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Burlington Mayor Discusses Proposed Budget And City Issues

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger

Burlington, Vermont officials celebrated the end of the city’s pandemic state of emergency this week and officials are looking forward to recovery. Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, presented his proposed $87.3 million 2022 budget to the city council on Monday. Outside City Hall Wednesday, Weinberger told WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he is confident the city will have a budget at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1st.
“I think the approval this year is going to be much different than then last summer where we had to pass a budget in just a matter of weeks after the murder of George Floyd and when, really the community and the country in many ways was reeling from that incident and trying to sort out the way forward. The process, you know, it's also a much easier budget this year than last year in the sense that we have a lot more resources. I mean last year was we were cutting dramatically in every department and it was a really painful budget to pass. This year we have the support of millions of dollars of federal funds that have allowed us to restore all the pre-pandemic services and say yes to a number of new things. And so I think it's, you know, we're still in conversations with counselors. There may be some modest changes still leading up to 28th which is fine. I mean that's what you know the council gets to do that. But I don't think we're going to have the drama or the contentiousness that marked last year's really unusual budget process at the end.”

Pat Bradley:  “During your presentation the other night...”
Mayor Weinberger:  “Yeah.”
Bradley:  “It was also noted that it's a unique year because you've had more back and forth with city councilors and you did a budget survey with residents. How did that come about?”

Weinberger:  “Well, you know this is my tenth budget. And we've always tried, last year was particularly hard because of the pandemic and the speed with which we need to make changes. But we've always tried to have a collaborative process. One of the early things that if you remember way back a decade ago when I came in we were trying to recover from a period in which a lot of public trust had been lost because of the budget, because the misappropriation of funds on BT (Burlington Telecom). So we've always tried to be very transparent and have all of our transactions available for the public to see. We have all these budget meetings that are televised. What was a little, what we did add to that this year, something that was suggested by, the Council really pushed us this year they said that we really we'd like it to be even more collaborative, more that we'd like greater engagement from the public. And so we decided we would try this survey method, online survey method, that we hadn't used before. The response was great. More than 800 people filled out the survey which was striking. And I think it's really, we've already put out another, two other city surveys since then. We have one out on the police chief search asking for input into that job description and focus on what the search committee should be looking for. There's another policing survey that it's out right now. So you know we probably should have done it sooner. But now that we've figured this out it's definitely a tool we're going to use more going forward.”

Pat Bradley:  “Before the pandemic hit there were quite a few issues and they've been ongoing but not as focused on because of the pandemic. Things like racial equity, the high school renovation that obviously now the high schoolers have been going to school on the Church Street Marketplace, the police department funding. They've been going on but they have not been the primary focus. Now that we're going into a recovery mode with the pandemic how big a focus do you think those will be and what other issues do you anticipate will come to the surface?”

Mayor Weinberger: “I mean the big issues going forward are the remaining crises that state, local and federal government is all focused on right now. We are trying to confront racism as a public health emergency. We think this is an urgent massive issue. It's why I devoted the entire State of the City address about this year. The climate emergency remains a major city focus. And I spent some time you probably heard the other night just talking about all the different ways in which this budget does attempt to respond to make new investments in addressing the climate emergency. The economic recovery, you know, the pandemic this is the biggest public health crisis in 100 years. It's been the biggest economic disruption we've seen since the Great Depression. It seems like the country's bouncing back from that well but there's still quite a bit of uncertainty and challenge in that ahead. So that's going to be a major focus. So that's why we continue to have a response leader to that, focused on making sure we're doing everything we can to support the local recovery. You know beyond that housing remains a huge issue. We're going to have a summit, another housing summit this summer. We're going to focus on black homeownership because the history of this country discriminating against black homeownership is a scandalous one and has never been fully addressed and fixed and we're going to try to do that here in Burlington. Those are some of the big things. Then you're quite right. I mean I don't put it on top of my list because the school district is the lead on the high school. But yeah my daughter just finished her first year there. It's a big deal that we don't have a permanent high school right now. I do think there's going to be a lot of community conversation about that from now through I hope by the fall a decision is made about what the site will be for the new high school. And then it's going to be a really focused intense planning, design community engagement effort from there to get something into construction as quick as possible so that you know we don't have this, this cannot become one of these projects that drags on and on. It's got to be a project that needs to move with urgency to completion for the good of our kids.”

Bradley: “Talking about a project that needs to move to completion the downtown project.”

Mayor: “City Place?”

Bradley:  “Yes.”

Mayor Weinberger:  “You know the big big milestone in that project recently is that the city now owns the land for the reconnection of the streets and we have a guarantee those streets will be built regardless of what happens with the rest of the project. I am concerned about the ongoing lawsuits particularly the Redstone lawsuit and I am attempting to pull together the parties to see if we can get, if they can sort out their differences and we can move forward. It's not good for anyone certainly not the Burlington community to have that dispute continuing. So that's one of the major focus points right now.”

The Burlington City Council will review Mayor Weinberger’s proposed budget for final approval during its June 28th meeting.


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