The City Council has unanimously approved a proposed fiscal year 2021 budget equal to a 1.5 cent or 2.98% increase over the FY20 tax rate.
For the owner of a $340,959 home – the average home value in South Burlington – the annual tax rate increase would be about $54. For the owner of a $234,724 condo – the average value for a condo – the annual tax rate increase would be about $37.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we really looked carefully and decided to not make this the year to go all out,” said council chair Helen Riehle. “It looks as if we will continue to be the smallest part of the budget.”
The total proposed FY21 budget expenses in the general fund are $26,599,754. However, over one-third of those expenses are offset by general fund non-property tax revenues, according to Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard. The total amount to be raised by property taxes is just under $17 million, an increase of $556,773 over last year’s budget, resulting in the 2.98% tax rate increase.
Cost drivers in this year’s budget include Capital Improvement Plan asks, which are city department requests over $10,000. Some of those asks included $750,000 for paving, $100,000 for tree care, some vehicle replacements and building improvements including security at the police station and a new roof at Wheeler House. That roof was originally estimated to run $120,000, however, a recent assessment shows it could be a $65,000 fix, with a few “urgent repairs” created using $10,000 from the FY20 budget.
Other cost drivers included salaries, healthcare, benefits, the pension increase and agreements with three collective bargaining units. This year will also carry the expense of multiple general elections.
Three full-time positions are included in the proposed budget, too. The first would bring two existing, part-time 28-hour librarians to 40-hours with benefits.
“We want to be making a gradual move toward the staffing that we will be needing at the new library,” said Jennifer Murray, the library’s community director. She added that the increased hours would help the library with its goal of getting out into the community more often, and help it retain skilled employees.
“We want to keep trained, quality staff who are already at the library but who for various reasons ... need to have a living wage and be working full time and have benefits,” Murray said.
The other new position is for a park maintenance employee under the Public Works Department.
“The city’s park assets are growing as well as the offerings,” said Justin Rabidoux, the public works director. “We have more stuff, and all that stuff has grass that grows and things that break.”
He added the community has given feedback concerning the department’s ability to “tread water” with park maintenance.
“This was a request from Public Works in response to what we see but also, I think, more importantly, what we’re hearing from the community,” he added.
Rabidoux said the department hopes to hire an individual with tree knowledge to handle some of the city’s ash tree removal in-house.
On the revenue end, some gains include 1% grand list growth, retiring debt on improvements to the Veterans Center/Community Justice Center and community room at the police station and a difference in interest income from switching the city’s bank. Likewise, there are increased revenues from local option tax, special funds outside the General Fund and Pennies for Paths. Pennies for Paths is an initiative that was approved voters in August 2018 to raise funds for bike and pedestrian path improvements around the city.
Councilors unanimously approved the proposed budget.
“I think you’ve done a terrific job with it guys,” Councilor Dave Kaufman said. “It’s a big project, a lot of analysis, a lot of numbers and you seem to, with help from the rest of the team, seem to be able to put it together very, very, very sharply, concisely.”
City Manager Kevin Dorn thanked the team for their hard work on the budget. He thanked Hubbard and Sue Dorey for the “hundreds of hours” they spent working on the budget.
“All our staff here worked hard, sharpened their pencils ... really did a phenomenal job,” Dorn said.