The Burlington City Council last night approved a 2023 fiscal year budget that expands the police department by offering incentives and continues spending and programs on climate and racial diversity, according to a information released by Mayor Miro Weinberger.
Police Department Rebuilding Plan Investment
The budget would hire officers back to the 87-officer authorized cap of the Burlington Police Department. The police chief has set a goal to achieve 85 officers by July 1, 2025, through increasing our Police Academy class size by 50 percent, doubling the number of lateral hires, and improving our retention rates of current officers.
A three-year rebuilding plan allocates $1.2 million to keep current officers in the Police Department and attract new officers. This recruitment and retention plan incentives include: a competitive contract; signing bonuses; housing stipends to live in Burlington, education, and childcare.
The budget also spends more on other public safety personnel, including the number of the BPD’s Community Service Officers (CSOs) from 10 to 12 and doubles the number of Community Service Liaisons (CSLs) from 3 to 6. (CSOs perform foot patrols and respond to a variety of quality-of-life complaints. CSLs are social workers that work in the police department and focus on mental health issues, substance use disorder, and homelessness.)
The budget also reserves $400,000 for the creation of a Crisis Response Team Program inspired by the CAHOOTs program in Eugene, Oregon.
Net Zero Energy City and Climate Emergency Initiatives
The FY 23 budget continues the administration’s priority to invest toward our Net Zero Energy City goals, largely funded through Burlington Electric Department revenues, federal grants, and the Net Zero Energy Revenue Bond. These include: More than $2 million for customer strategic electrification incentives and programs, such as rebates for heat pumps, e-bike, e-mowers, and home charging stations; $1.5 million for energy efficiency incentives and programs; adding EV charging infrastructure and continuing to replace our City fleet with electric and hybrid vehicles.
The City budget spends considerably on Burlington’s streets, sidewalks and transportation. With voters’ support of the Capital Infrastructure Bond on Town Meeting Day 2022, the City will continue addressing the backlog of work on streets and sidewalks. The FY 23 budget includes: $1.5 million of bike and pedestrian improvements; $1.6 million to rebuild three miles of sidewalks and resources to complete a new citywide sidewalk condition assessment so that the Department of Public Works can update its target for work moving forward; and $1.1 million to develop a shared use path on Intervale Road.
Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging
Since creating the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Department (REIB), the City has dramatically increased spending, making Burlington’s REIB department the most substantial in Vermont, and larger even than the State government’s office. FY 23 will have a $1.8 million budget. This budget will enable REIB to continue a range of programs, including: anti-racism training for all City employees; continue the tradition of hosting a Juneteenth celebration; and administration of BIPOC grant programs, including a $190,000 Empowerment Fund and an upcoming revolving loan fund using ARPA funds.
Property Tax Rates
In recognition of the challenging financial times many Burlington residents continue to face, the City budget maintains the General City tax rate at the same level as last year. As a result of a new state law, the education tax rate will decrease this year due to a $90 million surplus in the state’s education fund.
Other Council Action: Short Term Rental Ordinance
The City Council also passed, by an 8-2 vote, a Short-Term Rental Ordnance, which is the last of five key policy reforms that was proposed as part of Mayor Weinberger’s 2019 Housing Summit. The other policy reforms were increasing the Housing Trust Fund, eliminating parking minimums, upgrading our standards for energy efficiency in rental housing, and making it easier to build accessory dwelling units.
The final ordinance restricts short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties or in exchange for renting another unit at a below-market affordable rate. The ordinance will also impose a 9 percent short-term rental tax, a portion of which will go to the City’s Housing Trust Fund.