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Burlington councilors pass 2023 budget and short-term limits

Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington City Hall

The Burlington, Vermont City Council approved the city’s 2023 budget and restricted short-term rentals this week. The body also heard a presentation on the status of plans to rebuild the high school.

Burlington School District officials gave an update on efforts to rebuild the high school. The buildings were permanently closed in 2020 due to high levels of PCB’s.

Superintendent Tom Flanagan said they have an aggressive timeline to be in a new building by August 2025. He noted the district is preparing to present a bond proposal to the council for approval on August 15th so it can be placed on the November ballot.

“If we were proposing bond language today this is a $165 million bond ask. I want to also caution us though that we’re in the schematic design phase. We will not actually know the exact costs of the project for another month and a half. This is the best number that we have right now.”

Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger said he appreciated the challenges the school administration is facing but cautioned school officials about how much they will ask voters to bond.

“At the $150 million level, even if we’re able to hold that and not go to the potentially higher level that I hear you cautioning we may have to ask for, we would already be in position of allocating about two-thirds of our bonding capacity that we seek to stay within. We would actually exceed that somewhat and mean that two-thirds of our capacity is dedicated to the district with about 75 percent of that to this project. And you know if that’s what we have to do we have to do it. It is I think our obligation also to make sure we’re not asking voters for more resources than are needed.”

Later in the meeting councilors took up final approval of the city’s 2023 budget. Mayor Weinberger said the $96.5 million fiscal plan is one of the most impactful of the 11 he has presented.

“There is substantial new investment in public safety. We are targeting rebuilding the number of police officers and it also includes substantial new investments to further expanding our number of CSO’s (Community Service Officers), doubling the number of Community Service Liaisons. This budget also has substantial funding for addressing the climate emergency. There’s also major, again, investment in public infrastructure and there is new investment in an arts facility and more. Also voters can expect about a four percent overall reduction in their property tax bills.”

The council unanimously passed the budget on a voice vote.

There were two items on the agenda to implement a comprehensive Short-Term Rental ordinance. Ward 5 Democrat Ben Traverse explained the proposal.

“The regulations here would require that the host could rent out their own primary residence or another unit on the same property but not both. The regulation includes a number of tenant protections. To address neighbors’ concerns there’s all sorts of minimum standards. I do think though the potential biggest change here and shift and benefit from the status quo that we have right now, which is to try to enforce our bed and breakfast regulations here, is that we have found a way to apply our gross receipts tax to Air BnB’s and short term rentals.”

Both Short Term Rental measures passed on votes of 8 ayes, 2 nays and 2 absent.

The Burlington City Council also held two executive sessions to receive an update on collective bargaining with the city’s four public employee unions and to hear from attorneys regarding the city’s long-term ground lease with BETA Technologies, an EV plane manufacturer.

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