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Burlington Board of Finance reviews budget for police department rebuilding plan

photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium
Photo - Pat Bradley/WAMC
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photo of Burlington Police logo on a podium

The Burlington, Vermont Board of Finance held a special meeting Monday night to receive a plan from the mayor and acting police chief to rebuild the department after loss of personnel and a spate of shootings across the city.

In June 2020 the Burlington city council mandated the police department reduce the number of uniformed officers. After a consultant recommended a higher number, the council increased the cap in October 2021, but today the department is struggling to recruit employees.

Last week Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger said he would include what he calls a rebuilding plan in his upcoming budget proposal.

During a special meeting of the Board of Finance meeting, made up of the mayor and city councilors, the mayor outlined the plan’s budget.

“This is our attempt to show how all the different moving parts, and there are quite a few of them with respect to the staffing changes, are being funded in the FY23 budget," Weinberger said.

The $1.1 million three-year plan would bring staffing levels to 85 officers by Fiscal Year 2026. It uses a 2022 budget rollover, unspent recruitment and retention incentives and Police Foundation funds to achieve the goals. A half-million dollars is dedicated toward contract improvements with the police union, a $15,000 signing bonus each for 18 officers, $150,000 for housing, education and childcare incentives and $200,000 for the hiring of a recruitment firm.

Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower said some of the proposals must be more focused.

“I'm very supportive of the contract enhancements," Hightower said. "I do wonder if some of the other things, especially recruitment firm and signing bonus. We talked about some of the vacant positions, funding things that would reduce the demand on BPD (Burlington Police Department). That's what the CSO (Community Service Officer) is. That's what the CSL (Community Service Liaison) call is. And maybe we just try one thing first like the bonus or the additional incentives or the recruitment firm. And then do we need to move some of this to make sure that we can fully fund the crisis response?”

Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng questioned the amount of a bid from a recruitment firm being considered and priorities for funding the department

“And I was just wondering if we can change the way we think about this and at least allocate $500,000 from this one million two hundred, um, one-twenty and try to match basically the $400,000 we already have in reserve and make this as a priority and not just assign this for bonuses and recruitment firms that we don't know exactly the details," Dieng said. "And if the state basically provide funds then I think we can rebalance by providing these bonuses to the police officers.”

Mayor Weinberger acknowledged the concerns but said the rebuilding plan must change the trajectory of public safety in the city, which has had a dozen shootings this year.

“The budget we will be submitting will include a rebuilding plan for going from where we are now, which is I think, in a very challenging situation," the mayor said. "We essentially have 57 effective officers and we have seen basically two plus years of seriously declining number of officers. That is a trend from my perspective we must turn around and this budget I think needs to play an important role turning that around. So I'm not going to put forward a budget that does not properly fund that effort. But I am hearing a desire for more clarity around this issue. We will be doing our best to be responsive as we submit this budget over the next couple of days.”

The budget proposal will now be submitted to the full city council for consideration.

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