Among the issues the Burlington, Vermont City Council considered during its meeting Monday night were weatherization requirements for rental properties and a resolution to increase councilors’ pay.
Proposed revisions to Burlington’s housing ordinance adjust minimum energy efficiency standards for residential rental properties. Among the requirements are insulation of all exterior walls, open attics, ceilings and roofs. All windows in exterior walls must be double glazed and have storm windows during the heating season. All fuel burning heating systems must be biennially inspected, serviced and certified. The resolution was the only topic discussed by residents during public comment.
“Weatherizing units will obviously save tenants a bunch of money and will also save the environment," said resident Christie Delphia, who called it an environmental justice issue.
“I have rented at five different properties so far here in Burlington and they’ve all been really leaky," said Chris Gish. "I think this is a really typical experience for renters in Burlington. And with rental properties landlords don’t always have the same financial incentive to weatherize their buildings because they’re not paying the heating costs. So I think a sensible regulation like what we have on the table today would go a long way.”
Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason explained that the measure is part of continuing discussion in the Ordinance Committee.
“Where we landed was in essence putting in place a firm date for those that were the worst offenders," Mason said. "There was a discussion in the committee about whether we should go aggressive and the majority of the committee felt this was the prudent approach.”
The measure passed unanimously.
A more contentious proposal was offered by Ward 8 Progressive Jane Stromberg regarding councilors’ compensation.
“This resolution requests that we explore the idea of further compensating city councilors," Stromberg said. "And I’m bringing this up because I want systems of government to be reformed and to be made more equitable by the work of this current council so future councils are opening and operating in more of an economically and socially just way.”
Ward 3 Progressive Brian Pine said the idea is always a thorny issue.
“One of the things that I always thought would make a little bit of sense in trying to address the issue that is so self-serving is to have it only kick in upon re-election," said Pine.
North District Independent Mark Barlow does not support increasing compensation.
“You know based on my limited council experience and my four years on the school board, that gets no compensation at all for equally challenging work at times, I believe for many who have served time is the most critical constraint," Barlow said. "Time and schedule.”
Barlow added that city councilors’ pay was recently increased.
“We raised the compensation to its current level $5,000 three years ago and currently Burlington councilors are compensated more generously than our peers in other cities in Vermont," Barlow said. "And I’ve actually looked around at South Burlington, Winooski, Rutland and Montpelier. We are maybe the most generously compensated. Additionally Burlington councilors can be reimbursed up to $5,000 for qualified expenses related to council business.”
Councilor Mason ruminated over the fairness of considering raising their pay when the city is in the midst of property reassessments that could raise residents’ taxes.
“I have heard from hundreds of Ward 5 residents whose assessed values have gone up eighty-plus percent," Mason said. "And I can’t tell them the specific amount that their taxes are going to go up but they are going to go up. And every single one of them has come back, renter or home owner, saying this is not acceptable. And to take that vote or even consider moving in that direction in light of what’s going on, in terms of at least the e-mails and the communications I’m getting, seems very tone deaf by this council.”
Councilors voted 8 to 3 to send the proposal to the Charter Change Committee.