The tax rate is staying flat and the city’s financial picture is good. That’s the upshot of the $185 million budget approved by the Burlington City Council this week.
The spending plan includes more funding for a housing trust fund and sets aside about $1 million to the city's unassigned fund balance.
City Council President Jane Knodell, a professor of Economics at the University of Vermont, says the city is in very good shape. “The major threat to our financial health was of course the $17 million unauthorized draw for Burlington Telecom. That is a debt that is still there even though it’s been removed from the balance sheet and the taxpayers are still owed that money. All through those years the city had very solid annual budgets. This is another solid budget. It has about, um, a little shy of $3 million of new revenue. But half of that is coming from money that used to go to the school department and it’s now coming to the city and that’s basically the reason why we can do a lot of new things in this budget.”
The budget adds $1 million to the unassigned fund balance with a goal to build it to $3 to $5 million by fiscal year 2019.
South District Councilor Democrat Joan Shannon is a past president of the body. She says Mayor Miro Weinberger has done a great job of setting priorities and finding money for them while keeping tax rates down and managing the unassigned fund balance. “The unassigned fund balance was something that had been coming up in our audit for years and the auditors were not pleased with how that unassigned fund balance was being treated and we didn’t have any policy about it. So now we actually have a set policy. We can vary from that policy. But the idea is that by having a policy we’ll at least know if we’re kind-of not hitting the goal and we have to make an adjustment based on that whereas before it just kind of happened. The fund balance might be positive or be negative. There were no real controls on it.”
The city is restructuring its Community and Economic Development Office, known as CEDO. Before the budget was passed an amendment was offered asking for performance metrics to assure that benchmarks will be met for affordable housing development. East District Progressive Councilor Selene Colburn offered the proposal. “My amendment attempted to decouple that reorganization from the budget itself. Ultimately the amendment was amended so we actually did approve the reorganization of the Community and Economic Development Office but asked that the Board of Finance be engaged around helping to identify some indicators of success for the reorganization moving forward. I mean I do have some pretty significant questions around how we’re staffing around housing in the city because I think that is the central issue in many ways in our city right now. We have a real housing crisis.”
There is no increase in the Burlington city tax rate, so if the assessed value of your house does not change the city tax bill will not change.