Monday evening was the first meeting of the new city council elected by Burlington, Vermont residents on Town Meeting Day in March. The new council met electronically to elect a new council president, conduct COVID-19 related business and hear Mayor Miro Weinberger’s annual State of the City address.
Among the first items on the agenda for the organizational meeting of the Burlington City Council was the swearing in of five re-elected and three new councilors. Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, then delivered his annual address to city residents. He began noting that they must meet remotely during a time of disruption and uncertainty. “The state of the city is a state of emergency. It is an emergency that is likely to last in some form for many months and that threatens us all regardless of class, race, or age. And it is an emergency in which we each have a role to perform to save as many of our neighbors as possible, and to ensure that the Burlington of tomorrow is a city that emerges with renewed and even increased strength and vitality.”
Weinberger dedicated his entire speech to the coronavirus pandemic. He outlined the challenges he expects the city to face and steps that must be taken to get through the crisis. “We are anticipating a revenue shortfall of $5 million, about 25 percent of our expected revenues, in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year alone and even larger losses in Fiscal Year ‘21. As a result of this financial impact and focus on the COVID-19 emergency, we will need to delay or perhaps even let go of some of the city goals that we had prior to this crisis. By the end of April we intend to bring a first phase of a COVID-19 Emergency City Financial Plan to the city council to outline in more detail the city’s financial position and what we will need to do to get through this crisis as a city.”
The council is now controlled by Progressives. Ward 2 councilor Max Tracy, first elected in 2012, was unanimously elected council president. “I look forward to continued work between this council and the administration in addressing this crisis, making sure that we as councilors are bringing our concerns to the administration and to each other and working together collaboratively to find solutions to those issues that so many in Burlington are facing and making that we use this council effectively. In addition to that we also need to recognize that this city council is a really important forum for folks to have their voices heard in this particular moment.”
The organizational meeting of the City Council is usually ceremonial with the swearing in and the selection of Board of Finance members. But due to the pandemic there were three resolutions before the panel. The $20 million package included a proposal allowing property owners extra time to make their quarterly tax payments. Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul said it is only a first step toward addressing the adverse financial stress many residents are facing. “Under our city charter we are able to make adjustments to property tax payments regarding extending the deadline for taxpayers to make their June payment. The mayor and the CAO have recommended in this resolution that the Council waive penalties and interest on the June payment for two months.”
The resolution passed unanimously. Two other measures authorizing the mayor and Chief Administrative Officer to approve temporary loans in anticipation of taxes passed with one no vote.
The mayor’s office says the city’s strong credit rating allows it to move forward with the plan at low cost and with limited financial risk.