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Burlington city council resolves to proceed with bond referendum at price point $5M higher than previously portrayed

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Burlington’s city council has taken the first step toward a two-part bond referendum that could raise as much as $68.5 million for various projects that have been on the city’s to-do list.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the council adopted a state-mandated resolution that states its intent to hold the bond referendum as a prelude to its potential addition to the ballot in November’s general election.

According to the resolution, the council will ask the city’s voters to sign off on two separate bond packages – one that would raise $47 million for recreation-related endeavors and a second that proposes to bring in $21.5 million for the city’s sidewalks and streets. The proposed price tag for the first package is $5 million higher than the city’s administrators had previously envisioned when they pitched the proposed bond referendum at a city council work session earlier this month.

The council’s resolution doesn’t delve into the details of either bond package. Nor does it offer any estimates for their potential cost should the city’s voters deem them acceptable. The city’s administrators nevertheless shared these particulars during the council’s work session. They stated, among other things, that the annual debt payments on both packages could cost Burlington’s taxpayers the equivalent of 6.48 cents on the property tax rate – or 5.68 cents if the tax hikes are frontloaded rather than staggered across several years.

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The projects to be bankrolled by the smaller of the two bond packages include $15 million in street resurfacing, $1.5 million in new sidewalk construction, and $5 million in streetscaping within Burlington’s downtown development district. During the council’s work session, the larger bond package was projected to provide $25 million for a new Sportsplex in the western part of the city, $11 million for a proposed expansion and renovation of the Paramount Theater, and $6 million for a structure to enclose the Maynard Aquatic Center, which is currently operating as an open air pool following the demolition of its original edifice.

According to Burlington’s finance director Peggy Reece, the city’s administrators have tacked an additional $5 million onto the cost estimate for Sportsplex since this month’s work session in response to concerns from the council that a figure of $25 million may be inadequate. This change has driven up the total cost of the recreation bond package from $42 million to $47 million. The city has not yet calculated the potential financial impact of this increase.

The council adopted the bond resolution by a margin of 4-to-0 in the absence of councilman Ronnie Wall, who was out-of-town on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s council meeting also saw the city’s elected leaders sign off on a contract with an architectural firm that city staff members had selected to design the aquatic center’s new housing.

The council ultimately agreed to set aside $709,850 from the city’s savings to hire Walter Robb Architects to design this enclosure, whose construction is expected to go out to bid in the first quarter of 2025.

Before the council voted on the proposed contract, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler injected a cautionary note that the city’s ability to finance the building’s construction hinges on the passage of the associated bond package on November 5.

“By approving this,” he emphasized, “we’re going to have plans to move forward, but I don’t know that we can financially.”

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