The Burlington City Council held a sparsely attended public information session Wednesday evening to review the six questions that will appear on the city’s Town Meeting Day ballot next week.
There were more city councilors and staff in attendance than residents as each ballot question was explained and any questions answered. City Council President Kurt Wright was not surprised that only two residents attended the meeting. “It’s a requirement in our charter that we have a public informational hearing where a description is given of everything that’s on the ballot and the public, if they want to, can come and ask questions. And so we’re filling out that requirement. You know anybody in the public could have come. In this case only one or two did.”
Six questions are on Tuesday’s ballot. Burlington School District Senior Director of Finance Nathan Lavery explained the 2020 school budget. “The ballot question calls for a total budget of about $88.7 million. In terms of the total budget that was about a 4.36 percent increase. For property tax payers the estimate we’re using is a 4.86 percent increase and for income payers that it is a point-43 percent increase.”
Question 2 allows an increase the maximum general city tax rate by 1-point-5 percent for general city purposes. Chief Administrative Officer Beth Anderson says in practice taxes may not be raised that high. “The public would be approving a taxing authority. We do not have to tax to that authority. And in fact for the past number of years we are not taxing to the full authority.”
The third question allows the city to create a Department of Permitting & Inspection and Make Zoning Administrator and Planning Director Mayoral Appointments rather than they’re being appointed by the planning commission. City Attorney Eileen Blackwood then reviewed how Question 4 would change the Downtown Improvement District. "This is expanding both what that Downtown Improvement District does and expanding the boundaries of that district.”
City resident Ann Barton says the information that is available on the question is confusing. “I found it really difficult to read the document that was online. It was probably 20 something pages and a lot of things are underlined. A lot of things are crossed out. So at the end I was asking myself what is this really going to do?”
A fifth Town Meeting Day ballot item in Burlington asks voters to eliminate business personal property tax. It would phase out a city tax on businesses’ non-property assets by 2026.
The last question asks Burlington voters whether the City Council should consider bans on single-use plastic items. South District Councilor Democrat Joan Shannon emphasized it is non-binding. “This is an advisory question that is simply meant to gauge public support for either banning or taxing single use plastics specifically plastic bags, plastic stirrers, plastic straws and Styrofoam food containers but not limited to that. A vote on this doesn’t in and of itself change anything but give the council guidance.”
Ward 8 Independent Councilor Adam Roof and Councilor Joan Shannon expect most residents won’t review the individual ballot questions until they vote. Shannon: “The only thing we have heard that’s at all controversial is the Downtown Improvement District. You know there’s been a claim that it’s privatizing our downtown but it absolutely is not.”
Councilor Roof: “I’ll add that an improvement district is a concept that has worked over decades in thousands of communities across North America but we right-sized this proposal for Burlington.”
There’s more information on the ballot questions on the city’s election page.