Sunday, May 19, 2024

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Just how gullible does Burlington’s council think Burlington voters are?

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Burlington voters must be collectively scratching their heads, wondering just how gullible Burlington’s city council thinks they are.

The council seems to be plowing ahead with putting  two bond referendum questions on the November ballot, for a whopping total of $63.5 million in proposed new spending.  According to the city’s initial estimates, if both referendum items passed, city taxpayers could be on the hook for the equivalent of about a 13 percent hike in their property taxes.

This is on top of the 18 percent hike above “revenue neutral” that the city’s residents had to endure in 2023.  If passed, these newest proposals could leave Burlington taxpayers with a cumulative tax bill 31 percent higher than what they paid just two years ago.

We seriously doubt whether the voters are as easily taken in as city bureaucrats and council members apparently think.

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Voters must also be asking themselves what kind of “improved council” they actually got after they jettisoned liberal mayor Ian Baltutis in 2021.

Instead, they promoted Jim Butler to the mayor’s chair, returned former mayor Ronnie Wall as a councilman, and reelected councilman Harold Owen.  Baltutis and his slate of like-minded liberals – former county commissioner Bob Byrd and Dejuana Bigelow – were defeated, although Bigelow gained a seat during the next city council election in 2023.

But even Baltutis never attempted anything as broad or expensive as the spend-and-tax package the current bureaucrats and city council are now attempting to foist on Burlington’s voters.

And they’re planning to do so after running through money like a drunken sailor over the past two years.  We’ve noted before, but it bears repeating what some of these tax dollars have been wasted on.

All manner of allegedly “urgent” expenditures have been added, piece by piece to Burlington’s budget, over the past year or so – Astroturf for some of the soccer fields at Springwood Park ($3.6 million); a fancy new entertainment venue (at a cost of $2.6 million) at Burlington’s baseball stadium; another expansion at the Paramount Theater (although that $11 million expense is now being re-routed into the bond referendum); plus a slew of pickleball courts (17, as we recall, with a nifty price tag of millions of dollars).

So now that city officials are out of money in their “regular” budget, they’re going to ask the taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets to fund all sorts of projects – a number of which should already have been included in the city’s spending plan.  (Most notably, sidewalks and road improvements – mainly filling potholes across the city.)

Instead, the city’s voters may be asked to approve one bond package that includes $1.5 million for sidewalk construction and $15 million for roadwork that are being dumped into a bond referendum along with another $5 million for some sort of amorphous “streetscaping” in downtown – which would, by the way, will reduce the overall number of parking spaces available as a part of the redesign.

Total price tag of the “smaller” package: $21.5 million.

The other package includes: the aforementioned $11 million expansion of the Paramount Theater; $6 million for the construction of a new edifice for the Maynard Aquatic Center; and $25 million to build a new indoor rec center, or Sportsplex, in the western part of the city.

Total tab: $42 million. We’re not at all sure Burlington residents think any of the three components is a vitally necessary service or function of city government.

According to the city’s own estimates, the annual debt payments for all these items (both the frivolous and essential) will be an astronomical additional 6.5 cents (or about 13.4 percent) on the city’s tax rate of 48.36 cents.

Which, of course, is already 18 percent higher than the “revenue neutral” rate that the city could have, and should have, adopted last year.

Burlington voters haven’t been called on very recently to consider a city bond referendum of any level, but these proportions are astoundingly high.

We won’t be at all surprised to see Burlington voters turn down both costly bond proposals and start looking for some council members who will take a more conservative approach toward spending their hard-earned tax dollars.

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