I have served on the City Council for two years and am excited as the newest member of the Board of Finance to offer my perspective on the proposed FY 12 budget.
It is a challenging time to figure out the best approach for maintaining city services. It is important to note that there has been no tax increase for general city services since 2004. We have spent the last six years streamlining government, seeking efficiencies in city department operations, and most importantly, striving to maintain an excellent level of service. However, with growth of the city’s grand list (the main source of revenue for our general fund), unable to keep up with inflation, it was only a matter of time before normal cost increases would result in the need for additional tax revenue.
In March, voters voted down a four-cent tax increase for general city services. The Administration has proposed two options – a two cent increase that would maintain current city services or an approximately $750K reduction in programs that depend on the general fund. Public Safety (Police and Fire), Public Works (snow removal program and equipment maintenance), Library, and Parks and Recreation are the main departments that rely, in part, on the general fund. If we do not approve a modest tax increase, the $750K reduction will mean noticeable decreases in city services. For example, reductions could result in delays in snow removal, reductions in library community outreach, reductions in police staffing, and increases to some Parks & Rec fees.
The City Council will decide shortly whether to ask voters to approve a two-cent tax increase during a special election in June. A two-cent increase is approximately $50 annually on a $250K house.
Burlingtonians must decide in the short-term whether a reduction in city services is acceptable versus investing in Burlington and our departments that have spent six years controlling costs. In the long-term, we must look into the future for the FY13 budget and recognize that larger structural changes must be made in order to prevent more significant tax increases. The major cost drivers continue to be increasing health insurance and other employee benefits, especially in fire and police services. As we all know, personnel is the major expense of any municipality and we must find ways to balance the need for city services (specifically our fire and police services), being fair to our city employees, while also being proactive about structural changes to departments and services in order to keep things affordable for all of us. I, for one, would rather support an investment in our city through a small tax increase this year versus pay for a larger increase in the near future.