Burlington City Council passes 2024 budget after extended debate
The Burlington, Vermont City Council approved a new budget Monday night after a debate over the plan’s affordability for lower-income residents.
Burlington’s budget is presented to the city council by June 15th and must be passed before the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1st. The city council meeting on Monday evening was focused on the 2024 budget. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger reiterated to the council comments he has made during Board of Finance meetings as the budget was formulated: in 12 years of crafting the city’s fiscal plan this has been the most difficult to complete.
“The largest challenge has been that for a second year in a row we have had historically high inflation and we are seeking to minimize property tax increases on residents," the mayor said. "There’s a lot in this budget to be excited about voting for. This is a budget that will continue to advance our public safety goals. It includes continuation of our major effort to make investments in electrifying everything. And it continues major public infrastructure investments. In summary this was not easy but I think we’ve completed the process in a place that really advances our collective work and moves the community forward.”
The $101 million budget represents a 4 percent increase over the last fiscal year and includes $750,000 in cuts. It will mean a 6.2 percent increase in the city’s tax rate.
North District Independent Mark Barlow put forth the motion to approve the budget.
“I believe this budget is a responsible one," Barlow said. "I appreciate that it’s been built in collaboration with the council during the budget meetings in May and June and I believe that it attempts to find that balance of continuing necessary investments while minimizing the tax impacts this year.”
But Progressives on the panel were critical of the plan. Ward 3 Progressive Joe Magee appreciated the work department heads did to close a $5 million deficit but said he cannot support it because of how it will burden his constituents.
“Each year that we ask them to shoulder more of a burden to pay for city services beyond what we might need I think that does a disservice especially in a year when folks are going to be paying higher electric rates, higher water rates and continuing to see prices for household goods go up across the board and I think we need to be mindful of that in this budget process," Magee said. "And so while it’s a challenging decision for me to make, I can’t support this budget.”
Ward 2 Progressive Gene Bergman felt the budget puts the council in an untenable position.
“We are increasing municipal property taxes at the same time as we’re raising utility and other fees," Bergman said. "Or the choice is austerity, making even further cuts. And we have known for years that we need to invest and that we cannot try to cut our way to affordability. This budget absolutely puts me in a bind because it does not raise the revenue that we need in the ways that are most responsible to the majority of the people in our city: our low-and-moderate income residents.”
The Progressives criticizing the budget received pushback from Mayor Weinberger, who said they didn’t raise concerns or offer any proposals during previous budget meetings.
“We have been talking about the budget since April," Weinberger said. "We’ve had numerous meetings over the course of May and into June. It is very concerning to have councilors indicate they’re going to vote against the budget who have never over the course of this multi-month process offered specific changes. Because before tonight they would have been considered. We can’t do it now at the last minute.”
The budget passed on a 10 to 2 vote.