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Burlington Council Hears Police Budget And Staffing Plans And New High School Siting Update

Burlington City Hall in early evening (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall in early evening (file)

The Burlington, Vermont Board of Finance, composed of the mayor and city councilors, heard Monday from the acting police chief on the department’s 2022 budget proposal and plans for response in the wake of a shrinking budget.  City councilors also got an update from the public school superintendent on plans to find a site for a new high school building.

The Burlington Police Department’s fiscal year 2022 $16.1 million proposed budget presentation to the Board of Finance shows a reduction from past years.  Acting Chief Jon Murad said it shows how the department is dealing with a 2020 city council requirement that the department reduce staffing. 

“Our budget is decreasing and I think that that is in keeping with the desires of the city council," Murad said. "It’s dropped quite a bit particularly with regard to salary and benefits. One thing I’m very happy about is the fact that our training has returned. We are also talking about bringing aboard Community Service Officers. They are unarmed non-sworn officers. We are talking about hiring a public records request specialist or a redaction specialist. The independent Burlington Police Commission has formulated a new release proposal for body worn camera footage. The only way that we will be able to fulfill those obligations is to have a dedicated person who is capable of doing that redaction work.”

The Police Department has also issued a priority response plan.  It states that 86.3% of officers are available at any given time and highlights that with current staffing levels “…six officers (are) regularly available to cover the 44,000 residents and 15.5 square miles of the Queen City. After 3:00 a.m. that regularly drops to three.” Murad noted that military deployments and administrative duty due to injuries have factored into the reduction of officers in the field. 

“We have 82 sworn officers on staff as of April 1st," Murad said. "That decrease from the normal historical average of about 96 to 97 means that we’ve lost a number of things.  We’ve lost our swing shift. Our street crime unit is not available to us any longer.  Furthermore we had a number of specialized officers, our community affairs officer, our emergency response officer, our school resource officers are reassigned to patrol.”

In November 2018 Burlington voters approved a $70 million bond to renovate the Burlington High School buildings.  But last August and September air testing detected levels of PCBs above federal and state approved levels and the buildings were closed.  Students have since been attending in person classes in a converted department store in the city’s downtown.  District officials decided earlier this month that the renovation project be discontinued and a new high school should be built. Burlington School Superintendent Tom Flanagan told city councilors on Monday that the district is moving aggressively to find a site for a new school. 

“Work around Phase 1 has already begun and that is a high level site search and evaluation," Flanagan said. "We’re probably going to get to five to ten sites in the next six to eight weeks that then we can move into Phase 2 on those sites. Phase 2 is where we do our conceptual design and narrow the recommendations to two to three for consideration.”

Flanagan says the lease on the temporary downtown facility can be extended but the district does not want a long extension if it becomes necessary to renew it. 

“We really need to get into a new high school in four years and that is a really aggressive timeline,” said Flanagan. 

Superintendent Flanagan told councilors that 1,100 students attend Burlington High School.

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