The Burlington, Vermont City Council had a packed agenda Monday evening. The council approved a new leader for the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, requiring the resignation of a councilor. It also reviewed a rate increase request from the city electric department.
Last week Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the appointment of Brian Pine to lead the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, generally known as CEDO, which requires city council approval. Pine, Ward 3 Progressive city councilor, had to resign from the council to take the post.
“My love for Burlington made the decision pretty easy when the mayor asked if I would consider taking on the role of CEDO director," Pine said. "But honestly I have mixed emotions about stepping down from the council part way through this term.. I have mixed feelings because I represent my neighbors and my constituents in a way that I feel a connection to them and I really value that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the CEDO team in support of our mission or the mission to engage the community in finding solutions to achieve our collective vision for an equitable, safe and truly inclusive city with real opportunities for all.”
Immediately following the council’s unanimous vote approving his appointment, Pine tendered his council resignation to Council President Max Tracy.
“A procedural move that we need to make now as a result of us having confirmed now Director Pine," said Tracy.”
“Yes I would formally tender my resignation from the seat of Ward 3 city councilor and will be sharing that letter with the city attorney and Council President Tracy," answered Pine.
Pine replaces Luke McGowan, who left in February to join the Biden administration.
Another item on the deliberative agenda was a request from the Burlington Electric Department to allow it to submit for approval to the state Public Utility Commission a proposed 7.5 percent rate change for Fiscal Year 2022. The last increase was 12 years ago. General Manager Darren Springer said the pandemic created major challenges for the utility.
“We’ve seen well over two million in lower sales to customers," Springer said. "We’ve seen over a million and a half in customer in reduced customer contributions for capital projects and we’ve seen customer arrearages, customers who are behind on their bills, which is currently at one-point-three million and has been peaking again after a period of decline following some state assistance. That combined with a one and a half million increase in regional and state transmission costs really led us to the point where this rate proposal is necessary for Fiscal Year 22.”
The rate increase garnered the most concerns during public comment especially from the business community. UVM Medical Center Vice President of Hospital Services Gary Scott told the council the rate increase is a significant and unanticipated added cost.
“Although we were informed early in the process that this could happen we did not know until last week the exact figure which we estimate to represent a cost increase of greater than $400,000 per year," Scott said. "We’re asking that the city find a way to use other funding sources to make the electric department whole so a smaller, more manageable increase can be considered instead. We too are reeling from this last year and the uncertainty that lies ahead for us financially.”
Burlington Business Association Executive Director Kelly Devine added that small businesses would struggle to absorb the rate hike.
“We have a lot of small businesses in Burlington and they have had the most challenging year imaginable," Devine said. "I think for our community to come back strong we really need to consider maybe a postponement or some other alternative to meet the need of BED.”
Councilors voted 10 to 1 to authorize the Burlington Electric Department to file the rate increase request with the Vermont Public Utility Commission.