The Burlington, Vermont City Council’s Board of Finance held a special session Monday evening to review two items. The panel reviewed the proposed 2022 budget, which includes some federal COVID relief funds, and discussed the status of a citywide property reappraisal.
Burlington officials expect to receive $27 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, federal relief funds. During a special meeting of the Board of Finance, which is comprised of city councilors, there was a presentation on budget goals and principles and an outline of how the funds could be used. Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, expects there will be some discomfort with the amount of ARPA funds and said part of the reason for the meeting is to help determine how much of the federal dollars should be used in the 2022 budget.
“I do not think there is any way to pass anything short of a draconian budget without the use of some ARPA funds in the FY22 budget," the mayor said. "I don’t see any path through this without use of some. I think we do have quite a bit of discretion about how much we want to use in FY22 and how much we want to decide through a later process.”
Ward 7 Independent Councilor Ali Dieng was concerned about how they were presented with the ARPA budget information.
“We all need the APRA funds to support some citizens that’s for sure," Dieng said. "But my concern here is about the approach we want to take in using the ARPA funds. I would rather have the presentation what is missing, what are the gaps? And then we have the discussion about how much from ARPA we are going to allocate to those gaps. But it seems with this it seems there is a preconceived notion about where ARPA will already go.”
City Council President Progressive Max Tracy weighed in on long-term use of the federal funds.
“Just wanted to understand how, given that there’s a number of new investments, how you’re dealing with the question of sustainability in future budget years?" Tracy asked.
“To the degree we are using ARPA funds to fill this budget I do think we should speak to what the long-term sustainability is with it," Weinberger responded. "In some cases the gaps in the operating budget are caused by one time issues. We need to have a plan for all the gaps.”
The Board of Finance also heard an update on the status of the citywide reappraisal. In early April the City Assessor’s Office began mailing notices of property valuation changes following the first citywide reappraisal since 2005. Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine says he has gotten numerous questions about the appeal process and potential tax impact.
“The number of folks who’ve contacted me tell me that there’s clearly going to be some economic fallout from this that I think we will see over time," Pine said. "I’ve seen way more property for sale signs in the Old North End, in my neighborhood, than I have in quite some time. But that’s just purely anecdotal. I think the part that is most difficult for me to explain to constituents is the methodology is really rather complicated and rather byzantine.”
Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul says a number of people are hesitant to request a hearing to challenge their appraisal.
“Either number one they thought that there was always a possibility that by having a hearing their property value could actually increase," Paul said. "And then there was also a concern that I heard from people that if I come forward with a hearing does that mean that I may be putting a neighbor of mine at risk that they will have a higher valuation. So I think there was a lot of confusion about how this process works. And I think that led to frustration and you know and anger on the part of people.”