The Burlington, Vermont Board of Finance is composed of the mayor and city councilors. This week the group heard the results of a survey about the proposed city budget and continued discussion about the 2022 proposed budget for the police department.
In early May the Burlington mayor’s office surveyed city residents to gauge their priorities for the 2022 budget. This is the first time the city conducted has conducted such a canvass. Progressive City Council President Max Tracy asked Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger if it led to any changes.
“I think it’s the beginnings of what could be kind of an expanded more participatory kind of budgeting cycle," Tracy said. "Interested if there are things that you feel stood out to you and that we should change as a result?”
“Certainly there seemed to be very strong support to restoring services to kind of pre-pandemic levels," Weinberger responded. "There was overwhelming support for investments in infrastructure. I thought it was validating of the limited use of one time funds that we have in the current draft of the FY22 budget. It seems like the public was strongly there.”
Last summer the Burlington City Council passed a resolution requiring the police department to reduce the number of sworn officers. Staffing is currently at 82 sworn officers and is expected to reach 75 by the end of Fiscal Year 2022. During public comments Jeff Nick, a partner at Nick & Morrissey Development on the Church Street Marketplace, pressed councilors to increase the police budget to adequately deal with downtown Burlington issues.
“We really need to think this through and I mean at the very least the one percent gross receipts I’m calculating could generate about $250,000 by themselves," Nick said. "So I think at the very least if you don’t increase the budget, I would recommend increasing it, but perhaps there’s a program that we could start with that looks at a different way to do this. But I would also would implore upon you to consider increasing the police budget. It’s very important for us.”
The Police Department presented its budget proposal to the Board of Finance on May 24th and Mayor Weinberger placed it on this week’s agenda for further discussion.
“I wanted to bring up the police budget again to see if there was any further reaction to it," the mayor said. "Any further reaction to the $400,000 reserve for an expanded mental health response and the other ways in which we are kind of treating the savings that are anticipated in FY22 as a result of the reduced number of officers which amounts to about $800,000. We are investing some of that back into non-officer personnel within the department.”
Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng quizzed Acting Police Chief Jon Murad about anticipated attrition in the department and subsequent hiring of CSO’s or Community Service Officers.
“I was just wondering about the hiring of the CSO’s. Would the police still have the capacity in responding to some calls?" asked Dieng.
“We have two CSO’s currently hired," Murad answered. "We’re very hopeful that that we will be able to offload certain kinds of services that are current performed by police officers and that police officers currently do not have the capacity to perform. That is why I implemented the Priority Response Plan, to prioritize the responses to which we always must respond. The others will be responded to when time allows when staffing allows. Are the CSO’s going to help with that? I’m hopeful that that’s the case.”
Burlington's Fiscal Year 2022 begins July 1.