BURLINGTON — At its final budget workshop of the year, the Burlington City Council agreed Monday to hold a vote next week on the city’s 2020 budget.
Council members and staff spent the meeting rehashing discussions they’ve had at previous workshops, with the council calling on staff to cut more from 2020 expenses, and staff telling the council they’ve cut everything they can.
While the 2020 draft budget is balanced, interim City Administrator Greg Young said this is only after forgoing contributions to fund road and equipment maintenance.
He is asking the council to approve spending cuts and new taxes that would allow the city to add about $1 million to its reserves.
In response to calls for more cuts, Young produced a breakdown of where the $15,258,716 in budgeted 2020 expenditures would go.
Of that, about $9 million goes to salaries and benefits, and about $5.2 million for other mandatory spending such as for electricity or paying contracts.
“When you take out payroll and the things we have to pay for ... what’s left is a touch over $1 million,” he said. “That’s fuel, paper, travel for training.”
He said this limited discretionary spending means the only effective way to make significant cuts to spending is with layoffs. Young’s budget proposal already sees a $250,000 cut to personnel, meaning four employees will have to be let go.
Without increasing taxes, he said to fully meet his goal of adding $1 million to reserves the city would have to lay off about 12 more employees, something that would severely hamper city services.
Instead, Young has proposed a 1% increase to both gas and electricity taxes, a 6% increase to cable TV taxes and a business and occupation tax for businesses with more than $1 million in revenue. His proposed 5% increase to property taxes was approved by the council in November.
Some council members, namely James Stavig and Joe DeGloria, said they aren’t comfortable with tax increases.
DeGloria said the city should “just spend less” but he made no suggestions on things to cut, saying that’s the staff’s job.
“Greg and the mayor and his staff will tell us that,” he said.
If the council votes to increase taxes, Stavig said he believes it will be easier to justify more spending and more increases.
Both Stavig and DeGloria took issue with a recent pay adjustment for non-union staff, which equates approximately to a 6% raise. They questioned why a pay increase was authorized with the city’s finances in their current state.
However, Mayor Steve Sexton said these employees weren’t given a raise for at least the past two years, meaning this pay bump essentially evens out to a cost of living increase.
Even with the raise, he said the average employee is earning about 80% of what they could expect to make elsewhere, referencing a recent compensation study the city conducted.
“I think that’s a damn good bargain for the city,” he said.
The only increase Stavig said he supported was a 2% increase to water utility taxes. He said the approximately $40,000 this would raise could cover the city’s costs to provide health insurance for council members and their families.
Four council members are considering switching to the city’s health plan next year, which Young said would add between $40,000 and $50,000 to the budget.
Other council members, including Scott Green and Bill Aslett, said they don’t support tax increases, but acknowledged city services will suffer if more revenue isn’t found.
The 2020 budget will be up for a vote at the city council’s Dec. 12 meeting, Young said.