Department managers are making their lists and checking them twice as part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan process. Preliminary asks call for an about $737,000 increase over the Fiscal Year 2020 plan.
However, managers and the city council will spend the next few months refining the plan and creating what they determine is a more reasonable ask of taxpayers.
“There’s the ideal, and then there’s what we can afford,” said Tom Hubbard, deputy city manager. “What we try to do is really take the list of what the managers have submitted and kind of say, ‘This is what we feel we absolutely have to have.’”
Indeed, crafting the amended Capital Improvement Plan is a process. Managers and the council will hold a working session on Dec. 11 to discuss each department’s proposed purchases. That meeting should help councilors whittle down which projects will occur in FY 2021.
On Dec. 16, the council will hold a public hearing to take comments on the updated proposal.
The plan, initially created about 10 years ago, lays out a decade-long timeline for city projects that cost $10,000 or more, Hubbard said. It incorporates asks from each of the city’s departments. Councilors approve the plan for the coming fiscal year and add another year on the back end for projects a decade out.
But the plan’s projections are just that, according to Hubbard. The plan constantly evolves, projects can change costs, years, or even be removed.
“Councils change from year to year and so the way that the CIP works is that the council’s only approving what the next year’s budget is,” Hubbard said. “They have input in terms of what’s in the CIP over 10 years, but they’re not authorizing.”
Projects that call for money from the general fund, which impacts the property tax rate, tend to draw extra attention, though.
“There’s a number of projects that are in the CIP that are not tied to property tax dollars,” Hubbard said. “While the council is concerned about all the projects and their funding, there’s a special emphasis on projects that are funded through the general fund.”
Department managers have currently proposed the following projects to draw on general fund money in FY21:
• $1 million paving
• $250,000 fleet replacement
• $40,000 garage expansion
• $200,000 removal of infected ash trees
Fire and Ambulance
• $10,000 fire equipment
• $59,000 to finish the second floor of the fire station on Holmes Road
• $216,000 communication tower
• $66,000 police station financing debt service
• $160,000 vehicle replacement
• $65,000 security and building access equipment
• $98,000 communications, computers, electronics
Recreation and Parks
• $35,000 Overlook Park, for repaving the parking lot and realigning panels along the walkway
• $10,000 bleacher replacement
• $20,000 Szymanski playground replacement
• $120,000 Wheeler House improvements
• $60,000 Veterans Memorial Park basketball courts
• $30,000 fleet replacement
• $17,000 IT hardware
• $12,000 servers
• $5,000 public art
• $193,000 bonds payment
• $860,000 City Center Reserve Fund
“There’s a capacity for the funding dollars and being able to keep the tax rate at a reasonable rate,” Hubbard said. “When [managers] see that number, [$737,000], well that’s over two cents on the tax rate to get there, and we know that’s not going to work.”
But there are several ways to cut costs. The first, is the working session in which the council hears from department managers and discusses which items truly must be incorporated and which can wait.
Other cost savings can be found with a little creativity.
Sometimes, the city will call on departments to share vehicles for a time rather than replacing a vehicle. Another option is for the city to split parts of a project, and consequently its expense, over multiple budget years. “It was a way of accomplishing the same thing but spreading it out a little bit so that it’s more affordable over time,” Hubbard said. “You may not just get it all at once.”
A proposed $80,000 highway department garage expansion saw $40,000 worth of that effort approved for FY20 and aims to have the other $40,000 okayed for FY21.
“We kind of have to look at it as an aggregate,” Hubbard said. “Each department submits things individually.”
Revenue can also help offset increasing costs.
One way of realizing revenues is by reducing the overall general fund expense by looking for items that aren’t needed within the next year. Other savings include when bonded debt decreases or expires altogether. There are also some expenses that are required in one year’s budget, but not needed in another, Hubbard said.
The revenue budget can also be increased by an increase in the local option tax or growth in the grand list. South Burlington is currently projecting its grand list growth to be just over 1%, Hubbard said.
“Those are the things that balance out some of the rise in expenditures,” Hubbard said. “But typically, it’s not enough to give us a zero-increase level.”
And there’s still the overall FY21 city budget proposal to consider. Councilors will have to consider not only their Capital Improvement Plan amendment, but the city’s fixed costs and increases to the regular operating budget. Even those projects in the plan can be altered in the overall budget process.
“During the regular budget discussions during January those [capital improvement plan] items will be in the budget and they could still go up or down or [get] taken out,” Hubbard said.
In recent years, the city’s budget proposal has stayed around a 3% increase. According to Hubbard, that’s usually considered the maximum. This year, councilors may look to stay within that ballpark.
“That’s kind of like a no more than,” Hubbard said. “For us to get there we know there’s some cutting to do and that’s what the process is for.”