Covid 19

Update #60: Week in review: City budget, racial justice, + coronavirus

July 27, 2020


I'm writing to share updates about the City budget, racial justice and police transformation, and our response to COVID-19.

City budget: When we started the budget process for Fiscal Year 2021, we were grappling with a projected shortfall of more than $10 million as a result of the economic disruption of the coronavirus. However, thanks to the strong financial foundation that we have rebuilt over the last eight years and hard work by our department heads and budget team, we were able to deliver a FY21 budget that accomplishes a great deal.

My FY21 budget maintains all City services with only modest operational impacts, does not implement the new taxes that voters approved in March 2020 before this crisis hit, treats City employees fairly, advances our commitments to the climate emergency and continues to reinvest in our infrastructure, and more. I invite you to learn more about the budget on the City website:

Racial justice and police transformation: The final budget that I have delivered to the City Council also creates significant resources to invest in racial justice and continue to transform our Police Department.

First, following two weeks of discussions with the Racial Justice Alliance, the budget resolutions that I released on Friday contain an important change from earlier versions of the budget: a new, $1 million fund dedicated to racial justice. We will use this fund to conduct a full review of the City’s economic opportunity and racial justice programs, and to make new investments to strengthen economic opportunity, cultural empowerment, and our recently created Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging.

Second, the FY21 budget also includes a new $250,000 fund for public safety transformation. We will use this fund to make new investments in the Howard Center’s Street Outreach program and other “on street” social service initiatives. We also will use it to conduct an operational assessment that will give us the tools we need to analyze the future of policing in Burlington and make further changes.

I have made big changes to our police department before, and I am very open to further significant change. As Chiefs Jennifer Morrison and Jon Murad have noted, there may well be areas where we can develop alternates to policing. It will take planning and operational study to build up these alternatives and get this right, and my budget creates the resources to do that. Even as we examine ways that policing can and should continue to evolve, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we have a very good police department, and the officers of BPD who put themselves at risk to protect us need to know that many in the community support them.

My budget also makes $1.3 million in cuts to and $800,000 in reallocations from the Police Department budget, for a total reduction of more than 10 percent. I’ve worked closely with the Police Chief and Deputy Chiefs to identify these cuts and ensure that we can make them without disruptions to our response times or public safety. I know that many members of the public and the City Council want to make further cuts. In time I could be open to that, however, I believe that we need to do the hard work of assessing and creating new capacities first before we can make further structural changes to police policy and staffing.

Ongoing response to the coronavirus: Across the country, we are seeing an alarming resurgence in positive cases of the coronavirus and the deaths of even more Americans. Here in Vermont though, thanks to collective action from all of us, we continue to have a different trajectory, with one of the lowest rates of positive tests in the country. In Chittenden County, weeks since the new outbreak that started in Winooski peaked on June 4, our daily new cases have new returned to the single digits.

However, the national example shows us that this work is fragile. We must remain vigilant and continue to work together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. I ask all Burlingtonians to join me in continuing to wear a face coverings in higher risk settings and limiting your exposure to the “Three Cs” – closed spaces with poor airflow, crowded places with many people, and close-contact settings with face-to-face conversations. Over the last three months we have learned that these situations carry a high risk of coronavirus transmission, especially when all “Three Cs” overlap.

Lastly, as we head into July, I’m wishing all Burlingtonians a happy July 3rd and 4th. We won’t have our annual fireworks show and celebration down on the waterfront this year in order to deter large gatherings, though you can watch a broadcast of last year’s show on the 3rd on Channel 22 at 7:30 pm and Channel 44 at 10:30 pm. Even though it will look different this year, I hope that this holiday will still give everyone a chance to spend some time outside, enjoy our families and loved ones, and reflect on the ideals of America that we still are working to make a reality for everyone.

Talk to you soon,


PS – I got tested for the coronavirus this week! The Vermont Department of Health is testing at new locations around Burlington this coming week, with testing at Champlain Elementary on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and 108 Cherry Street on Tuesday (registration only – no walk-ins). Learn more and sign up on the Vermont Department of Health website: