Happy New Year!
Once again, First Night has propelled us into the New Year with a wonderful celebration of the arts and our unique Burlington community. The remarkable 32nd Annual First Night Burlington – amazingly, the longest-running independent First Night in the world – was filled with great music, theater, and dance performances, Circus Smirkus, fireworks, and so much more. I offer congratulations and thanks to Executive Director Tom Ayres and his dedicated team of volunteers, performers, and employees for their success. Thanks are also in order for the many City of Burlington employees who help ensure a seamless and exciting evening and, of course, to all Burlingtonians and our neighbors who attend all the great events every year.
As we begin 2015, I would like to reflect on some of the progress we made as a City this past year.
Burlington Telecom Lawsuit Resolved and City Credit Rating Stabilized
In last month’s Mayor’s Column, I wrote that we were close to resolving the Burlington Telecom lawsuit with Citibank. I am pleased to report that our team worked until nearly midnight on New Year’s Eve, and on January 2, the City of Burlington and Citibank completed the settlement agreement, definitively ending a long and unfortunate chapter in the City’s history. Burlingtonians can welcome 2015 knowing that the dark cloud of the $33.5 million Citibank lawsuit is gone and that taxpayers have been absolved from any further liability and that BT service has been preserved for thousands of Burlington residents and businesses. Even before the settlement was completed the City’s credit rating outlook had been upgraded to stable and we are now in position for further progress. As a result of this progress and the voters’ earlier decision to support the Fiscal Stability Bond, Burlington taxpayers will save tens of millions of dollars in reduced bond interest costs over the years ahead.
Rejuvenation of the Parks System
In 2014 we made good on the promise of the voter-created Penny For Parks (PFP) program, completing a 61 project drive to rejuvenate our Parks system citywide using $1.3 million of PFP funds. The progress will continue, as we have budgeted for more than 30 parks improvement projects during this fiscal year and are beginning to implement our new, first-ever Parks, Recreation and Waterfront master plan.
Progress on the Waterfront
Last summer, we broke ground on a major redevelopment of the northern waterfront, part of a slate of Public Investment Action Plan (PIAP) projects voters approved in March. The Waterfront Access North (WAN) project, the first major new waterfront public infrastructure investment since the creation of Waterfront Park in the early 1990s, includes: realigning and rebuilding the currently decayed and disjointed section of the Burlington bike path immediately north of Waterfront Park; creating a new, world-class skatepark; remediating environmental issues related to the site’s historic industrial use; undergrounding overhead power lines; and implementing stormwater measures to protect Lake Champlain.
In addition, by extending Lake Street and building other road, sidewalk, and utilities infrastructure, WAN enables the future construction of the voter-approved PIAP projects – a new Community Sailing Center facility, New Moran, and the Burlington Harbor Marina. The Lake Street extension also will enhance public access to the Urban Reserve and any future uses of that City land.
Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan Implementation Begun
Last fall, the City Council passed a Resolution accepting the City’s Diversity & Equity Strategic Plan. The plan builds on work begun in 2012 with my full support, and contains numerous findings and recommendations to eliminate race-based disparities across City departments, promote inclusion and engagement of community members, and position the City to continue that effort in the greater Burlington community. Consistent with the recommendations of the report, we have established a Core Team of City leaders and community members and are advancing this important effort.
Bike Path Rehabilitation Underway
Early last fall, we broke ground in Waterfront Park on the first phase of a multi-year effort to completely rebuild, expand, and enhance the entire eight-mile Burlington Bike Path. State tax increment financing (TIF) funds are being used for the first phase of the rebuilding of the City’s recreation crown jewel, improving user safety, and continuing the annual economic impact benefit for our City. Bike Path improvements will include: widening the path; higher engineering standards to improve stormwater flow and improve the longevity of the path; user safety enhancements; improved connections between the path and our parks, the lake, and cultural resources; improved wayfinding signage; and pause places including rest stops, information stops, and pocket parks.
Burlington International Airport Credit Rating Improved + Money Saved
Last month, we successfully closed a $15.7 million revenue bond refinancing for Burlington International Airport, saving the Airport nearly $1 million. A lower interest rate, increased savings, reduced debt load, and improved cash flow were made possible through a hard-earned November Moody’s Investors Service credit rating upgrade from “junk” bond status to investment grade – the first upgrade in more than four years.
100% Power from Renewable Sources + Moody’s Outlook Improved
This past summer, following an overwhelmingly supportive Town Meeting Day vote, Burlington Electric Department (BED) completed the City’s purchase of the Winooski One Hydroelectric Facility. Burlington is now one of the first communities in the country to own or contract with renewable energy facilities for energy supply sufficient to serve 100% of the City’s electricity needs. Moody’s Investors Service improved BED’s outlook from stable to positive based, in part, on the facility’s stable costs and contribution to BED’s power supply diversification.
Mayor’s Book Group Launched
We enjoyed a great turnout and conversation at the inaugural meeting of the Mayor’s Book Group, a partnership between my office and the UVM Humanities Center before the Thanksgiving holiday. We discussed An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, journalist Todd S. Purdum’s dramatic non-fiction account of the creation of U.S. Civil Rights Act. The Book Group will meet next on Wednesday, January 28 from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Fletcher Free Library to discuss Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough, depicting Geoffrey Canada’s groundbreaking Harlem Children’s Zone antipoverty effort. Free copies of the book, provided by UVM, are now available at the library.
If I miss you at Book Group, I hope to see you at an upcoming NPA meeting, at a Wednesday morning coffee from 8:00-9:00 am at the Bagel Café, or at our other neighborhood events. To stay informed about City progress, please visit www.Facebook.com/MiroBTV