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Burlington City Councilors hear a report on the city’s fiscal health

Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley
Burlington City Hall

The main item on the Burlington, Vermont City Council’s agenda Monday night was a review of an annual report on the city’s fiscal health.

The Burlington City Council began its meeting by going into an executive session. Deputy City Attorney Jared Pellerin explained:

“The purposes of this update is just for the city attorney’s office to bring city councilors up to speed on any pending and possible litigation before the city," noted Pellerin. "And due to the sensitive nature of our positions in these various litigation matters that’s why we’re requesting the executive session. But it’s just a general update to city councilors that we want to provide to you periodically to make sure you’re up to date with what’s going on in our litigation world.”

The council president anticipated that the executive session would last about a half hour and they would return for an on-time start of the public comment session. But it took longer.

The council had come under some criticism for not acting assertively when its August 14th meeting was disrupted by advocates of the city’s former Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging director. Monday night some lingering effects were evident. Resident Jadah Bearden was annoyed that the comment session began late and was already angry about city councilors’ statements the previous week regarding a lack of decorum during public comments.

"That councilor was very contradictory and you know when you communicate in a way that’s passive-aggressive, micro-aggressive, and not healthy or mature you shut down dialogue, right," said Bearden. "And since we’re speaking on city councilors, an ex-city councilor attacked me last June."

The 2 minute chime sounds.

"Point of order," calls Ward 5 Democrat Ben Traverse. "Your two minutes are up."

"Okay I’m going to finish my..." Bearden continues.

Council President Karen Paul weighs in: "Your two minutes."

"I’m going to finish," interrupts Bearden.

"Your two minutes are up," emphasizes Paul.

"I’m going to finish my sentence," Bearden agitatedly says. "I’m going to stay here because it’s public forum. You will not silence me. You started the **** meeting..."

"Please stop," interrupts Paul.

"Twenty minutes late," Bearden continues. "I’m reclaiming my *** time!"

"And you’ve had your two minutes," points out Paul.

A brief recess was taken before the meeting continued.

There was only one item on the deliberative agenda: a presentation on the city’s Fiscal Health Report. Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger explained in 2012 the city was nearing junk bond status but is now at one of Moody’s best credit ratings.

“The recent $130 million bond for the new high school were issued at an interest rate of 3.84 percent," reported Weinberger. "If we were still back in the 2012 period and we were trying to do this borrowing the current interest rate would be 5.31 percent. So a point-and-a-half percent difference when you apply that to $130 million in 20 year borrowing the impact is substantial. When the credit rating increases began in 2015 the current dollar savings of the remainder of the borrowing that has been done, when you add all that up the ratepayer and taxpayer savings has been $24 million. So the combined total is just under $45 million in locked in savings as a result of these credit rate increases.”

Central District Progressive Melo Grant expressed concerns about how borrowing for the new high school, with its cost overruns, could impact future borrowing and finances.

“Our ability to borrow more money because of what we’re borrowing for the high school will be limited," notes Grant. "So then we’d have to look at property taxes. We really need to think about that and plan for that. And since I’ve been here as a councilor there really hasn’t been any detailed discussion about property tax reform.”

Mayor Weinberger agreed:

“Councilor Grant is quite right that the commitment we’ve made to the high school as well as the commitment not to pursue unplanned borrowing until we are back within the policy limits does present a real challenge with our capital investments in the future. We have some time and we’ve started the conversations with the Board of Finance about our various financial challenges we do need to be talking about. I don’t think there are easy solutions but I do think we have the time to figure this out.”

Councilors voted unanimously to accept the report and place it on file.

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