Tensions flare as Burlington City Council passes 2021 budget

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 12:16 AM EDT
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With less than two hours before their deadline, the Burlington City Council Tuesday approved the city budget.

Some councilors described Tuesday's meeting-- which lasted more than five hours-- as frustrating, petty and an overall challenging night.

Progressives and Democrats on the council debated back and forth on smaller budget items and salaries of the city's department heads. Some called for cuts to those six-figure salaries and to give raises to employees in the city.

Negotiations and cuts had to be made in light of the pandemic, and money was reallocated from the Burlington Police Department's budget to support racial justice investments.

Although councilors were able to approve the budget, after a 9-3 vote, tensions between council members were evident throughout the evening.

"I have never seen anything like this on my years on the council. The only 'no' votes I recall on budgets were generally from disgruntled Republicans who just wanted to vote 'no.' It's irresponsible," said Joan Shannon, D-Burlington City Council.

"It really makes me worry about the future of the city. I never would've imagined that the Burlington City Council would make the remarks that were made," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Three Progressive city councilors, Perri Freeman, Jack Hanson and Jane Stromberg, voted against the budget. Mayor Weinberger said he can recall only one councilor in the last eight years voting against the budget.

The Burlington Police Department's share of the 2021 budget will be reduced by 10%, eliminating 12 vacant positions. In a resolution presented by Zoraya Hightower, P-Burlington City Council, the department will reduce its force by 30% through attrition by 2022, reducing the number of officers to 74.

The budget includes funding for the creation of a Public Safety Transformation Fund, which will help pay for an assessment of the Burlington Police Department. It also will make more investments in First Call and the city's Street Outreach Program.

Weinberger says he is concerned about the attrition to 74 officers before the assessment of the department is made. Right now, there is no time for that to be completed.