North Country News
2:45 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Burlington Mayor Says City Finances Improving

Burlington City Hall
Burlington City Hall
Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger delivered his State of the City Address Monday evening. He said the city has turned the corner in its efforts to fix municipal finances.

The mayor’s 20-minute speech focused on fiscal issues facing Vermont’s largest city. Mayor Weinberger has spent his first two years focused on resolving the city’s finances and he says the city has finally turned the corner.  “I think you can see hard evidence of that in a number of different areas at this point. Whether it’s changes in the credit rating for the airport and the Burlington Electric Department or our ability to start a new relationship with the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank that will save Burlingtonians millions of dollars. Because they have renewed confidence in the way the city finances are being managed. My point last night was that we are making progress but that we need to stick with it because the hole we were in financially was quite deep and we’re not out of the woods yet even though we have turned the corner.”

While optimistic about city finances, Mayor Weinberger laid out four areas he believes still need work.  “We have to finish resolving the Burlington Telecom situation. A second area that we’re staying focused on is the unsustainable rise in property taxes. And the real drivers of that are the cost of our retirement system and the statewide costs of K-12. And we active initiatives afoot in both of those areas. A third area is being proper long-term stewards of the assets the city owns. We today do not have a real plan for that. By Town Meeting Day 2015, my CAO will have created such a plan. And then a fourth area was we need sustained economic growth that generates additional revenues.”

The city council swore in new members following the mayor’s speech and re-elected Ward 5 Democrat Joan Shannon as council president. Shannon notes that Mayor Weinberger has been focused on the city’s fiscal situation since he first campaigned for office, so it’s no surprise to her that his State of the City focused on finances.  “I think that was a clear commitment in his campaign. And it’s a deep hole and it takes a long time to climb out of that hole. So it’s ongoing work. I think we are now set on the right trajectory. Our Moody’s ratings have improved for both Burlington Telecom and Burlington International Airport, which makes a really big difference for the city of Burlington. We do have continuing challenges, but downtown Burlington is alive and well and thriving.”

Ward 2 Progressive Jane Knodell notes a solid emphasis in the mayor’s speech on what had been accomplished in cleaning up the city’s balance sheet particularly in relation to Burlington Telecom and pension costs.  “Partly this was like a campaign speech, frankly. I mean, he’s up for re-election in a year. I think it was somewhat calculated in that way. So he’s going to emphasize his accomplishments and that things are going well. Clearly we are moving forward. But my concern is do we have an inclusive vision? Or is this a vision for highly educated people of privilege, mainly, and not for everyone in Burlington.

Both Knodell and Shannon would have liked the mayor to touch on bigger picture, non-fiscal issues. Ward 2 Progressive Max Tracy agrees. He is optimistic about the city and says’s it’s moving forward on a number of different fronts.  “He was right to say that we have turned a corner in terms of some key indicators. But I think that there is still some really serious issues. He could have talked a little bit more about, or talked at all about, the issues of drug addiction that are sweeping Vermont and having a pretty significant effect on Burlington. And also, I’m partial to the Old North End. I’ve got to say that I really would have liked to hear a little bit more of a mention of what his vision for the Old North End and bringing our part of the city into the fold a little bit more.”

The mayor will work with a new city council consisting of seven fellow Democrats, five Progressives, one Republican and one Independent.

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