Last month, the City Council unanimously passed the City Budget for fiscal year 2015, which began on July 1. I crafted a detailed budget memo and would like to share this condensed version with you. To read the full memo, please visit the press releases section of the Mayor’s Office web page.
The City of Burlington is a complex financial entity involving numerous enterprise funds, many revenue streams, and nearly $180 million (excluding the School District) in total expenditures.
Administration Strives for an FY15 Budget that is Fair, Factual, and Forward
Fair: While the City’s General Fund Budget gets the most attention because of its relationship to property taxes, the Administration and the City Council are responsible for numerous budgets and, there are different constituencies and users impacted by these different budgets and related taxes and fees. There has been a conscious effort this year to scrutinize these [cost and revenue] allocations [between the General Fund and other budgets] and reset them where necessary, a practice that should help the City avoid future problems.
Factual: The Administration has attempted to be highly factual in its creation of the budget. In the General Fund alone, we have published a budget with over 3,500 line items, each showing the FY15 budget compared to prior year totals and current year actual spending.
Forward: The FY15 Budget also is intended to be a bridge to future budgets. For example: we have changed policy and begun funding a future reappraisal Reserve Fund; we are laying the groundwork to purchase vehicles with cash instead of with loans that have frequently left the City paying off debt for vehicles even after they were no longer in use; and we have included funds for a central purchaser and for the creation of a much needed Information Technology Department that should enable the City to improve performance and free up the CAO’s Office to focus on major cost drivers. I very much appreciate that the voters were willing to fund this approach, and we will be working hard over the next year to make good on this opportunity.
The FY15 General Fund Budget maintains restraint and prudence
The FY15 General Fund Budget limits overall growth in expenditures to 2.6 percent.
The FY15 Budget reflects much-needed focus on capital project administration
This Administration is very focused on moving forward capital and infrastructure projects ranging from major transportation projects like the Champlain Parkway to ongoing routine re-investment in our buildings. Over the past two years, we have made substantial progress rebuilding the Bike Path after the 2011 floods, eliminating a large backlog of Penny for Parks projects, and making substantial progress investing in our buildings through the Capital Improvement Program by putting more focus on project management and implementation capacity. The FY15 Budget continues and deepens this focus in several ways.
The FY15 Budget reflects substantial improvement in most enterprise funds and the City’s intent to address remaining challenges within CEDO and Traffic
The City’s efforts to improve the financial position of its enterprise funds are producing results.
Wastewater and stormwater: A three-year effort – begun in the prior Administration – to turn around the troubled Wastewater Fund [and eliminate a $2.5 million deficit] was successfully completed over the past year.
Water: A similar effort to eliminate deficits in the Water Fund also was successfully completed in the last year.
Airport: After some of the most difficult years in the institution’s long history, the airport will finish its third strong year of financial performance this month. In FY14, Moody’s stabilized the airport’s ratings outlook for the first time since 2010.
Burlington Electric Department: BED’s Moody’s rating also was stabilized in FY14 after years of negative outlook. After prevailing in arbitration regarding the Winooski One Hydroelectric Plant and retiring the debt related to construction of the McNeil Generating Station, BED is poised to make financial progress in the FY15 Budget.
The FY15 Budget reflects the City’s expanded commitment to the Livable Wage and to enforcement of the ordinance
The results of the lengthy discussion over the last year about the Livable Wage can be seen in two budget lines. The Parks and Recreation Budget for seasonal employees was increased by over $60,000 in anticipation of the additional wages that now will be due to seasonal employees who have worked for the City for more than four years. The City’s Budget also was increased to include $40,000 for professional consulting that is expected to be spent largely on an independent livable wage monitor.
The FY15 Budget dedicates new funds to the City’s increasing commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts
The Budget includes $115,000 for three new diversity and inclusion initiatives, including new training positions, implementation of the City’s new Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan, and intern stipends.
The FY15 Budget will enable the City to improve operations through better Information Technology (IT) capacity, as well as through improved data collection and analysis
The largest operational need reported by our Department Heads has been better IT equipment and staffing, and the public also long has desired improved municipal IT performance. For the first time, the FY15 Budget includes funds for the creation of a new IT Department Head, as well as an additional new position. Not only will these changes allow us to address long-standing needs, but also a new IT Department should position the City to build on the open data efforts we have made over the last year and lead to more data-based analysis and decision-making, and thus more effective, impactful performance.
Conclusion: the FY15 Budget represents another important step towards restored municipal financial health and improved operations, however, serious challenges remain ahead
The Budget passed by the Council is very much in line with the significant progress we have made together over the last two years. Our work on financial challenges will not end with the passage of this Budget. As I stressed in my State of the City Address in April, the work ahead includes finishing the critical task of completing the resolution of the Burlington Telecom situation, confronting directly the rising costs in our pension system and K-12 education system that are driving property tax growth, creating and implementing a long-term stewardship plan for our municipal assets, and increasing municipal revenues through sustained financial growth.
If you’d like to talk, you can find me at the Bagel Café most Wednesday mornings from 8:00-9:00 am. To stay informed about City progress, visit www.Facebook.com/MiroBTV. I hope to see you soon.