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Burlington approves budget with no property tax increase

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Burlington’s city council has given its unanimous nod to a budget for the new fiscal year that calls for nearly $85.2 million in outlays from the city’s general fund but no increase in the current levy on property.

This newly-approved budget, which received the council’s imprimatur last Tuesday, is fairly similar to a proposed spending plan that Burlington’s city manager Craig Honeycutt pitched to the city’s elected leaders on May 6.

Prior to the budget’s approval, Honeycutt reminded the council about the particular emphasis that the city’s municipal staff had received in his financial recommendations.

“This year’s theme was taking care of our existing assets,” he went on to recall, “and we wanted to look after our most valuable asset, which is and always will be our employees.”

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To this end, the city’s new budget includes $1.8 million in the payroll expenses for the city’s police department, an extra $1.2 million for other city departments, and $223,252 for four new positions that would be covered by the city’s general fund. The budget also calls for a merit-based pay raise that would average out to an extra 2-percent across the city’s entire municipal staff, although it forgoes any so-called cost-of-living adjustment for the city’s full-time employees.

Burlington city manager Craig Honeycutt

Honeycutt stressed that the city’s new budget will maintain the property tax rate at its current level of 48.46 cents for every $100 of value. He nevertheless conceded that the budget calls for increases in a number of the city’s other taxes and fees.

These revenue adjustments include a 5 percent hike in the water and sewer fees that bankroll the city’s public utilities. The budget also calls for a two-fold increase in the $5 vehicle registration tax that the city’s residents pay every year to subsidize Burlington’s Link Transit bus system. Another change that appears in the budget is the introduction of new municipal “occupancy tax” that will be tacked onto hotel and motel accommodations in order to promote travel and tourism in Burlington.

Honeycutt acknowledged that the budget which the council ultimately approved contained a couple of additions that didn’t appear in his proposed spending plan. He recalled that the council had instructed him to tack on $150,000 to cover part of the cost to develop a “pocket park” in Burlington’s downtown business district as well as $27,000 to hire a part-time affordable housing technician.

Before the council signed off on the city’s new budget, its members convened a state-mandated public hearing to allow residents to weigh in on the proposed spending plan.

The three residents who availed themselves of this opportunity included Steve Deaton, who made a somewhat tangential pitch to the council for an updated municipal noise ordinance. Meanwhile, Teresa Wiley, the owner of an area group home, asked the council to add more stops to Link Transit’s routes and revamp the bus system’s mobile app to make it more handicap-friendly. (Wiley had also approached the council two weeks earlier to speak in opposition to an unrelated rezoning request for a carwash along Rauhut Street).

The only speaker who actually addressed hard dollars and cents during the hearing was Ruth Watts, a retiree who implored the council to avoid tax increases that will come down hard on the community’s seniors.

“Every increase is an increase for us,” Watt’s told the council, “and I don’t want to be taxed out of my house.”

The council went on to adopt the new budget by a margin of 5-to-0.

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