Mayor’s Office

City ballot items for Town Meeting Day, Accessory Dwelling Units, and District Energy

March 2020

I hope your winter is going well. This month, I’m thinking about the Town Meeting Day ballot items, creating more homes through Accessory Dwelling Units, and taking a step closer to creating a district energy system that will help us achieve our climate goals.

Town Meeting Day Ballot Items

Town Meeting Day is coming up on Tuesday, March 3! Polls will be open 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, and you can also still vote early at City Hall on Saturday, February 29 from 9:00 am to noon, and Monday, March 2 from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. (Please note that the Clerk's Office will be closed for early voting after 1:00 pm on Monday, March 2 in order to prepare for the election).

You can find all the information that you need about voting on the City website, including verifying your registration, finding your polling place, and viewing your sample ballot. Sample ballots are available in seven languages. See more: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/ct/elections

This year, the City has three municipal items on the Town Meeting Day ballot. You can find information about them on the City website here: https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/Town-Meeting-Day-2020-City-Ballot-Questions. Here are some of my thoughts about each one.

Ballot Item #2: This ballot items would increase of the public safety tax rate by three pennies – from $0.0807 to $0.11107, an increase of 3.5 percent to the municipal tax rate – which will allow the City to operate a third ambulance based in the New North End. For 20 years, the Fire Department has provided professional, highly responsive emergency medical services with two ambulances. As a result of demographic changes, population growth, and other factors, medical calls increase every year, and we have reached the point that to maintain this level of service we need to add a third ambulance. If this ballot item passes we will hire nine new firefighter/EMTs to operate an ambulance out of Station 4 in the New North End. This change will improve medical responsiveness throughout the City and will give the City two additional firefighters on every shift to respond to major fires. This service expansion is the major driver of the proposed increase in the public safety tax that will result in a 3.5 percent increase to the municipal share of your property tax bill (which is just over 30 percent of your total property tax bill – this increase will not impact the share of your tax bill that goes to the State Education Fund).

As you consider this important decision, please consider that we have worked very hard to find efficiencies and contain the growth of expenses in all nine of the budgets that I have been responsible for. If this increase is approved by voters on March 3, the total property tax increase for City operating expenses during this period will still be lower than the rate of inflation. This item was unanimously supported by the City Council.

Ballot Item #3: This ballot item would restore the Burlington Housing Trust Fund to the level that voters authorized when they created the fund in 1990, and strengthen the fund to ensure that it stays at that level over time. In 1990, Burlington voters approved the creation of the Housing Trust Fund (HTF), and authorized the City Council to devote one penny of the general tax rate to affordable housing in Burlington. Since then, the HTF has become the City's largest source of municipal funding for affordable housing, and has supported the creation and preservation of 1,686 units of affordable housing and 117 beds. These projects have included new multi-family senior housing, adaptive reuse, co-ops, transitional housing, and individual residential sites. The HTF also has helped leverage significant additional resources for affordable housing in Burlington.

Because of adjustments to the general tax rate, however, over time the portion of the general tax rate devoted to the HTF has eroded from one cent to just a half-cent. This charter change would restore the funding for the HTF to a full penny of every $100 of assessed property value and ensure that it stays at that level over time. This proposal would increase the annual funding to the HTF from $200,384 today to a projected $494,775 by 2021. The tax impact for the average Burlington homeowner (with a single family home at the median assessed value of $230,000) would be a projected $23.00 annually in 2020 and a projected $30.67 annually following the next City-wide reappraisal. Strengthening Burlington's proud legacy of investing in affordable housing is an important part of addressing our housing crisis, and I fully support this proposal. The City Council also supported this item in a 10-2 vote.

Ballot Item #4: This item would change elections procedures in order to allow early voting to begin at the same time for both State and Local elections for non-Town Meeting Day elections, and avoid the election confusion caused when the City has to send early voters their two different ballots on different dates.

Creating More Homes through Accessory Dwelling Units

After months of work, in February, the City adopted the first of five key reforms to make housing more affordable and available in Burlington. This first reform is about making it easier for residents to create what’s known as “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs for short. With an ADU, a homeowner can create an additional, smaller housing unit in their homes or backyards. This in turn can generate important benefits for both homeowners and renters, by giving homeowners more flexibility to age in place and continue to afford their homes and by giving renters additional neighborhood-scale housing options in our very tight rental market. Learn more about ADUs and the new policy changes on the City website: www.burlingtonvt.gov/mayor/housingpolicy/adu

I’m excited about this reform. For far too long, housing in Burlington has been too scarce and too expensive – in large part as a result of restrictive and exclusionary City land use policies. We’ve made progress to reform our housing policies in recent years, and last spring, I kicked off a months-long process to bring more focus and urgency to addressing our housing crisis. Over the summer and fall, the City hosted two big community “Housing Summits” and more than a dozen public meetings to talk about housing policy and five policy areas in particular. Now, with ADU reform and the proposed Housing Trust Fund ballot item, the Council has taken its final action in two of these five areas. I’m looking forward to working with the Council in the weeks and months ahead to finish the work highlighted by the Housing Summits.

A Big Step Closer to District Energy – and Our Response to Climate Change

We recently announced that we’re taking a milestone step forward in our work to create a district energy system. As many Burlingtonians know, a district energy system would recover waste heat and additional steam from our McNeil Generating Station – and it also represents one of the most significant steps we can take to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions here in Burlington. The City has been exploring such a system for 35 years, and in 2016, I directed the Burlington Electric Department to make a final push to see if this would be possible. Now, for the first time, we’ve reached the stage of detailed engineering and economic analysis to get into the nuts-and-bolts of how such a system would work. This “phase 2” is possible thanks to the collaboration of University of Vermont Medical Center (the critical customer for such a system), our Burlington Electric Department, and other key partners. While much work remains, this recent news represents a major breakthrough and an exciting step closer to achieving our climate goals.

As always, I invite 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