Saturday, February 13, 2016

You need to know SB CC Candidates Answers to these 15 genuine Questions

   

  There are four candidates running for two South Burlington city council positions. I posed 15 questions -genuine issues that will affect South Burlington citizens, to each of the four candidates. The candidates are Chris Shaw (incumbent) and Tim Barritt for the three-year term, Meaghan Emery (incumbent) and George Donovan for the two-year term.  View their responses below, presented in the order received.


     Salon writer Jack Mirkinson writes  "...people forcing the scope of discourse to open up and to move—that has trickled down into the political process." That is what I think we need now in SB, more and wider scope dialogue, discourse. Let’s become educated on candidates policy positions-where they stand on issues. Regarding leadership, lets evaluate for knowledge, honesty, and ability to communicate-including listening and responding effectively. 

     I believe candidate's answers to questions such as those below help differentiate the individual candidates. In addition, the responses to these and other genuine issue questions help bring out ideas for city improvements; good ideas can come from all parties at the table- and through open dialogue, we can examine and utilize the best of the ideas brought forth.


 Advocate of Caring, Contribution, and Dialogue to build Community.
 Bernie Paquette.

"The tension that can arise between those who differ on strategy but share the same goals, broadly conceived, is often productive.
~ Elias Isquith


1. Growth without increasing tax burden. Is it possible, and is it plausible for the city to grow (residential and commercial) while maintaining a city tax rate (excluding school budget) that grows y/y no greater than inflation? 
(Current Grand List Value mix is approx. 70% residential, 30% commercial)

Meaghan Emery:
I believe that a precise response to this question, including numbers, requires input from economic consultants. However, both the Director of Public Works and the Fire Chief have both stated publicly that we could reach a point in development that would stretch City services too thin, thus requiring an increase in staffing levels and, therefore, a significant tax increase. It is important for Councilors to keep focused on maintaining this delicate balance. One solution that our City Manager is exploring, with Council support, is regional services. The services provided by our stormwater office, a leader in the State of Vermont, are ripe for this type of shared arrangement. In some cases, it could lessen the need for overtime or, as in the case of stormwater, create a new revenue source. I also wish to add that I advocate a residential/commercial/open space balance not only for quality of life reasons but also for economic (i.e., tax base) reasons.

Chris Shaw: (Chris responded to question #1 after the original posting on Feb 13). 
1) it's possible/plausible to grow both res/comm while maintaining a municipal/city rate that is no greater than inflation. Of course, to parse the point, inflation becomes the key benchmark. I will assume you are referring to the CPI which over the last 10 years has been 1.9% approx. This has been lower than the previous ten years and even earlier. Our city's tax rate has been going up about 4% over the last 7 years by comparison -- so we aren't hitting that mark. The last three budgets when I was on board have been lower than the 4% average and so I've sought to keep it down as much as possible. We've had major financial challenges since 2010 and are now moving forward after write-downs and major cuts in 2010/2011. 

City and teacher contracts keep coming in at 2.5-3.0 percent raises and there are fights every time over the health cost sharing and increases (which can be 8% a year by themselves). The answering the labor side of the issue involves creative consolidation or sharing and we are working on that with regional service agreements on the city side. 
1.1 commercial growth by itself doesn't pay the rent for property taxes -- in fact due to a quirk in our educational funding formula -- only residents (homestead) get hit 
for the increase of excess spending by the school district (because it's assumed you vote for it -- and the vacation homes, commercial apts and businesses aren't represented on that) on the school budget. So that actually means that in the last 3 years we've had a lower NON-residential rate than the homestead/residential rate (now don't neglect to file your homestead form since failure to do so when you are a homestead violates the law) -- because voters choose a higher school rate through the budget (not because of any city-side measure or budget) The schools tax dollars are about 75% of our total property tax bill and as you can see with this year's increase on the city's side (of less than 3%) -- the total tax bill actually goes down.


Commercial is still extremely valuable for 2 other reasons -- 1) the rooms/meals tax -- every restaurant and hotel in our city (including airport ones) feeds this revenue stream at a low city-service level trade-off; 2) the local sales option tax -- which is the sales tax -- every retail establishment feeds this stream.


So, in the long run, commercial is a win -- despite the slightly lower property tax rate that exists -- there are only 660 commercial props in town -- compared to our 8656 odd residential units -- less than 10% by raw unit -- but a 65/35 split in total value (approximately)


So growth of commercial is needed (as with all[Chittenden] County towns). Milton has an Interim Zoning in place to keep new residential out of its core downtown as it seeks to zone it mostly commercial and attract businesses/restaurants and shops and not be a bedroom community for these reasons. We are fortunate to have much job/business expansion still available in our industrial parks and this balloons our population to 38k or so during the day -- with these folks contributing to our sales/meals taxes on the way home and at lunch -- again, without a 24/365/7 trade off on city services as with [residential].

Condos are actually winners in the long run (on property [taxes]) due to their density and the fact that their average value is 2/3rds of a single family structure -- we spend less time plowing and running lines to such tight developments and they are usually closer to our core areas and public transportation. 

As far as the math question, I will have to defer to the experts. We clearly have impact fee ordinances that are designed to pay for needed added amenities and services based on new growth only. These specify the projects they are to pay for and are treated like a mortgage to pay them off -- we can't charge more unless we identify new projects and needs. These are in our CIP and we've recently implemented an HRIP (for human resource/personnel) to account for the softer people costs of serving the city -- so we are doing quite well in getting ahead of growth and our planning is sound -- we can certainly continue to refine this and we do need the management/maintenance planning costs that come next -- but a lot of that is baked in to the CIP already -- there are still areas we can improve that -- I haven't asked whether we can use impact fees for HRIP costs, but I hope so and will ask.


PS -- the housing rate of growth has steadily averaged 140 units a year as is reflected in our newest comprehensive plan -- this is true for the last 30 years-- even this past year (alarm! -- 205 was balanced by 2 years ago -- 95) -- slightly higher by 10 units -- again -- compare to the 8656 units of residential we have for percentages -- our population is forecast to be flat and yet our residential units will increase -- this is smaller household size and aging demographics -- I can attest to a family of five being slowly distributed into 3 separate units --by example --


George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.

  

2. Wheeler Park conservation. Do you fully (without limitations) support having Wheeler Park conserved through a third party in perpetuity? If yes, but with restrictions, please list those restrictions you feel are necessary.

Meaghan Emery:
I support having Wheeler Park conserved through a third party in perpetuity. The details of such an agreement remain to be seen in print, and while I can’t make promises before seeing those details, I have no prior “limitations” in mind.

Chris Shaw:
Yes, we determined this already. City staff will work on this upon completion (or concurrently) with the land swap finalization.


George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.



3. Digitalize city messaging. Please comment on your willingness to seek and support opportunities to reduce the city budget expenses through digitization of what are currently printed materials distributed to the public.

Meaghan Emery:
Much of what is distributed (through the City Clerk’s office or the Planning and Zoning Department) requires a fee that covers expenses for making printed materials -- and sometimes, these printed materials are still required, for legal purposes, for instance. Regarding the budget books, which used to be sent out to every homeowner, you (Bernie) successfully advocated with Council to have them made available and searchable on-line, which saved paper and saved the City money. There are printed copies in the library, in addition to City Hall, and residents may request a copy if they prefer a hard copy to digital. Because all of our citizens do not necessarily have the means to access digital materials, I do support having limited printed copies available until we know for sure that all citizens do have the means to access the information contained in these budget books.


Tim Barritt: 
As DRB chair, I asked for better web pages to help the public track applications and their status with links to their packets to make it easier to see at a glance where we are, where we are going, and by virtue of the log that this would make, where we came from (pardon that dangling prep). We did get a web page but I think it could be better. Although I would hope we could make available almost everything we print now, we might still be required to print some things for those who don't have internet access. I am not sure how much $ that would save but if we could establish who needs a mailing and who could just get an email with a link or an attachment and automate that, it should save some printing and mailing costs.


Chris Shaw:
[I] support this wholeheartedly. You and I were advocates on the biggest ticket item....last year's budget book which resulted in a big reduction in excessive print waste. Future areas of initiative obviously are billing...taxes, water fees, and such. We have done well with electronic newsletters most notably city center updates and park and rec. we may need to look at the park and rec brochure as it may be the largest remaining print run, but we'd put that onto rec and leisure arts committee and the park director to evaluate options. the clerks office has rec'd a boost with online voter registration from the state.


George Donovan: No response.


Note from Bernie Paquette: I have discussed the goal of pursuing efforts to move the city closer to a paperless environment with Tom Chittenden. Tom generated a number of ideas to pursue this goal.




4. Increase roadways. Please offer your opinion (yea or nea) and reasoning on adding one or more new east west roads in SB sometime in the next few (1-3) years.

Meaghan Emery:
I do see the value in having a new east-west road through the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ). Our public safety (fire and police) state that it’s necessary for them to be able to provide an expected level of service, specifically response time. We currently have walking and bike paths that connect 116 to Dorset and these serve those residents well (as well as recreational cyclists). We also have natural areas in the SEQ with trails, therefore enticing walkers, cross-country skiers, photographers... When a new east-west road is proposed, I want to see (and have been assured by our Planning and Zoning Director) that we will see the application of the code: narrow, winding, tree-lined streets that will act to calm traffic, thus serving both public safety needs and the needs of our local residents. Also, to ensure the protection of the environment and wildlife, any such road will require a full study through the Act 250 process.

Tim Barritt: 
Another great question and very timely. Previous Comprehensive plans and City Maps have contained many E-W roads desired in the future to conduct traffic and act as shunts between Spear and Dorset, and Dorset and 116. We are getting 2 of those now with the advent of So Village 3 and the recent approval/construction of a roundabout in that PUD's SE corner. That will eventually link up to Midland in Dorset Farms. Also, Cider Mill 2 will have a connection to Cider Mill 1 that will 'link' Dorset to 116. But to put that in perspective, these roads are windy, long and at times narrow and will have lots of homes all along their routes. They will not be conducive to cut-thru traffic (IMHO). The Cider Mill Drive connection to 116 direct will have to wait for development of the land south of Butler Farms north of Claire Solar. Who knows when that might happen. Same with Old Cross Rd. The Swift/Brand Farm connector to 116 is supposed to connect to the Rye development but I personally don't know who would build that road. Unfortunately, it would border Wheeler and it may impact wildlife. Residents at each end should be wholly included in any discussions in the future about this. Sometimes taking a little longer to drive around the "block' means your car is not in the middle of that block.

Chris Shaw:
Strictly as an opinion, I don't see any east west roadway happening in the next 1-3 years. My limited observation of traffic doesn't support it as a necessity. Traffic studies are needed to be updated to give current data. There are real reasons why these connections have been and remain on the map. The department heads spoke to the public safety, service efficiency and connected community that these connections have been designed for. Deadend streets or gated communities aren't in the design of SB's DNA. However, as with the airport neighborhoods developing vision thru the cnapc...we recognize and would like to act on the impact of thru traffic to white st/airport pkwy to bring the scale and speed of traffic down to a residential level and not that of a commuter cut-thru...the traffic pattern potential along airport drive instead could make this happen. Similar consideration can be used with any eventual east west connectors in southeast quadrant. For other routes like Patchen road...stricter enforcement of speed limits and traffic calming may be needed for a route that cannot be changed and which acts as a bypass to the detriment of pedestrians, bicyclists and local traffic.


George Donovan: No response.




5. Open Space enhancement vs. 100% O.S. Purchase fundingDo you support the proposal (March ballot item) to use a portion (1/2 cent) of the 1-cent existing open space fund tax, for the improvement of open space properties?
Note the CIP line items:
South Village Soccer Field
$319,000
Develop Recreational Areas
$110,000
Why should park enhancements be treated differently?


Meaghan Emery:
I do support the March ballot item to use ½ cent for the improvement of the City’s parks and nature areas (Red Rocks, Wheeler, and Underwood) over a period of ten years. This proposed ballot item has been vetted by our citizen committees. We have completed management plans for Red Rocks and Wheeler and a vision and initial strategies for Underwood. These plans have already been paid for and are, therefore, an investment that I believe we need to act upon NOW, before invasive species already present in the parks (particularly Wheeler) and degradation of the park’s trails (particularly Red Rocks) worsen even more and, therefore, incur greater expense.

Ideally, we would add ½ cent to our budget for this purpose and leave untouched the 1 cent open space fund, intended for the acquisition of open space. Given all of the budget’s goals (Affordable Housing Trust Fund, increased staffing for our Police and Planning/Zoning Departments, maintenance of City Services), the fiscal realities at present, and unknowns at the state level regarding education funding, an additional tax levy does not seem feasible.

 If, within the ten-year period, the City would like to purchase land, we can still do so through a low-interest loan, as we did in order to buy Underwood (a beautiful piece of land with wooded trails and views of Lake Champlain). We have just paid back this loan and are amassing reserve funds anew (roughly $300,000 per year). The ½ cent Open Space and Natural Area Enhancement Plan would put between $130,000-150,000 per year toward conservation management and the upkeep of our natural areas, a much needed step.

They shouldn’t, and once this badly needed additional soccer field is prepared for use, it too will have to be protected from heavy usage like our current athletic fields (which aren’t necessarily covered by the above figures). I’ll ask what the $110,000 (above) will be specifically used for. It could be parks, such as that in the Baycrest area.

Feb 16 clarification from Meaghan: Regarding park enhancements, they shouldn't be treated differently when compared with our natural areas. Once a badly needed additional soccer field in South Village is prepared for use, it too will have to be protected from heavy usage like our current athletic fields (I don't understand this protection/management to be covered by the above figures). I’ll ask what the $110,000 (above) will be specifically used for. It could be parks, such as that in the Baycrest area.


Chris Shaw:

Of course I support it, I'm putting it on the ballot.

balance is around $50k-$75k....whatever has accrued since we made last payment on underwood in sept/oct...the present proposal is a loan against the same fund for 10 years...similar to what we've done with our enterprise funds (sewer, water. Storm water) where the city borrows within its bins and pays itself back. Since it's looking for 1/2 cent of the full cent, rather than tying up the entire fund into the future (as the underwood purchase did), we are asking to do so with voter approval for the ten years at half power. Any land purchase potential can still be addressed in two ways...with a negotiated installment [p]ayment as done for underwood or through outright bonding for any deficit amount not covered in the fund as was always done before OS fund and as is done in most other Chittenden county communities today.

Bonding for parks, or bonding for a potential open space purchase? Both would require voter approval. We are prioritizing the parks. The imperative is maintaining the parks now. We've invested money in studies and management plans and made that maintenance plan. Its time to act and not allow further deterioration. We've been told of the needs in these reports. I am not aware of any potential purchases and imagine that if a town green option came up for instance that the public would respond favorably (and in that case for city center, we might even be able to leverage tif monies for same). We will continue to actively pursue any purchase options that could add to our open space. Most communities don't allow their schools or cities to sit on large capital reserve funds -- capping them to prevent "cash in the pocket" purchasing by any one board. We feel, as with the school's stewardship vote, that this is a wise and prudent investment in present identified needs to prevent future costs and loss while preserving the remarkable resources we have and maintaining the goals of the open space fund as well.

Addendum...perhaps I misunderstood your original question as I don't believe I answered specific to enhancements you gave examples for just now in 5.3.   I took it to be "enhancements" as in future purchases of OS. These items you cite relate to park and rec and not open space per se. The soccer field is a payout from our recreation impact fee ordinance for which I am giving you a fuller idea of how they work and address growth in my answer to #1...these are monies we have right now for specific recognized improvements related to recreation and based on fees assessed to new housing as anticipation for that growth...basically south village was charged for this already...probably similar to the $110k for rec improvements...broadly and generally assessed to new housing in last five years.

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.

  


6. Effective Data Sharing: Would you approve of allowing the public to obtain a copy of the SB city budget that is read/write-able such that the public can do their own reviews in a format and data selection of their own choosing within the spreadsheet program?


Meaghan Emery:
From my position, this information is already public and can be made available prior to CC final adoption. Whether or not these spreadsheets can be read/write, I do not know the answer to this technical question. City staff probably could help you out here.


Chris Shaw:
Yes, this is something we'd like to see. We are just now getting tech/it support with a devoted staffer, and therefore we aren't up to private sector levels of expectation for dAta, formatting and systems. Each silo/department has been applying its own expertise to the best of its budget and abilities. I don't know how easily this can be done and whether it can be accomplished this cycle or next.

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.

Note from Bernie Paquette:
 I met with Tom Hubbard (Deputy City Mgr.) and requested the opportunity for citizens to receive upon request, read/write budget spreadsheets. Tom is reviewing this request with appropriate staff/counsel.



7. Clean City: Please comment on how the city representatives might encourage citizens, and SB business and nonprofit groups to
Ø Take actions throughout the year to make SB the cleanest city in the Nation-in support of the City's comprehensive plan vision of Green and Clean.
Ø Encourage the public's sense of ownership, pride in place along with the personal responsibility to keep SB clean and beautiful.
Ø Encourage participation in Green Up Day in May, and year round participation in the SB Adopt-A-Block program, including perhaps, formal yearly city recognition of the Adopt-A-Block participants.

Meaghan Emery:
You [Bernie] and I have had many discussions on this topic, and a number of residents are already on board with the Adopt-A-Block program you set up (thank you!). In addition to Green Up Day, the City could also promote this program and any other program that would encourage litter-free roads, storefronts, etc. I think that formally recognizing citizen volunteers and businesses is something the Council could do.


 Chris Shaw:
Take action...I think the city can do more to purchase, place and service waste containers in key locations. A lot of the litter can be traced to lack of convenience in finding the right receptacle. I recall the complaints of dog waste at the parking lot of wheeler that ended up in a storm drain because folks didn't want to bring home in their car, and this problem was resolved by placing both the baggies and a trash receptacle there at the entrance. The park issues pale in comparison to the more downtown and rt 7 rt 2 areas where a business partnership would be very helpful. That can be a positive approach to enact the adopt a block approach to where the businesses are located. The business backyard, as you are aware is often an unsightly area with the open trash bins behind the location and these would have to be more a matter of enforcement ...at the moment we have the one zoning administrator to do that (and it is not within his present workload) and any city action would be geared towards correction. I do think an internship (with which we have been successful withIT services up until now) with a deputized SBHS student might be fruitful in helping to give us the coverage for this kind of task and follow up....for business checking and recognition of outstanding pride In Property as well.

Encourage public pride and ownership...media seems to be the best way...we have our city light post banners That did quite nicely with cityfest150 and with ecumenical holiday messages and cheer...we can absolutely use that, and make up new Banners or flags that represent earth day I April or have a specific green up day flag/banner or adopt a unique SB recognized clean and green logo and symbol...we've done it for the recent branding exercise...there is no reason the clean and green can't be a stand alone recognizable element. Getting it into the paper and signage would be mor expensive and longer term propositions and we've seen th signage at veterans park for sports illustrated recognition so it can be a combination of statewide recognition of SB and our own local promotional signage and watchwords and signs/logos I. Businesses...I don't think we need a mascot but this would be an interesting project for school group, or park and rec or a special task force to work on.

Encourage participation in green up day and adopt a block and recognition....this would be an offshoot of above. I think the city is a full participant now and the other paper has been proudly recognizing it. The trick with the item above and this is engaging with the many groups in town that don't presently participate. There are rather few that do, and we can reach out (hopefully with the inter or special task force as described above) to identify missing religious, civic, business, condo association, homeowners groups and social groups because the addition of just five more groups can really boost our numbers and I am sure that there are  many more than that.


Note from Bernie Paquette: SB Green Up Day is sponsored including staffed at City Hall drop off site,  by SBLT (South Burlington Land Trust)

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.



8. City Center and TIF. Do you feel there is perhaps a need for further outreach by the City reps. to explain City Center and specifically the financial implications of the TIF. If yes, please give us your synopsis. 

Meaghan Emery:
Yes, I do since voters will be voting on TIF. When we know the date of the first vote, if re-elected I would work to educate the public on both the City Center projects and the TIF. How to do so? Facebook and online blogs (which I’m getting a hang of) could be good forums, in addition to our regular means of doing so: Council meetings, public forums sponsored by the City, Front Porch Forum postings, and columns in The Other Paper.


Chris Shaw:
Absolutely there is more info and outreach of what a tif entails...it is a difficult concept to wrap one's head around. I don't think the outreach is needed yet since it should happen concurrent with a tif vote as that will allow everyone to focus on its understanding for its importance.

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.



9.  Sense of Place and Community. How do we create a discernible identity for our city as opposed to simply being a gateway to get from one (other) place to another- to get to somewhere else? What action items would you propose? How can we enhance our sense of place and community?


Meaghan Emery:
Our individual neighborhoods already have strong place-based identities, and I think most of us have a strong sense of belonging because of our neighborhoods. Hundreds of residents have already participated in dozens of workshops to envision our future City Center and enhance our parks/nature areas (some of our best kept secrets), and their combined vision is already at work in preliminary designs, the Comprehensive Plan, and the City’s land development regulations -- all a statement of our shared identity. Finally, our schools have always been a source of pride for this community and given us a solid identity base.


Chris Shaw:
The recently completed branding is a good step..this was geared more to attracting and distinguishing south Burlington from Burlington and relates to signage...more will come in this area...the hoop signs that Burlington uses (for way faring/district identity) are a good model of where we'd like to head with this.

The city center ideas and umall redevelopment fit right into the "destination" strategy and depend a lot on the private sector for restaurants and stores and driving foot traffic in addition to density of living space to drive that energy/excitement. They must work together. We see this at Williston maple tree place where seemingly the Merrill theaters can drive their mini town green/plaza and adjacent restaurants. Summer events happen there with music and holiday displays and a bandshell. We have an excellent bandshell and better vista from veterans memorial park and we used it to good effect this summer with city fest. The music comes this summer with Mozart festival. We can do a lot around the SB exits to define our city...exit 13 (at rt7/189) &14 are it...there could be distinct signage and efforts made to show SB at each of those two "gateways" in addition to the airport (folks exiting, for instance) from a marketing/identity standpoint it makes great sense and wouldn't cost very much. A task force could create the public art/signage and ideas to help center us with visuals while we work on the events and other   Identifying markers. 

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.



10. Public participation in city governing. What improvements to public meeting protocol and processes would you recommend as a strategy to encourage a broader range of public participation and increase the sense of trust and respect between the community and its city representatives?
How could resident participation in local governance be improved or enhanced?
Ø Consensus. How would you bring folks together in a collaborative and compromising manner particularly in divisive, contentious and complicated issues?


Meaghan Emery:
Regarding public participation, during my time on the Charter Review Committee, 2007-2008, the committee reformed the City’s Charter to include Neighborhood Civic Forums, a local governance structure I proposed that more directly involves citizens in the City’s decision-making processes. I think that this type of forum has the potential to bring neighbors together to work collaboratively on finding a solution to an identified problem.

Regarding meeting protocol and processes, I think that we as a Council do try to give time to residents who attend, either to address something on our agenda or another topic. But we could do better about informing the public of upcoming action items that concern public assets (bought with taxpayer dollars) or neighborhoods. This would perhaps bring people together earlier in the process, hence nurturing the trust that is essential in local governance.


Chris Shaw:
 I'm not sure a councilor has the best perspective to answer this, but I'd enjoy hearing recommendations from the public. By and large, I understand that the majority of folks are too busy and need a focus to be engaged with local governance. If it's an issue they care about, then they pay attention. The biggest change we are considering that would engage more and utilize varied members of the public is the idea of short-term task forces in lieu of some of the more draining longer term commitments we ask of committee/board members. This is exciting because of the limited commitment and because we can get experts or highly interested individuals for that task. It would sharpen the focus and drive of our citizen volunteers as well. This is the true improvement that would create the sense of ownership I think you feel might be missing.

Council meetings by themselves are mostly business sessions with almost all our decisions passing 5-0 and that can seem impersonal or lacking in public participation but those decisions have often arrived through from our committees, staff and boards and have had multiple input and vetting...if an item comes up that misses that mark then i think we are made aware and do our best to offer the public their opportunity to suggest solutions. Social media offers a new and interesting way to reach more of the public and perhaps activate their interest. I am not sure the city has figure this out yet 
and we'd welcome suggestions. I can only imagine and mass email list but that seems so last century. I enjoy our Twitter and Facebook presence and our website is pretty functional for its practicality...

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.




11. Cost savings / Efficiency: What specific area of the city budget (or dept) will you commit to focus on towards driving increased cost savings and efficiency?

Meaghan Emery:
I do make it a point to ask the tough questions--not just on one area, but all areas (including private personnel budget matters). If others bring up other cost-saving ideas that I haven’t thought of, I will consider them seriously and advocate for them if I agree that they can be done.


Chris Shaw:
[W]e are working on this at the macro level...we've had the last two city managers work very hard at the budget and costs and the council sets the
bar with the budget so that the managers and staff have to squeeze and find the efficiencies. As legislators and policy makers, we aren't best at micro-managing the professionals. My best bosses set my goals and gave me a budget and held me accountable to it while encouraging me in every way. My worst bosses demanded short-term, multiple responses and performance on any lagging detail. In the last two managers we've had one of each type of boss and we've made significant progress with our present one. He is sourcing shared service agreements with regional partners and working with the legislators in Montpelier to allow us to do it in more areas. He is a trend-setter in .this area and we stand to make bigger gains than chasing efficiencies in house as is always done. He has been thinking and acting outside the box and being creative in unlocking some of our cost stasis. 

George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response



12. Would you work to have next year’s budget list more details ( perhaps as amendments as well as additional line items) to better inform the public of what the budget covers and information explaining large changes (both dollar and percentage changes y/y.)

I [Bernie] met with Tom Hubbard (deputy city mgr.) and Tom Chittenden for a bit over 2 hours about the budget format, including: easier to understand terminology, greater line item detail, added cost/benefit explanations, an appendix and cell comments, backlog or deferred maintenance line items. 

This as well as other improvements in order that all citizens can better understand where the city tax monies come from and where it is spent. 

Based on this working meeting, I expect to see improvements on next year’s budget platform.

Therefore, I removed this question to the candidates.




13. Livability issues like transportation, parks and open space and access to healthy food impact quality of life for individuals and community well being – economically, environmentally and socially. What are your one or two top priorities for making South Burlington a livable city? How would you improve livability in the city?


Meaghan Emery:
All of the above. I’d like to see more and safer bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks. I’d like for our parks to be enhanced and our open space conserved. Bread and Butter Farm is a working farm in our City limits and provides local produce.
You also mention economics, and this is key to livability. We need to find a good balance in our growth so that tax rates remain affordable. I am also a huge proponent for affordable housing, both protecting and enhancing what we currently have and building more in our City Center, in particular, near public transportation.


Chris Shaw: (Chris responded to question #13 after the original posting on Feb 13)
My top priorities would be the bike ped connections that make the biggest difference in a quality life for a community. We are on a slow (and affordable track) to get there, but at the pace it goes - it won't be complete for years. We need to find a way to make this happen sooner and this would cost us money in the short run, but it would provide a connected community. We do still need more rec space (by example there is none in my area of town, but I use the trails as rec space and find that fits me, but may not fit the youngsters as much)-



George Donovan: No response.
Tim Barritt: No response.





14. What do you think South Burlington should do to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly?

Meaghan Emery:
Please see my [livability] answer above. The creation of more and safer bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks are among my policy priorities.

Tim Barritt: 
SB has a great network of bike and rec paths and has made ‘road diet’ changes to some roads to create safer biking experiences for those that like to commute by bike. Biking is a really healthy alternative to commuting by car if it works for you. We just need to enlarge the network so we can connect with other communities, too. I tried bike commuting to IBM a few times from Eastwoods but got freaked out on Williston Rd at the I-89 over pass and further down 2 as well where it was safer on the side walk. Fortunately, I would be more comfortable now between Gracies and PJ's because of that reconfiguration. The challenge now is to somehow move forward with a path on Dorset south of Old Cross Rd. making the city more bike and pedestrian friendly might seem contrary to car commuter efficiency but the Complete Streets concept makes the transportation equation more balanced for everyone. City Center has a good design. We need to make sure that it gets built as designed. The Bike and Ped committee are the experts with their ears to the ground for what is right and wrong in our street/path network. We just have to find a way to make the improvements as cost effectively as possible.



Chris Shaw:
 ...complete bike/ped connections for SB...we need this...we can look at devoted/protected bike lanes as we've discussed for city center and this could be part of Williston road streets aping... Rt 7 could also use this 
design feature...whether a sidewalk, bike path or protected lane, these connections would add immeasurably to our safety, health, congestion and livability...We've been working on this with the ccrpc's active transportation committee...what would be nice is to figure out how to get the resources to make this happen sooner than the slow time frame that we presently use (but which maximizes grant, regional, state and federal monies to make it happen over the course of years, and minimizes local tax/bond outlays).


George Donovan: No response.




15. What value do you place on the remaining open spaces of land in SB?  What measures would you take to preserve/conserve it from development? What are your reasons for or against keeping the remaining open spaces - undeveloped? 


Meaghan Emery:
Balancing growth with the rising cost of services to our tax base is going to be key in the years to come. I know and have learned from our Fire Chief and Director of Public Works that unlimited growth risks putting that balance into jeopardy. Therefore, I will keep an eye on this balance. Our natural areas are part of that balance and, in my view; they should remain natural, beautiful, well-kept, and explore-able areas for us and future generations.


Tim Barritt: 
 The open space fund is for open space. If we buy land with those funds then it should be just that. OPEN. Remember when the police station was proposed for Wheeler Park? Remember the outrage expressed when 
we were told a $6 million building could be built there. Remember when we voted to CONSERVE that property forever? Thank goodness Bob Miller stepped in and offered the building on Gregory Drive. We reused an existing office building and saved a lot of money. And most importantly, Trevor Whipple said that facility satisfied his dept's needs. Now look at Dorset Street and witness the 3 infill developments currently under way. And the Rye project on 116. And Cider Mill 2 further south approved in the last year. These developments are removing open space so it is even more imperative that we keep the open space that we own. Wheeler and Underwood are jewels. I would work to keep them that way by wanting conservation easements created. 
 And I'd love to see more land acquired and treated the same way.



Chris Shaw: (Chris responded to question #13 after the original posting on Feb 13)
Open space is immensely valuable and no small reason why people settle in south burlington (if you are lucky enough to be in a more open space section of town) and vermont in general. Open space is a big definition can mean green space or wetland or views or fields...the fields need tending to stay open...I enjoy forests and trails, but there is nothing like snowshoeing over an open field with expansive views. I've helped conserve areas that I view every day from back when I was on the Natural Resources Committee and I couldn't be prouder of the 2006 rezoning of the SEQ which wrapped up a lot of the natural resources protection land there ---without costing the taxpayers anything - those measures have been taken already and I was involved in it.Those measures are still in place. The open space fund still is the best additional way to conserve open space and if we manage it for "development rights" rather than outright purchases then it might stretch further and cover more open space. We've been fortunate to find properties and folks interested in preserving their land so we can partner or purchase wiht them. The example of the Bread and Butter Farm, remains an example of how we can get maximum value from our open space fund. We would pursue any opportunities -- certainly the Farrell waterfront property is the one area of the city that would most be of value and interest to us -- as it is waterfront and would be a wonderful area to complement Red Rocks or stand by itself to get the city more beautiful water access -- this would be the kind of partnership that could work well for the city and open space. We'd like to have our Natural Resourcres/Open Space Committee create an advisory board for the Open Space fund (as recommended in the Open Space Committee's recent IZ report) and perhaps they would help in identifying and contacting the 110 landholders of our designated Open Space properties to see about their interests and plans and open lines of communication officially wiht the city. Similarly, we may be able to work with larger landholders like Farrell but our influence would have to find an affordable way to get public access and get their attention/interest. With City Center it is easier to negotiate open space/town green, as we can work with our TIF funds to bargain needed public amenities (as in a parking garage) for the open land from the landholder. So, it takes work identifying the open space and talking to people and in maintaining good relations with the larger landholders. 

George Donovan: No response.
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CC Meeting: 2.17.2016 Sarah Dopp asked questions of the CC related to the article III on the ballot: Borrowing and application of conservation fund tax levy. 

Abbreviated CC answers:
1. No portion of the current fund balance will be used for the enhancement projects referred to in the article.
2. All of the loan amount will be taken at one time.
3. Spending of the loan would likely occur over the first 4-5 years.
4. Payments toward the loan would come from 1/2 of each years open space funding for that year (50% of each new years receipts-not 50% of the fund balance).
5. Tom Hubbard suggested that the plan would be to begin putting money into a reserve fund in FY 2018 for yearly projects not covered by the Article III bond.

Ch 17 Recording beginning at 101:47 

Sarah expresses her personal view and observations as: 
 1) In my opinion the loan period is too long; 5 years max would have been better,

2) Use the time of the loan to figure out how to incorporate ongoing open space maintenance into the annual budget.

 3) Observation that the fund will be used for work in parks that were not purchased with the Open Space Fund to begin with. (Ex. Red Rocks)


Click here for city's List of proposed enhancements 
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People want a dialogue with their local candidates
  • Letter sent to the SB City Mgr, city council members, and CC candidates on 2/16/2016 and presented to CC by Bernie Paquette. 
  • Subject: Request for CC to lead public meeting to discuss how to improve on Town Meeting to better inform citizenry of candidates policy views and better inform public of budget and other ballot items.

Kevin, and City Council members. I am encouraged that (I assume) city of SB organized the 2/11 CH 17 recorded CC Council Candidates (Chris and Tim) discussion. I also viewed the recording of the SBHS sponsored CC Council candidate debate. And I appreciate the time candidates make available in public arenas (coffee hour) to meet with anyone who wishes to sit down with them.

I believe there is good reason and a growing demand for more discourse and dialogue including time for the public to ask questions- of city office candidates. Though these two-recorded events are helpful, I believe we need more of such events and of longer duration's as well as written responses to questions and digital space for such question & answer dialogues. 

I have posted genuine issue questions and corresponding answers from CC candidates, which you can view, on my web site. I hope to continue to encourage further development of social media of all types to draw in more public interaction in discussion issues and policy positions during our local elections. 

We have a great tradition in Vermont of town meetings. Still we can build on and improve on the process to expand participation, and to better communicate candidate differentiation, as well as have open dialogue with the public about their concerns, ideas, common goals and differing strategies to reach those goals. 

I hope that the council can find time (included on CC mtg agenda)  (even after the March 1 town meeting) to  discuss how our town meeting style community discussions with candidates to local offices can be tweaked in order to make it easy and enticing for more folks to participate in our wonderful Vermont tradition of meeting neighbor to neighbor to hash out and examine issues and policy positions as well as to become more informed voters. Also how we as voters might better understand any articles on each years ballot including budgetary items.

I understand that only a small percentage of the voters take advantage of the meet ups and Ch 17 recordings and FPF discourse. However, it is all our duty to revitalize our democratic process. Moreover, as such we have many technological tools as well as good ole Vermont neighborly avenues to encourage and make folks feel welcomed to join in our Town meeting discussions. We can find ways to make it easy for anyone, no matter their schedule or preferred meeting or social media mechanism. 

I applaud the SB City Council and Staff for time, energy, and passion you all bring to the table. Though at times, there is friction and tensions when different strategies come forth, the goals are often the same. The desire for constant improvement and openness to consider other's thoughts and ideas is the energy that helps the city to become its finest. 

SB Town Meeting, I think, will evolve to draw in more of our citizenry, within a broad spectrum and mix of technology and face-to-face sit-downs. We need only accept the challenge.

Thank You for your consideration, 


Advocate of Caring, Contribution, and Dialogue to build Community.


Bernie Paquette.

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Questions were raised on the SB Community FB page, about how to understand the school budget. 
The following response was copied from the SB FB web page.



Wes Daum I am confused. The Free Press this morning confused me by saying the school budget is higher, the town budget is higher and yet my taxes are going down?? This does not compute. Can anyone out there enlighten me? 


Bridget Burkhardt Thank you for your patience, Wes. Apologies that it took me so long to get back to you. I’ll try the high level answer to your question, and if you’d like more detail, I’m happy to follow up. I agree that the budget book could be more user friendly, and I hope to help with that in the coming years. To be fair to John Stewart and his team in the business office, getting the numbers right, dealing with constant changes from the state, and managing other pressures to complete the budget on time have had to take precedence updating the format of the budget book.

As you noted, the school budget is increasing by 2.68%, and the city budget is increasing by 5.45%. The school district’s portion of the property tax rate is expected to decrease by 2.23%, while the city’s is expected to increase by 2.98%. Because the city budget is smaller than the school budget, the decrease in the school tax rate more than offsets the increase in the city tax rate to result in an overall tax decrease. I try to remind everyone with whom I discuss the budget that these are only estimated rates (as they are each year in the budget book). Actual rates can end up slightly higher or lower depending on changes in levels of state funding and other factors, but they usually end up quite close to the estimates.

There are a few reasons the budget can go up while the tax rate goes down in a given year. I’ll speak only to the school budget because I’m not as well versed in the city budgeting process. Although there may be other factors, the main reasons I’ll focus on are:
1. Increasing number of students
2. Increasing number of tuition students
3. Increasing funding from sources other than property taxes

Increasing number of students - First, education is funded differently in Vermont than in many other places. Funds are drawn from property taxes across the state and pooled at the state level. The districts provide budgets to the state, and the state decides how much funding will go to each district from the Education Fund based on the number of pupils in each district and the amount it estimates property taxes will generate for the Ed Fund. This structure is meant to increase the equity of opportunities across the state given that there are vastly different property tax bases in different parts of the state. When the number of pupils in your district increases relative to other districts, which it is expected to do in South Burlington for the second year in a row, your district’s draw from the Ed Fund will increase even if your property taxes don’t necessarily increase because you’ll get a bigger portion of those pooled funds. You will hear the term “equalized pupils” used when discussing our number of students. The state uses a weighted average that assigns different weights to different grade levels of students (e.g. high school students are weighted more than elementary students) and students with different needs (e.g. English language learners or other students with special needs are weighted higher than 1).
South Burlington’s equalized pupils are expected to increase from 2,400 this year to 2,420 next year.

Increasing number of tuition students – There are some school districts (e.g. Georgia, Isle la Motte) that do not have high schools. Those students can choose which high school they want to attend, and their funding follows them to the new school district. Each school district sets their tuition rate each year based on their allowable expenditures per pupil (types of expenditures allowed in the calculation are determined by the state). These students bring with them an additional source of revenue for the district’s budget outside of our direct property taxes. The South Burlington School district has approximately 150 tuition students, and this number has been growing over the last few years.

Increasing funding from sources other than property taxes – In addition to property tax revenue and tuition revenue, the district receives state and federal funding outside of the Ed Fund for specific types of expenditures (e.g. transportation), so those sources may increase in a year when property taxes are down. The major other source in the budget that you’ll note this year is a carryover of $1.3 million in funds that were budgeted but not expended in previous years. This carryover has been growing over the past few years as the district has worked hard to manage costs better and/or generated more revenues that budgeted in those years.
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Bernie Paquette: 

I hope the school board works this year, on improving the school budget format and provides an easier to read and understand, summary in next year’s budget. This is needed, I think, to allow folks to more easily understand where the revenues come from, where they are spent, and the nuances of the perhaps complicated state school funding program. 

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Questions Bernie Paquette posed to David Young, Superintendent of schools. Responses from David Young.

For FY 2017 the State Property Tax revenue (for SB) is $36,427,476. I assume this is the allocation from the state of VT to the SB School district- Correct?

Yes.

What is the amount SB contributes (through property taxes) to the State fund for fy 2017?  The Total Contribution from South Burlington for FY 2017 –

This number is not known until after the following events occur -  1. All district budgets are passed 2. Legislature sets tax rate, 3. grand list is established (after April 1), 4. The City of South Burlington issues tax bills, 5. The State notifies Cities & Towns in August.

In FY 2016, the City paid $36,208,316 to the School District & $4,931,290 to the State Treasury for a total of $41,139,606.

Note: The FY 2016 SB School budget was $35,815,214 (page 15, 16 of the budget document)
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Bernie asked (shortened here for brevity): Does the city pay in more in State School taxes than the SB school budget?

David Young responded: 
South Burlington collects more in property taxes than is utilized by the District. The remainder does go to the State.

This is the information from the FY 2016 budget broken out in detail as the City collects $41,233,379 in taxes for education.

The South Burlington School District receives $36,298,316 from the City as follows:
a.       $35,815,214 for its budget for education spending (the amount shown in the budget)
b.      $549,371 for transportation aid (the estimate shown in the budget was $516,974)
c.       ($156,269) Tech Center Paid by the State for the district
Net to SB School District                   $36,208,316

Paid to the State Treasury                  $ 4,931,290

Total paid to School District and State  $41,139,606

Amount retained by City for
Administration                                      $92,773

Total Taxes                                       $41,232,379     

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David, sorry, each answer seems to beg more questions. 

Which page in the SB budget booklet would I find the information you show in your note below? For example, where would I find the transportation aid - dollar figure?
I understand that SB collects more in property taxes than is utilized by the district and that the remainder goes to the state as shown in your FY 2016 example. 

Given the FY 2017 budget on the ballot of $46,973,703, can I assume that the actual amount the city may need to collect and pay to the State could well be higher than the amounts shown in the budget booklet on page 15?

Where in the budget book can I see the SB taxpayer dollars budgeted for payment to the state above the amount the school district will receive? ($4.9M in FY16 for example) Moreover, if we do not know that amount until August, how does the city budget for the amount over and beyond the [State Property Tax revenue (budget ed. spending) + transportation aid.] dollar amount?
Bernie

No worries about asking questions. The information on Transportation Aid is on page 16 in both the 2016 and 2017 Budget books.
I think your assumptions are generally correct however would be happy to find a time to meet and discuss in more detail.Let me know if you have time to meet.
Thanks,
David
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I'm happy to sit down with you and chat and hopefully address your questions.  Are you available to have a coffee this Saturday afternoon at 2:00 at the Barnes & Nobel cafe? Martin Lalonde, School Board


Thank You Martin, however at this point I prefer written responses so that I can more easily share the information with others via my website. Surely the numbers (revenues and expenditures) can be described in writing in a way most layperson can comprehend, and beg fewer questions than what our current budget booklet offers. Bernie

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John [Stewart, school business office], perhaps you could help me, as I am trying to be an informed voter.

I presume you have seen my correspondence shown below. I have a number of lower level detailed questions. However I will focus on my major question and request your response.

Using FY 2016 as an example, and assuming the final payment to the State is level with the last (though in all likelihood it may be less), the total FY 2016 paid by SB to the VT Treasury (school tax) will be  $4,931,290. 

If this is correct, where do I see that expense item on the spreadsheets and on the summary section of the SB budget document made available to the public?

I am out of town until Monday.  But, I will contact you on Monday morning if that is all right with you.  The $4.9 m payment is collected by the City and then paid to the State by the City so it does not appear on the School budget.  I will find out from the City how they account for this as I am not sure of the details and will contact you then.
John

John, TY. I [Bernie] have been in contact with Sue Dorey (SB city Staff) today, she will contact the accounting person on Monday (out sick today) to id where the city accounts for the $4.9m.

However, even though the city collects the revenue and pays the expense to the state; the city is doing this for the school dept, just as it collects the school district revenue fund dollars from property taxes. I suggest that the school budget summary should alert taxpayers to the school tax state treasury expense. I welcome your rebuttal.
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Hi Mr. Paquette,

When the district puts together its budget, there are many considerations.  A key consideration is the residential property tax rate charged to homeowners of which local spending is a key driver.   To comply with new spending controls put into place under ACT 46, the district proposed a budget that has the spending per equalized pupil below the point where residential taxpayers would be charged a double tax.  Once again, this was a key consideration.

The State sets a statewide tax rate for non-residential properties such as commercial businesses and rental properties.  Businesses in each community are charged the same tax rate across the state, adjusted by the common level of appraisal.  The local district budget has no direct impact on this charge. 

When taken together, the property taxes received from South Burlington residents, landlords, and business owners amount to more than the district budgets for & spends.  The City remits the additional amount over and above the district’s allocation to the State Education Fund.  It is not an expense of the local district. For FY 2017, the amount is not yet known.  However, for FY 2016, the net amount paid to the State will be $4,931,290.

John

John K. Stewart, Business Manager

South Burlington School District
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Maida, 
I can't help understand who writes a check to whom and when, but I can give a big picture. 

Funding our schools is a state wide tax system. All the school districts in the state vote budgets which the education fund fully fund.

In order to have sufficient money in the education fund the legislature sets the non-residential tax and, in collaboration with JFO and the Tax Department calculates the appropriate yield for the state $1.00 base penny rate and 2% base income rate. 

Homestead taxes across the state are determined by dividing the local per pupil education spending divided by the yield amount. 

If you accept that the non-residential tax rate set by the legislature and applied to every piece of non-residential property is indeed a state tax, then no community raises 100% of needed revenue for their schools on their homestead rate. 

Hope this helps.  


Dave Sharpem State Rep. chair of house of education

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Maida,  I [Bernie] spoke with John Stewart on the phone, though I have technical arguments about some of the details, I suggested we try to reach agreement on the base argument that the expense should be shown in the Budget book. I will ck back with him in a month to find out what the school reps decide. If necessary, I will push for listing the expense and a clear explanation (expense and now rev for the expense are calculated and obtained) in future budget booklets. I also feel it needs to be a line item in summary, not just a notation in the comments section. I will continue to be open to rebuttals, however any rebuttals need to hold stand against the need for the layperson to easily grasp the information offered.

Thank You Maida for your assistance in understanding this piece of public accounting. Now the school dept needs to insure the public can also view this information and the explanation of it, in the budget booklet.


Significant expenditures from SB property tax revenues,  not shown (in budget book) begs transparency as well as the ability for the public to be informed and trusting of the process-I think.  And again, even if elements are complicated, it does not mean they cannot be explained to the average layperson.
Bernie
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Knowledge isn't power, but knowledge SHARED is power. 

The playwright and political leader Václav Havel famously said that he would rather have a beer with someone who’s searching for the truth than with someone who’s found it.

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FY_17_City_Council_Approved_Proposed_Budget                                     
        TO: SB City Council, Deputy City Mgr. (Tom Hubbard)
           From Bernie Paquette on Jan 27,2016

General Questions/Requests regarding City_Council_Approved_Proposed_Budget Process

Section I   Transparency – Clarity

1.    Can budget (enterprise, revenue, expense, CIP - spreadsheets be made available to the public as read / write to download on their own computer prior to CC final adoption of the budget-beginning next year? Reason: public can better analyze and comment on the proposed budget during the public hearings.

2.    Can the future budget spreadsheet include an appendix to explain vaguely termed or ambiguous Account Descriptions with more detail? Including as an example, descriptions for consulting fees (consulting on what project). And to explain where seemingly duplicate line items are listed. (For example “Police Headquarters” on line #705 and #713.)  

3.    Can the budget spreadsheet contain a tab that groups like expenses from all departments? For example, show all telephone expense line items and totals.

4.    Budget: Identify the Grand List for commercial property alone, and for residential property alone.  (Prior to final budget.)
WHY: It seems to me that it would be helpful to see (year to year) the appraisal base in order to get a prospective in how much the residential sector and the commercial sector (separate line items) and the total sectors (tax-able property tax base) is changing (due to houses and commercial buildings being built and or being torn down).

5.    Where do year end actual vs. budget delta fund(s) reside; where does it go at FY end?

Section II Cost / Benefit

6.    Can City Staff and perhaps Councilors analyze the opportunities for a further move to a paperless environment (cost / benefit analysis), in order to save expenses, and to potentially improve efficiency.

7.    I noticed, new for fy2017, a salary line item for HR in the city budget. Salaries  $108,792.92.
I think I also read (newspaper) that the school budget is relying (in part?) on contracted HR services? If this is correct, might the City HR employee cover some of the school district HR contracting needs? Could such an arrangement be cost/benefit effective for both city and school budgets?

8.    What are the backlog expenses ($ amounts) not covered by the current budget (aside from Capitol expense items)? Example (based on an ideal –cost/benefit maintenance schedule) roads, sidewalks and curbs….

9.    Detailed (Line item) FY17 budget questions, which I will bring with me on Thurs. when Tom H., Tom C. and I meet at City Hall at 10AM.
Are there opportunities for savings:
A.  Telephone expenses ~$65k
B.   Electric ~$83k
C.   Postage ~$17k
D.  Printing ~$15k
E.   Dues & Subscriptions ~ $25k
F.    Advertising ~$16k
G.  See Click Fix (benefit recognized?) ($1.5k)
H.  Energy Efficiency $0 (were there no opportunities or no funding available meeting the cost/benefit test?)
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I.      Electricity City Hall & police dept: Why such a lg. variance Y/Y?
J.      Storm water User Rent- What is being rented? #126 ($297k)
K.  School use: What does the city use the school for that drives an expense? ($62k)
L.    Urban art project expense. What is the UAP? #128
M.Why did Long term disability expense go up 462%?
N.   Bank Benefits: What are these, what is the service?
O.   Designated Reserve fund. (discuss)
P.    Consulting ~$167k- What is the project or service for each consulting line item.
Q.    What is the OPEN SPACE Reserve fund current BAL?
R.   What is the deductible on the Property insurance? Regional opty?
S.    Why is the FY17 Reappraisal Fund ($0) while FY14, 15, 16 were each $95.5k?
T.   What is the Ski program? ($12k) Used by whom?
U.  What is the Special Project? ($150k)
V.  What are the Capitol Improvements? ($735k)
W.                      What is V.L.C.T. ($20.6k)

Revenue
1.    How is that the Rec Impact Fee actual is going from $18k to $194k FY16 to FY17?
2.    What are the Debt Proceeds? ($212k)
3.    What is the Transfer in fund 309? ($148k)

4.    Does the city use credit cards? If so do they use a card that gives cash back for some purchases? 

I offer special thanks to Tom Hubbard, deputy city manager, for meeting with Tom Chittenden and myself for over two hours to discuss format and other methodologies to improve the city budget format so that all citizens can better understand where the city tax monies come from and where it is spent.

We reviewed the expenses, revenue, CIP (Capitol expense), enterprise and reserve fund. We touched on terminology, cost/benefit explanations, need for an appendix and cell comments, backlog or deferred maintenance line items, and pliable spreadsheets made available to the public as well as other considerations.

Tom, I think, took away many change requests, many agreed to, others requiring further analysis.

The meeting, I think, was productive. I look forward to seeing some of the recommendations in effect this year, and many more of them in next year’s budget communication platform.

It is a pleasure to work with someone like our deputy city mgr – Tom – who is as passionate as he is professionally knowledgeable about the city budget – both in its administration and in relaying the information to the public in a way that any nonprofessional can analyze and understand it.

The three of us also spoke briefly on the objective of moving the city administration towards a paperless environment. I am encouraged to see many detailed recommendations Tom Chittenden offered for follow up.


Thank You Tom, and Tom, for your expertise, and productive discussion of objectives and strategy towards constant cost/benefit analysis and transparency improvements in city functions. 
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Caring, Contribution and Dialogue build Community
Bernie Paquette
South Burlington citizen.



Additional reading:

Entrepreneur magazine Feb 2016 issue (available online via SB library web site) page 27 article titled "Americans are Pissed". "Voter discontent. Can business solve the problem?" 

VoteIQ and other startups failed quickly. However, with a new company named Brigade - you see your friends political positions and you are challenged to take a stand as well. 

Might be worth a read as we contemplate ideas on how to improve our SB town meeting process with a goal of having more informed voters and more participatory voters.