Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Burlington’s city council adopts new municipal budget

Burlington’s city council has signed off on a new municipal budget that includes funds for more staff-level positions, pay raises for current employees, and millions of dollars in deferred capital outlays – but, crucially, no increase in the city’s property tax rate.

The council gave its unanimous nod to this new budget on Tuesday after a pro forma public hearing that failed to attract even a murmur from the city’s residents. Yet, the budget’s significance seemed evident enough to Burlington’s interim manager David Cheek, who spelled out the new spending plan’s details prior to the council’s decision.

Interim Burlington city manager David Cheek

Cheek told the council that the new budget calls for a grand total of $69.3 million in outlays from the city’s general fund – a repository for various taxes and fees which covers most of the city’s municipal services.

An increase of about $6.8 million over last year’s forecast for the general fund, this figure nevertheless assumes no change in the city’s current property tax rate of 59.73 cents for every $100 of value.

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Cheek assured the council that the general fund can sustain the proposed jump in expenditures thanks to an anticipated increase of 3.5 percent in the cumulative value of Burlington’s tax base as well as a projected spike of 26 percent in its sales tax receipts.

He also alluded to the budget’s omission of a controversial fee for commercial fire inspections that the city debuted this fiscal year. The interim manager stressed that the businesses which have already been assessed this charge can expect a full refund from the city.

The city’s interim manager said that the proceeds from these increasingly lucrative levies will help cover some $3.8 million in capital expenditures, $4.3 million in employee pay raises, and eight new, recently added, or soon-to-be unfrozen staff-level positions.  The additional revenue will also go toward the city’s ever-more costly fuel and utility bills as well as a new contract with the city’s recycling contractor that will effectively triple the monthly fees that residents presently pay for this service.

Aside from the city’s general fund, Cheek also called the council’s attention to the self-contained accounts that bankroll the city’s water and sewer system, its stormwater control program, and the Link Transit bus system. When added to the general fund, these three accounts, along with a hodgepodge of other funds, bring the total value of the city’s new budget to just over $114 million.

Cheek told the council that the new budget doesn’t rely on any new fees or fee increases to cover the $4.6 million earmarked for the bus system or the $2.5 million that the stormwater program is expected to cost. He nevertheless warned that a 2 percent bump in water and sewer fees will be needed to cover the nearly $31.9 million that those services are expected to cost in the new financial cycle. These fee increases, like the rest of the budget’s provisions, will take effect when the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

In the end, Cheek’s overview of the budget left little for the council to interject before its members voted 5-to-0 to adopt the new spending plan. Even so, the budget’s sales tax projections proved a bit worrisome for mayor Jim Butler in light of the economic uncertainty that has recently been gripping the nation.

“Ironically, sales taxes have been strong through it all,” the interim city manager responded to the mayor’s misgivings, “The $18 million that we’re projecting is what we’re getting this year. So even that is conservative.”

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