Mayor&Rsquo;S Office

State of the City - 2022

Mayor Miro Weinberger Declares the State of the City ‘Remains Strong, and is Getting Stronger Every Day’

Burlington, Vt. – Mayor Miro Weinberger delivered the annual State of the City address tonight, stating the State of the City “remains strong, and is getting stronger every day as we work to recover from the pandemic’s setbacks.”

The speech focused on economic recovery; children and families; racial equity and justice; infrastructure; housing; public safety; and the climate emergency.

Highlights of the speech included:

  • Economic Recovery: “This work to protect our small businesses is far from over – in fact, for many businesses battling inflation and supply chain disruptions, the challenges may now be deepening. To properly organize us for the work ahead, it is time to make permanent this key business support innovation that we made during pandemic.  The budget that I bring to you in June will formalize the small ad hoc economic recovery team we have had for the last two years into a new City Department.”
  • Children and Families: “Our older kids also need help.  As amazing as it is that the School District was able to transform the old Macy’s building into a downtown high school in a matter of months, Burlington students need and deserve a permanent, 21st Century high school.”
  • Racial Equity and Justice: “Despite the fact that we face a substantial budget shortfall this year that will require substantial cuts, I am committed to maintaining our ongoing funding for REIB at Fiscal Year 2022 levels in the budget year ahead so that we can build upon the progress of the past two years.”
  • Infrastructure: “Public infrastructure investments continued through the pandemic, and we will increase them as we emerge from it. We must continue to renew and enhance the streets, sidewalks, parks and public buildings that serve as the foundation for our community, our quality of life, and our commerce.”
  • Housing: “Here’s the thing – we know our methods to address the housing crisis work, and now we have to double down on those proven strategies. Our overarching housing goal is to build a lot more housing in Burlington, because the only way to solve our housing problems, to make good on the promise that housing should be a human right, is to build a lot more homes.”
  • Public Safety: “In short, our work in this area will not be easy but I am convinced that if we work together and get this effort right, we can lay a foundation to rebuild a police department that includes new types of professionals and partnerships, looks like this community, and is better resourced and positioned than ever to keep all members of this community safe.”
  • Climate Emergency: “For us to truly become a Net Zero Energy city, the media, educators, businesses, and ultimately all the residents of Burlington need to understand the environmental, financial, health, and other benefits of electrification – and we all need to act on that understanding every time you replace a water heater, or are shopping for your next car.”

Please see the complete 2022 State of the City address below:


Good evening.

After two years of convening these reorganization meetings virtually, when we were living under both City and State emergency orders, I am so glad to welcome you all to City Hall and to deliver this state of the City address in person.

Welcome and congratulations to our re-elected City Councilors and welcome to our newly elected City Councilors, Gene Bergman, Ben Traverse, and Ali House. I am looking forward to working with you and making progress for all Burlingtonians. At a moment where we see Ukraine fighting tenaciously to preserve its democracy, I am conscious we should recommit in Burlington to honoring our democratic values and traditions through vigorous, collaborative and respectful debate.

Welcome former mayor Peter Clavelle, and thank you for your mentorship and continued counsel, and for the friendship you and Betsy have given our family through the years.  

My family, like everyone else’s, has been through a lot since the last time we gathered like this – it is deeply heartwarming to have my wonderful wife Stacy and both my parents, Ethel and Michael, up from Hartland, with us tonight.  Thank you all for your ongoing support and the real sacrifices you make for our City.

To say we have all been through a great deal since the last time we gathered in this way is an understatement.  During the last two years, we have faced numerous colossal tests – the pandemic, months of massive unemployment, a violent insurrection, intense natural-disasters, and now serious inflation and a major war in Europe.

Burlington has much to be proud of and grateful for in terms of how we have come through this period.

Collectively, we battled the virus and kept each other safe, as well as any community in the country.

We got economic help to the most vulnerable individuals and businesses in this community and avoided the mass closures that happened elsewhere.

We did not step back from our climate emergency work -- we accelerated it. As a result, Burlingtonians now have access to the best financial incentives anywhere in Vermont, and some of the best in the country, to help get us off fossil fuels.

These are all community accomplishments that were possible only because of the strength, values and commitment of the people of Burlington. 

And with each of these issues, City government played an essential role.  

I would like to invite our outstanding team of Department Directors who led these efforts to stand up so that we can all thank them for their service and the service of their teams during the last two years. 

This group reinvented municipal government here in Burlington to take on vast new public health responsibilities while simultaneously continuing to provide essential City services under very challenging conditions. Thank you all for your deep commitment to this community.
 

Covid-19

I want to welcome Dr. Stephen Leffler, President and Chief Operating Officer of the UVM Medical Center and a great partner to the City.  Dr. Leffler, thank you for your service and for the service of your colleagues – the nurses, doctors, administrators and others who so bravely and tirelessly cared for this community throughout the pandemic.

I also want to thank our new Planning Director Meagan Tuttle for her double-service as the City’s Covid-19 Response Leader for the last nine months.

The Council and public should know that even with the virus currently posing a low community risk here in Chittenden County, Meagan and a small team in the City continue to monitor the science and evolution of the virus very carefully, and we will provide you an update with near- and long-term recommendations for pandemic preparedness by the end of May.

The extraordinary demands of the past two years have left all of us weary and impatient for some sense of normalcy to return.

And yet, at the same time, this moment continues to demand a lot of all of us.  A year ago, it was possible to hope vaccines and federal aid might allow our return to pre-pandemic times to happen quickly and easily. 

Today, there is no doubt that the last two years have set us back in many critical areas, and that we are going to have to earn our way back to the general prosperity much of this community was experiencing before the pandemic.

We are going to have to call on the same compassion, collaboration, and innovation that we found in us collectively to make it through the pandemic to forge a broad, sustained community revival. 

Our recovery efforts are well underway and will dominate our work together for the year ahead. I am going to focus tonight on a number of key areas: economic recovery; children and families; racial equity and justice; infrastructure; housing; public safety; and the climate emergency.

Economic Recovery

The City’s efforts to play a role in the economic recovery began almost simultaneously with the unprecedented forced closures and work disruptions that began in March of 2020.

In those early days, I formed a small team, headed by our Church Street Marketplace Director Kara Alnasrawi, to communicate with, support and assist the business community. Instead of just being focused on Church Street, I asked Kara to take responsibility for supporting all of the City’s businesses through the crisis.

We launched our first municipal small business grant program just weeks into the pandemic in April of 2020, and since then, this team has granted almost $600,000 to our small businesses with over 75% of those funds going directly to BIPOC owned  establishments. 

The City team assisted countless businesses that were attempting to secure state and federal assistance, helped local businesses understand the huge volume of emerging State public health rules, opened City streets for outdoor seating, distributed discounted and free ventilation equipment to Burlington businesses, invested federal emergency dollars into downtown activation initiatives, and more.

Throughout this critical time, the City was in better touch with the entire business community – especially small, BIPOC- and women-owned enterprises – and more responsive to their challenges than perhaps ever before.

And these efforts made a difference.  A downtown business owner recently wrote Kara to say: “I just wanted to thank you for the fabulous contributions you made to keep [us] afloat through the pandemic. Your commitment to small business owners and your creativity were what got us through.”

However, this work to protect our small businesses is far from over – in fact, for many businesses battling inflation and supply chain disruptions, the challenges may now be deepening.

To properly organize us for the work ahead, it is time to make permanent this key business support innovation that we made during pandemic.  The budget that I bring to you in June will formalize the small ad hoc economic recovery team we have had for the last two years into a new City Department.

That new Department (it will have a name before we submit the budget) will continue providing critical direct business support. For example, we will soon be seeking Council approval to use ARPA funds to create a $500,000 revolving loan fund so that we can offer businesses financial assistance for years to come.  This revolving loan fund will be focused on helping vulnerable locally-owned small businesses – including start-ups, BIPOC- and women-owned companies – navigate supply chain disruptions and an unprecedented labor market. 

Children and Families

The new department will also play a critical role in another aspect of our recovery work: supporting Burlington’s children after two years in which children around the globe have been hit hard by the disruptions of this pandemic.

Understanding the key link between child care and economic opportunity, the business support team took over responsibility for Burlington’s pioneering Early Learning Initiative in the middle of the pandemic, and has successfully expanded it.

We have continued to make child care capacity grant and helped fund the Old North End Arts Center will soon be opening a new childcare center with 28 slots. Through the pandemic our scholarship program for low-income families increased 30% to 47 children, and over the next year, we plan to expand the program to 75 children.

Our older kids also need help.  As amazing as it is that the School District was able to transform the old Macy’s building into a downtown high school in a matter of months, Burlington students need and deserve a permanent, 21st Century high school.

I am grateful to have the leaders of this effort and the school district, Superintendent Tom Flanagan and School Board Chair Clare Wool, with us tonight.

Thank you both for the decisive actions you have taken to keep our children safe and learning during this pandemic and thank you for your partnership on many fronts. 

The City and I will do everything we can to support you in the effort to build a new high school. 

Racial Equity

In the coming year, the Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Department will continue make progress on racial equity and build on the accomplishments of the last two years.

Last summer, our REIB Department put on the City’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration. It was an outstanding event.

REIB also partnered with the Vermont Professionals of Color Network and the Vermont Health Equity Initiative to stand up BIPOC vaccination clinics, building a warm, welcoming space with music and food. Now, the City is using ARPA dollars to help fund the Vermont Health Equity Initiative expansion of its focus to address health disparities for BIPOC Vermonters beyond the impacts of Covid-19.

Our anti-racism training for City employees is underway, and I have heard direct feedback from many employees that the workshops led by the REIB Department have had a transformative impact on the way they view race and racism.

Despite the fact that we face a substantial budget shortfall this year that will require substantial cuts, I am committed to maintaining our ongoing funding for REIB at Fiscal Year 2022 levels in the budget year ahead so that we can build upon the progress of the past two years.

With these resources and a rebuilt team, we will continue to reshape the municipal government of Burlington as an anti-racist organization, invest and innovate to eliminate the racial disparities in homeownership rates, and mount a sustained, multi-partner effort to eradicate racial disparities across the social determinants of health.

The REIB Department does challenging work. Making progress on racial equity is not always linear, but I remain as committed to the work as ever.

Infrastructure

Public infrastructure investments continued through the pandemic, and we will increase them as we emerge from it. We must continue to renew and enhance the streets, sidewalks, parks and public buildings that serve as the foundation for our community, our quality of life, and our commerce.

When I first ran for this office in 2012 one of my central promises was that we would get stuck and stalled public projects moving again.

I am proud that this summer, a decade later, toddlers will splash and run through our new City Hall Park fountain, cyclists will be able to ride a rebuilt and improved bike path from the border with South Burlington all eight miles to the Winooski River bridge, passengers will board trains headed to New York City from our waterfront for the first time in decades, and after thirty years of false starts, we will cut the ribbon on the completed first phase of the Moran Frame project.

And yet, when I walk the streets of our downtown, I still see so much to do.

I am grateful the voters acted decisively in March to provide approximately $50 million in bonding capacity for us to continue this important work.

As has been the case since 2016, for the next three years we will continue to build three times our historic average of sidewalks, and twice the amount of roadways. 

On top of that, the 2023 rebuilding of Main Street will be both a key extension our alternative transportation network, and bring new investment and activity to more of our downtown.  Not since the creation of the Church Street Marketplace 40 years ago has the City made such transformational and impactful downtown investment. 

We also have a public-private partnership with the developer of CityPlace to deliver blocks of new downtown infrastructure, as well as a new mixed-use neighborhood that creates hundreds of homes, hundreds of jobs, and many millions of dollars in new state and local revenues.

The City has done its part to make good on our commitments and create a clear path for the developer to move the project forward, and we continue to support the project in many ways.

One way or another we will see construction at the site soon.

If the developer does not meet their committed timeline , we will again hold them accountable and invoke the construction contract that I negotiated which, if necessary, will compel them to build the new Pine and St. Paul streets at no cost to the taxpayers. 

Housing

Another area of recovery focus is housing.

Before the pandemic hit in 2020, Burlington was making significant progress addressing our long-standing housing crisis.  We were building more than twice as much housing in Burlington as in the previous decade, rent increases had slowed, our vacancy rate was slowly creeping up, and our Housing First policies were getting formerly homeless people into permanently affordable housing.

Covid-19 dramatically reversed those trends.

Housing production halted at the same time that more people than ever sought to live in this special place we call home.  Burlington home prices and rents have skyrocketed and chronic homelessness is now up nearly 500% from its historic low just a few years ago.

In many respects, our housing crisis is more acute than ever.

Here’s the thing – we know our methods to address the housing crisis work, and now we have to double down on those proven strategies.  Our overarching housing goal is to build a lot more housing in Burlington, because the only way to solve our housing problems, to make good on the promise that housing should be a human right, is to build a lot more homes.

We have set the goal of doubling Burlington’s housing production once again – that’s 1,250 homes over the next five years, including more than 300 permanently affordable homes – and the City will work in multiple ways to support the achievement of these numbers.

First, CEDO is spearheading direct collaboration with non-profit and commercial developers to secure our share of increased federal aid and accelerate specific Burlington projects towards construction.

Potentially more impactful, however, is the work that we should get done at this City Council table to make our zoning rules more supportive of new housing.

Last December, I proposed three major rezoning efforts to create new housing opportunities citywide. The City Team is pursuing a work plan that would complete all of these major zoning efforts over the next 15 months, and I look forward to working closely with the Planning Commission and this Council to make this ambitious schedule a reality.

Solving our City’s housing supply problem is going to take sustained action, year after year, by individuals, organizations and municipal government, and a shared, current understanding of the problem as well as the progress we are making.

To that end the City’s BTV Stat initiative, now led by the Planning Department, will launch a housing dashboard by the end of April – federal Fair Housing Month. The dashboard will track key metrics related to housing creation, affordability, and the overall health of the housing market in the City. 

While increased housing production will dramatically reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, solving the problem requires something more – a core belief that we can and must end homelessness, and a well-resourced, multi-agency system that makes it happen.

We have been building towards this system for years, and have made progress, including achieving the functional end of Veterans’ homelessness in the fall of 2020.

Now, with new investments in a strengthened coordinated entry system and the new shelter-pod village and co-located Community Resource Center on Elmwood Avenue, we are well positioned to join the small but growing cities and counties that has functionally ended chronic homelessness by the end of 2024.

I am confident we can achieve this goal in part because we have found the right, highly-qualified and committed person to oversee and lead this effort.  I want to introduce tonight the City’s new Special Assistant to End Homelessness, Sarah Russell welcome to the team, Sarah.

Public Safety

Yet another area where we must forge together a strong recovery over the next year is with our system of public safety. 

Here, too, we are actively making new and transformational investments and strategic changes that give me confidence that we will put the setbacks and polarization of the past behind us, and make Burlington safer for everyone over the years ahead. 

It has been a long-standing priority of this Administration to have a police department that practices 21st century policing principles to keep Burlington one of the country’s safest communities, and make the City welcoming to all.

Like many communities in America, over the past two years we have experienced troubling criminal trends that have undone some of the public safety gains of the last decade.

We have seen sharp increases in gunfire incidents and burglaries, and last summer there were too many disturbances that discouraged residents and visitors from coming to the Marketplace and made downtown workers feel unsafe at night.  

I have directed Chief Jon Murad to concentrate on reversing these trends in the year ahead. We will see new deployment plans, continued focus from our excellent detective bureau, federal and prosecutorial partnerships to address gun violence, and a multi-department effort to improve downtown safety.

I also appreciate the commitment of our police officers. We ask them to do a lot, and it’s not an easy job.

It’s our job as policy makers to provide police officers with the tools they need to succeed as a 21st Century police department.  I want to highlight two key actions we will be seeking from the Council in the months ahead to deliver this assistance.

First, the department faces heightened challenges and stresses in meeting our community goals when it is operating 25% below its authorized headcount, and 40% below the numbers we were at not long ago.  Now that we have consensus about the needed number of officers, it is urgent we rebuild the department as quickly as possible.

To that end, Chief Murad and I will come to the Council in the next month with a Rebuilding Plan to return the department to the staffing levels we need. This plan will include targeted financial incentives, investments in recruitment capacity, and a revitalized effort to recruit from local communities that are not currently well-represented in the department.

Second, we must continue to build the Community Support Liaison program that Chief Murad created with the Council’s support last year. 

This three-person team is working very well, and it should be expanded further to give us greater CSL coverage throughout the week and during the evenings. I support the recent Police Commission resolution calling for the hiring of two more CSLs, and will fund these positions in my 2023 budget.

We must also continue with efforts to ensure that the proper systems are in place for department policy, oversight, and accountability.

I appreciate the efforts being made by Councilors and Commissioners to work with the Administration to implement recommendations from the CNA report, and look forward to collaborating on this process further in the year ahead. 

In addition, consistent with past Council resolutions seeking to formalize, clarify and strengthen the role that the Burlington Police Commission has in policy development and officer discipline, the Administration has proposed to the Commission the City’s first ordinance detailing its role.  It is my hope that finalizing and approving the ordinance is something we can do together early in the year.

In short, our work in this area will not be easy but I am convinced that if we work together and get this effort right, we can lay a foundation to rebuild a police department that includes new types of professionals and partnerships, looks like this community, and is better resourced and positioned than ever to keep all members of this community safe.

Climate Emergency

Finally, I want focus on an area where, despite the pandemic, we have continued to make steady progress.

In 2020, we announced a set of Green Stimulus incentives that have since helped increase uptake on Burlington Electric Department’s heat pump rebates by more than 14 times, and more than doubled electric vehicle adoption.

Following the voters’ support for the Net Zero Energy Revenue Bond, we started 2022 by announcing expanded incentives, including larger rebates for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and home charging stations. Combined with state and federal rebates and incentives, there is more financial support today for Burlingtonians to switch to electric vehicles than ever before.

We are changing the entire approach and business model of our more than 100-year-old municipal electric utility. The same team at BED, which you have trusted for years to help you with energy efficiency, is now ready to help you get off fossil fuels with rebates, technical assistance, financing support, and partnerships with local energy businesses. BED is not just your reliable power provider that keeps the lights on, but now can be your fuel provider for transportation and heating needs, competing for market share against well-entrenched incumbent oil companies. 

Here’s the thing about our Net Zero Energy goal – local government action will only get us part way there.  For us to truly become a Net Zero Energy city, the media, educators, businesses, and ultimately all the residents of Burlington need to understand the environmental, financial, health, and other benefits of electrification – and we all need to act on that understanding every time you replace a water heater, or are shopping for your next car.

While plastic bag and drinking straw bans, or eliminating air travel may generate headlines in public policy debates, electrification is the strategy that can realistically get us 70% of the way towards the climate goals we need to achieve over the next decade to avoid the worst consequences of the climate emergency. And electrification is the centerpiece of our Net Zero Energy Roadmap in Burlington.

President Putin has given Burlingtonians yet another reason to move away from gas and oil through his horrific invasion of Ukraine. Right now, when we buy gasoline, we are paying more than $4 a gallon -- and most our money goes to a global commodity market that ultimately supports regimes that do not share our values. But when we drive 100% renewable BED-powered electric, you pay the equivalent of 65 cents a gallon and we keep more of our money right here in the local Vermont economy.

So Burlingtonians – the cars and heating systems are now available at competitive costs for us to send our energy dollars to BED instead of Putin, and to create jobs in Burlington and Winooski instead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.  Let’s do this.

I want to close tonight with a final thought about the people of Ukraine.

While we face real struggles and pressures in the year ahead, we are not living under the constant threat of bombardment that the Ukrainian people are at this moment, or experiencing the fear, uncertainty, and unimaginable disruption that the millions of women and children who have fled the country are enduring every day.

Over the last month, many Burlingtonians have approached me and asked what we can do to help.

My sense is the best way for Burlington to help would be to repeat what we have done for thousands of refugees from Vietnam, Bosnia, Bhutan, Somalia, and other countries over the past 40 years – work in partnership with the federal government and aid agencies to serve as a refugee resettlement community. 

So I want to make clear again tonight that, despite our many current challenges, Burlington stands ready to aid Ukrainians fleeing the war when we are called upon.  We will be ready because we are doing the work necessary to build a City where everyone is safe, where there is economic opportunity and support for all, and where everyone belongs. 

We will be ready because, despite the incredible challenges of the past two years, the state of our City remains strong, and is getting stronger every day as we work to recover from the pandemic’s setbacks.

Thank you all, again, for being here on this important Burlington night.