Sunday, May 9, 2021

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Burlington’s city manager suggests no tax hike in proposed new budget

City manager: “Trying to get back to normal”

Burlington’s city manager has presented a recommended budget for the new fiscal year that foresees no property tax hike for the city’s residents but envisions some additional personnel costs for the city, including a 2-percent merit-based raise for Burlington’s municipal workforce.

The proposed budget, which Burlington’s city manager Hardin Watkins formerly unveiled at a city council work session on Monday, is the second one he has pitched to the council since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020.

Watkins conceded that the pandemic’s financial impact had been the prevailing theme of his previous COVID-era budget, which ultimately went into effect in the summer of 2020.

“Now, we’re beginning to pivot to normalization,” Watkins went on to inform the council on Monday, “and this year, I think, the theme of the budget…is trying to get us back to normal.”

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In the quest to return to business as usual, the manager’s budget features no hike in the city’s property tax rate, which would remain at its current level of 59.73 cents for every $100 of property.

Watkins has nevertheless recommended some increased expenditures from the city’s general fund, which uses revenue from various taxes and fees to cover most of the city’s programs and services.

According to the city manager’s presentation to the council, the proposed budget calls for a grand total of $62,479,369 in outlays for the new fiscal year. This figure includes increased allocations for employee health and retirement benefits as well as a 2-percent merit-based raise for Burlington’s workforce.

The city manager’s budget also suggests two new positions. One of the potential new hires would be an animal control officer, whose expected cost would be covered by the fees that the position is expected to generate. Meanwhile, the manager’s budget proposes hiring a new computer tech with funds freed up by cost savings in other areas.

Watkins also touched on four existing positions that his budget suggests “restructuring” as well as the proposed thawing of five frozen positions in the city’s recreation department. He went on to add that, as part of the budget’s emphasis on normalization, the city’s outlays on travel and training would be restored to 75 percent of their pre-pandemic levels.

The city manager proceeded to suggest a whole list of proposed capital outlays to the council. These items included the purchase of a tandem dump truck, a rear loader truck, and 16 police cars.

Watkins also recommended $900,000 for street resurfacing in the new fiscal year as well as $454,100 for computer hardware, $50,000 for a fairway sprayer at the golf course and $163,800 for other new vehicles.

Watkins assured the council that the city’s general fund can sustain all these additional expenditures thanks to the tax revenues that have continued to pour in despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s an amazingly robust real estate market…we’re also experiencing some growth in projected sales tax revenues.”

– Burlington city manager hardin watkins

“What we’re seeing on the revenue side is growth in projected property tax revenue,” he added. “There’s an amazingly robust real estate market…we’re also experiencing some growth in projected sales tax revenues.”

Moving on from the general fund, Watkins proposed a budget of $31,781,367 for Burlington’s water and sewer fund – a standalone account that maintains the city’s utilities with revenue water and sewer fees. According to Watkins, a 1-percent hike in utility fees will be necessary to keep this fund floating above water.

Meanwhile, the city manager suggested a proposed budget of $2,752,500 for the city’s transportation fund, which bankrolls its Link Transit bus system. The general fund’s contribution to this service would amount to $203,975 in the new fiscal year.

The city council is slated to hold a hearing on the city manager’s budget on June 1.

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