Sunday, December 4, 2022

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(Another) spending frenzy in Burlington

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There’s an old adage that “A fool and his money are soon parted.”

Apparently, an even faster separation can occur when government officials have the money and those dollars belong to the taxpayers.

Nowhere was that more evident than this week in Burlington where city council members joined a host of other local governments in deciding that they just had too much money burning a hole in their collective pockets.  And they had to spend it – now.

As with so many other recent illustrations, there’s not even the pretext of an annual budget to justify the council’s spending spree.

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No, even though budget season has already started – and even though the new fiscal year starts on July 1, less than three months away – Burlington’s city council found compelling reasons to spend more than $3.6 million in one fell swoop at this week’s meeting.

We’ve expressed our skepticism before that part of the unspoken rationale for these early, mid-year (or now end-of-year) expenditures is to avoid the kind of scrutiny that they might get in an annual budget, where they would be subjected to competition from other agency requests, the regular review by elected officials, or oversight by the residents themselves.

We also continue to question how such expenditures are approved without having notified the public of a pending proposal for such spending.

If this were being done in the real budget, state law requires that there be public notification and a public hearing.

But what’s a few million tax dollars among city officials?

No public notice needed.

No public input sought.

We suppose residents will have to be satisfied with $1.2 million designated to fix potholes and make other road repairs on city-maintained streets.

That expenditure might at least serve most residents, depending on where the repairs are ultimately slated.

Meanwhile, the city will spend more than $200,000 for computer “firewalls” at city hall and other city work venues; $900,000 to replace lights and poles in Burlington’s City Park (really? We cannot even imagine there are enough lights to cost that much); and $462,922 to make “immediate” improvements that a consultant had proposed at the city’s indoor swimming facility, most of which involve fixing an enclosed pool that was not designed to be enclosed.  (Is it any wonder there are problems then?)

Is a swimming pool really a top priority for average citizens, who will, nonetheless, foot the bill for all its suddenly urgent expenditures?

If the “needs” were really that important, we think they could have withstood scrutiny when competing with every department’s “wish list” – rather than having this expedited approval.

Instead, a unanimous city council went on an unannounced spending frenzy this week.

What do you want to bet that when the real budget season comes there just “won’t be any money” left over to provide tax relief to taxpayers?

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