Mayor’s Office

Reflecting on 2019: Progress, challenges, and hopes for the future

January 2020

Neighbors,

I hope your holidays were filled with joy and rejuvenation.

I took a short trip with my family at the end of December, and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the year and take stock of recent events. While I will certainly remember 2019 as a year in which the City faced some challenges, it was also a year of much hard-earned accomplishment, and we are on track for more advancement in 2020. As we look back on 2019 and ahead to the new year, I wanted to share how I’m thinking about our progress, challenges, and hopes for the future.

Progress

Successfully resolved Burlington Telecom crisis – In March, after seven years of hard work, we brought the greatest financial crisis in the City’s history to an end by closing on the transfer of BT to Schurz Communications and completing the settlement agreement with Citibank. This resolution put Burlington back on solid financial ground for good, saved Burlington taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and ensured that Burlington businesses and residents will have affordable, high-speed internet choice for many years to come. (See more).

Regained AA credit rating with two-step upgrade – Four months after the resolution of the Burlington Telecom crisis, Moody’s recognized the significance of this progress with a notable two-notch credit rating upgrade, restoring the City’s rating to its historic high. Since 2014 we have had six steps of upgrades, which have locked in savings of over $17 million through 2018, with much more to come. (See more).

Completed third year of historic infrastructure investments in our streets, sidewalks, parks, and water systems – In 2019, we completed our third year of historic reinvestment in our City’s infrastructure. Since voters approved the Sustainable Infrastructure Plan in 2016, we have re-paved more than 16 miles of roads, reconstructed more than 8 miles of sidewalks, and, for the first time, relined more than 5 miles of water mains, along with new work to replace curbs. All of these metrics are well above the averages prior to 2016.

Challenges

CityPlace Burlington – Like many in our community, I am frustrated that no construction happened at the CityPlace Burlington site in 2019. Burlingtonians should know, however, that the project delays have no material impact on the City’s general budget and operations, that Brookfield is paying for the project-related expenses created by the delay, that our downtown remains vibrant with historically high levels of visitors and commerce, and that the City continues to apply strong pressure on Brookfield to perform. The developer has announced plans to restart permitting in February and commence construction in the summer of 2020. The City will do everything it can to see that they make good on these commitments and get the project back on track. (See more in my letter from July and update from October).

Policing – We are fortunate to have an excellent police department that has enjoyed decades of strong leadership. In 2019, though, the Burlington Police Department faced a range of challenges, from use of force incidents that sparked pain and anger in our community to the resignation of Chief Brandon del Pozo. These situations have been some of the toughest that I have faced in my nearly eight years in this office. In response, we have initiatives underway that involve the City Council, the civilian Police Commission, and other residents and stakeholders, and seek to build trust between the department and the community. These initiatives include a national search for the next Chief of Police and a broad review of important policing policies. As we do this work, I urge the community to remember that while the BPD, like all organizations, makes mistakes, it is also currently one of the finest, most progressive police departments in the country, and is made up of men and women who put themselves at risk every day to keep Burlington one of America’s safest cities. (See more on police use of force and social media practices at the Police Department).

Hope

Net Zero Energy City – In September, the City released a roadmap that outlines what we need to do to achieve what is the most ambitious local climate goal that we know of in the country: To become a Net Zero Energy city across the electric, thermal, and ground transportation sectors by 2030. The report tells us what a largely decarbonized Burlington of 2030 would look like – and also makes clear that getting to Net Zero will take all of us. My ask for all Burlingtonians is that you consider efficiency and electrification every time you’re making a decision about your homes, businesses, and transportation. In return, the City will work to make those choices as easy and affordable as possible. Learn more about the Net Zero goal and what we’re doing to achieve it: burlingtonelectric.com/NZE

First Steps Scholarships – Access to affordable, high-quality child care can make all of the difference in the lives of children and family – but it’s too hard to find. That’s why we created the Burlington Early Learning Initiative, which in 2018 began awarding “capacity grants” to increase the number of high-quality child care spaces in Burlington (approximately 85 new spaces have since been created or are in development). In 2019, we launched the second element of the initiative: the ELI First Steps Scholarship Program, which awarded more than 20 eligible Burlington families with a one-year scholarship to enroll in childcare. I am excited to learn from this first year and work with partners to build on this program in future years. (See more).

Housing Policy – I have long believed that Burlington, like many other thriving communities, is facing a serious housing crisis that is pricing people out of our city, dislocating development from our downtown and into our beloved Vermont countryside, and undermining critical values (like reducing carbon emissions). In 2019, we took important steps to address a root cause of this housing crisis: long-standing land use policies that restrict the supply of much-needed new homes and drive up costs. We hosted two large community summits to discuss five specific areas of our housing policy, and then released proposals for reform in those areas, along with a report on tenant protections. A Joint Committee and the City Council is now working through these reforms, and I am excited to continue this work in 2020. (See more).

I am looking forward to everything that we will do together as a City and as a community in 2020. As always, I encourage you to join me at the Bagel Café on North Avenue on Wednesday mornings from 8:00-9:00 am to share your thoughts and questions about these or any other topics that are on your mind. I hope to see you soon.

Warmly,
Miro