City Council Unanimously Approves $50 Million Comprehensive Plan to Address City’s Core Infrastructure Needs


September 19, 2016
Contact:  Katie Vane


City Council Unanimously Approves $50 Million Comprehensive Plan to Address City’s Core Infrastructure Needs
Plan includes major street, sidewalk, fire engine, and Bike Path investments over next five years + proactive replacement of water lines over 75-years-old; Non-property tax sources are anticipated to fund over 40 percent of the capital investment; After two years of preparation plan now goes to the voters


Burlington, VT:  Tonight the City Council unanimously approved a comprehensive 10-year capital plan to properly steward its public infrastructure for future generations. The new capital plan will address the community’s capital needs in a way that minimizes the financial impact on residents grappling with high property taxes, and will ultimately save taxpayers money by keeping pace with needed infrastructure improvements, rather than waiting until costly emergency interventions are necessary.  Major elements of the plan will now appear on the fall ballot for voter ratification.

“We have inherited from prior generations a beautiful City with excellent infrastructure and many treasured public assets,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “It is now our generation’s turn to properly steward the City’s core infrastructure and leave our children a City worthy of Burlington’s proud history.  After over four years of financial reforms that have restored our A credit rating and saved taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars, and with interest rates at historic lows, now is the time for us to act decisively to comprehensively address our infrastructure needs and put the City on a sound footing for the future.”

The plan is summarized below.  A more detailed description of the infrastructure investments and strategy for paying for the plan can be found in the attached Capital Plan White Paper, An Infrastructure Plan for a Sustainable City.

Infrastructure Challenge: Overdue investment in streets, sidewalks, fire engines + Bike Path

Over the past two years, the City of Burlington has conducted a thorough evaluation of its infrastructure, and identified numerous areas of chronic underinvestment, including:

  • Sidewalks: 16 percent of our sidewalk system is in serious to failed condition based on an empirical assessment across the City conducted by a specialized firm.
  • Streets: 23 percent of our streets are currently in a poor or failed condition and we are falling further behind every year.
  • Water mains:  An estimated 42 percent of our water mains are older than 75 years old, and thus at or near the end of their useful life. 
  • Bike Path: This much-loved recreation and transportation corridor along the lake generates millions of dollars in economic activity for the City every year, yet in many areas is in poor and deteriorating condition and does not meet modern standards.
  • Fire engines: Five of our six fire vehicles are nearing the end of their service life, and responsibly replacing these necessary vehicles carries a substantial cost.

The Way Forward: $50 million over five years to address critical needs based on key principles

The proposed 10-year capital plan – which includes $42 million of general fund investment and over $8 million of investment by the City’s water company in the next five years – would address all of the needs described above and more over the next five years.  The plan is based on a number of key principles:

  • Long-term planning: For the first time in recent years, the City now has a comprehensive 10-year capital plan.  This planning tool enables strategic decision-making with a multi-year perspective that can help avoid dramatic impact on property taxpayers, improve coordination of related investments (i.e. replacing water lines when streets are dug up for repaving), and identify structural funding deficiencies that can be addressed with appropriate planning. 
  • Focus on preventative maintenance: The City has prioritized a new and logical effort around cost-saving preventative maintenance, including, for example, a systematic approach to sealing cracks and micro-surfacing on City streets and shaving down cement sidewalks to eliminate displacement. 
  • Prudent financial management: The City’s energy efficiency efforts and recent refinancing have reduced the City’s annual capital costs by over $200,000 a year. Further, the City’s improved credit rating combined with historic low interest rates will reduce the expense of long-term borrow in the near future.
  • Shared responsibility and reduced property tax burden:  Homeowners, renters, businesses, institutions and visitors all benefit from Burlington having good infrastructure and all should be responsible for its upkeep.  The plan recognizes this by proposing paying for over 40 percent of the total plan costs with non-property tax sources (gross receipts revenues, new institutional payments, water rates, and philanthropic contributions).

Next steps: the plan goes to the voters

As a result of tonight’s votes, two major elements of the plan will now appear on the November ballot in separate ballot items:

  • $27.5 million general obligation bond: This bond will be drawn down incrementally between now and Fiscal Year 2021.  When fully phased in, the cost to a household that owns a median priced property of $231,500 is projected to be about $10 a month. Passage of this bond will require approval by two thirds of the voters on November 8.
  • $8.4 million water revenue bond: This bond will also be drawn down incrementally between now and Fiscal Year 2021 as the water investments will be coordinated with the City’s street repaving work.  This will cause water rates to rise about 2 percent annually and ultimately cost the average residential water payer approximately $2.50 a month more than they are currently paying at the same rate of consumption.

City Council unanimously supports the plan

In addition to the City Council, the Capital Plan was reviewed by every relevant City Commission and Board.

"We can't afford not to address the significant deferred maintenance on our streets, sidewalks, parks, and public buildings,” said Council President Jane Knodell. “It may be less costly in the short run to put it off, but it will cost us more in the long run if we do, as the condition of our infrastructure deteriorates further. Investing today will save us and our children money tomorrow."

“As a City, it is our obligation to responsibly steward the assets we have received for the benefit of future generations.  This capital plan honors that obligation,” said Councilor Karen Paul. “We also need to be thoughtful about when we reinvest in these assets. It is financially prudent to make these necessary investments now, when economic conditions are favorable, so that the impact on taxpayers is as minimized as possible.”

“The capital plan advances goals in the city’s strategic Climate Action Plan, and comes with a number of positive environmental impacts, including improved stormwater infrastructure, energy efficient building improvements, and major improvements to walking and biking systems for Burlingtonians,” said Councilor Selene Colburn. “In the time I have served on Burlington City Council, I have talked to many constituents about the need for improved pedestrian safety in the form of sidewalk improvements, and I’m excited that this plan is poised to deliver on that.”

“From fixing our streets and sidewalks to making improvements to City Hall Park, this plan will not only address our capital needs in a fiscally responsible way, it will have a direct, positive impact on the day-to-day lives of Burlingtonians for years to come," said Councilor Max Tracy.

“This is an opportunity to build on the success we as a community have had in substantially strengthening the City’s finances,” said Councilor Chip Mason. “By comprehensively analyzing the City’s capital needs and creating a clear plan to address the deficiencies identified, this effort will substantially improve our public infrastructure in a cost-efficient way.”

"This plan is the product of a thoughtful, deliberative process on the part of the administration, City Council, and department leaders,” said Councilor Tom Ayres. “The result is a long-range plan for the betterment of our community that assures prudent management of tax dollars while responding to both urgent and emerging needs for the repair and improvement of the City's critical infrastructure."

"A core responsibility of any municipal government is the stewardship of the community's public infrastructure,” said Councilor Adam Roof. “This capital plan takes a long-term approach to ensuring the upkeep of Burlington's streets, sidewalks, and other assets so that future generations can live, work, and play without the ongoing burden of deferred maintenance."

* Please see Capital Plan White Paper, “An Infrastructure Plan for a Sustainable City,” and Capital Plan Spreadsheet 


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