spoke to said they were voting yes to ballot measures involving a tax rate increase and general obligation bond, but others were worried about the affordability of the city.
“Sometimes I like to participate in making Burlington a better place for working-class people,” said Eric Maier, a Ward 2 voter.
“We’re very concerned about the direction things are going -- the affordability for one thing, and just the politics of the Old North End -- it seems like the last few years our city has gotten less affordable and less safe,” said Doug and Lorraine Hoffman.
VOTERS WEIGH IN ON PUBLIC SAFETY, BOND MEASURES
Public safety has been a topic of discussion for nearly two years now. The Progressive majority on the Burlington City Council passed a 30% staffing cut to the police in 2020, and the fallout from that is still felt today. Officers are still leaving, leading to smaller shifts, and a plan that prioritizes calls for service.
“Hopefully we’ll see new perspectives on City Council that will move us forward in a positive light. I really think it’s important to support our police,” said Hilary Booth, a Burlington resident at the polls Tuesday.
The Burlington Police Officers’ Association is hoping for a change in the council makeup and says they’re looking for more support and collaboration from city leaders. “We need our leaders to show, outside this department, that they actually care about the officers that work here, that we are human, that we do the difficult job that no one else wants to do,” said the association’s Joseph Corrow.
Progressives say a vote to approve $850,000 in incentives was a show of support. “Based on what I’ve heard, I think a lot of voters would actually appreciate moving beyond the issue of public safety. The Mayor and the Acting Chief need to support transformative policing, starting with acknowledging that structural racism is a problem in the department, and then supporting models of citizen oversight... before we can even begin to move forward as a community,” said Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1.
While some may be hoping for a shake-up of the council, we’re told Progressives will likely maintain their majority.
Burlington voters will also decide on $50 million in bond measures. A $23.8 million capital bond covers the costs of three new fire trucks, an updated fire and police emergency radio system, and local matches on a number of existing grants. Also, $1 million would be used to heat Memorial Auditorium. This is a scaled-down version of a $40 million bond that failed back in December. If this new one is passed, taxpayers can expect a slight property tax increase.
The nearly $26 million Main Street TIF Bond would be used to widen and rebuild sidewalks, create bike lanes and update stormwater management and underground utilities between South Union Street and Battery Street. The city says TIF funding doesn’t immediately raise taxes and is borrowed money the city plans to pay back using tax money generated by the upgrades.
Opponents of TIF financing believe the funding mechanism hijacks the revenue stream intended to support some city services.
The city says this project will be paid for by taxes on future development projects in the TIF district and expect at least a 1% increase in property values in that area.
Polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
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