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Council Defers School Bond Vote
Monday, September 22, 2008
Breaking News

In a heartening display of maturity and common purpose, the city council tonight approved by a vote of 11-3 a motion by councilor Montroll to refer the proposed 92 million dollar 'first phase' school bond to the council's board of finance which will work with the school board to come up with a new proposal for the March 2009 ballot. Only Democratic councilors Ed Adrian, David Berenziak and Bill Kehoe voted in favor of placing the bong on the November ballot.

At issue for most councilors was the question of whether borrowing such a huge sum would place the city's bond rating and capacity to meet other municipal needs at risk. In the end, the notion that the short period of time the proposal has been on the table- about a month since the school board revised its original, RIDICULOUS 226 million dollar over ten year fantasy down to 92 million over five years proposal- was just too little time to allow for due diligence.

Providing some comparative perspective, councilor Sharon Bushor reminded councilors of the budgeting and prioritization process for the much smaller street and sidewalk capital budget, which took well over a year.

During the debate councilor Adrian engaged directly in several lengthy and rather testy exchanges with both Mayor Kiss and city treasurer Jonathon Leopold regarding the exact amount of strain the bond would place on the city's borrowing capacity. While hard and fast numbers were impossible to muster, what was obvious was that, if passed, the added 92 million dollars of debt would have serious adverse consequences on Burlington's ability to deal with all other spending needs.

Adrian also exchanged barbs with council president Kurt Wright regarding the impact the proposal would have on city taxpayers. Adrian said he believed 80% of tax-payers would have the impact of the property tax increase mollified via "income-sensitivity" from state income tax rebates. Wright noted that all residential tax-payers with household incomes of 47K or higher would definitely see higher taxes.

Over and over councilors asserted their agreement that school upgrades are a priority that should and will be addressed, but maintained their overall fiduciary responsibility for keeping the city on solid footing.

Ward Seven's councilor Gutchell suggested that the school board's time may have been better spent if it had begun its deliberations with a clearer understanding of what the city could actually afford.

Some quotes-

"The November ballot is not out last and only chance to do this." -Jane Knodell

"Our role is to look at the big picture here." -Kurt Wright

"The number is shocking...We really need to look at the affordability of the city as a whole." -Joan Shannon

"Are we doing something that's prudent?"- Russ Ellis

In the end councilor Adrian tried to slip in an amendment that would have asked voters for a 37 million dollar bond in November. Councilor Knodell, having been passed the gavel by Wright, allowed a vote on the amendment as acting president, despite the fact that it was out of order and not germane to the motion on the floor. Probably because it was obvious that it would be crushed, which it was. The amendment was defeated 12-2 with only councilor Berzniak voting with Adrian.

Soon thereafter the motion to defer, effectively removing the bond from consideration on the November ballot, was overwhelmingly approved with tri-partisan and Independent support.

The council's finance board will now work with the schools to come up with something more reasonable and affordable to bring to the voters in March.

Burlingtonians can be proud of their their city council tonight. They definitely did the right thing.

Labels: ,

posted by Haik Bedrosian @ 10:48 PM  
  • At September 23, 2008 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Let's check back in a year... I'm guessing that we'll have made no progress fixing our broken schools... no new money, no physical work completed.

    Those who voted against the school bond seemed to fall into two camps... those with a hidden agenda (R.I.P) and the gullible who believe that by March we'll come up with a nifty plan that won't hurt.

    Delay means another batch of kids shafted and a bigger price tag when we eventually get serious about funding safe, efficient, accessible, modern schools.

    How is this a good thing?

  • At September 23, 2008 1:31 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    How is this a good thing?

    We didn't max out the city's credit card. That's how. What part of "we can't afford it" is so difficult to understand?

    The schools are important, but they are not the only thing. We have to be able to pay the cops and plow the snow too.

    On top of that, not enough time has gone into this proposal and not enough people have had a say on it.

    Beside's Kurt was right- if it carried in November it would be by a squeaker and the animosity between taxpayers and the school board would be through the roof.

    We. Can't. Afford. It.

  • At September 23, 2008 3:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    tell that to the kids and other community members who are physically barred from many of our school buildings because they can't climb stairs-we're years behind making our schools accessible. imagine the reaction if we physically barred some other minority from many of our public schools-"we can't afford it" seems a lame response-just another round of shirking our responsibility. one more thing, ask the city council and cao why they never responded to the school board's request to meet and discuss the money side these many months ago.

  • At September 23, 2008 8:28 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    Nobody is saying we shouldn't take care of accessibility issues, but that was just one aspect of this quarter billion dollar Utopian fantasy.

    The school board needs to prioritize its needs and break its spending request up in do-able, prioritized chunks. Not 92 million dollar chunks either. Smaller chunks.

    Councilor Gutchell had a good idea proposing a discreet energy efficiency bond, for example. If we separated that piece out we may be able to track the savings that help it pay for itself.

    This proposal has only been on the table for a month. That is not enough time to think it over properly before throwing it on the ballot and giving voters a chance to break the bank with it. That would not be responsible.

    "We can't afford it" may seem like a lame response to you, but lame or not, it is a fact. We can't allow ourselves to jeopardize the city's bond rating the way this would, jeopardize our borrowing capacity to address other needs the way this would, or burden the already strapped taxpayers the way this would.

    Folks need to step back and take a breath here. Like Jane Knodell said "The November ballot is not out last and only chance to do this."

    I can see from the time stamp on your comment, anonymous, that you are up rather late thinking about this. Hopefully the council's action won't appear as dire after you've slept on it a while.

    Poopsie sometimes likes to quote a Russian proverb that seems apt here. "The morning is wiser than the night."

  • At September 23, 2008 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Go Haik!!

  • At September 23, 2008 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Ed Adrian, David Berenziak and Bill Kehoe voted in favor of placing the bong on the November ballot."

    Puff puff give. Puff puff give. You fuckin' up the rotation.

  • At September 24, 2008 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hello! Anybody home? Why don't you focus on the real issue here? The Council did not vote against the bond because it is too expensive: they were convinced that the City's financial ratings would go down the crapper if we give our kids an adequate education. It is outrageous that we have to sacrifice our kids to the incompetence of this administration. We have a retirement fund that is underfunded and a sinking fund for the water system (established 25 years ago by none other than everybody's favorite a-hole, Jonathon Leopold) which has never been funded. So the reall issue is that our kids are suffering because the administration can't or won't address the serious financial challenges facing the city. If you are not upset by this, then please just vote for McCain, pack up and move to Florida.

  • At September 24, 2008 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ouch, anonymous.

  • At September 25, 2008 9:37 AM, Blogger Haik Bedrosian said…

    The Council did not vote against the bond because it is too expensive: they were convinced that the City's financial ratings would go down the crapper if we give our kids an adequate education.

    Wrong. Dead wrong. Everybody wants our kids to have the best possible education, but the spending bond was so large it would have put the city's capacity to borrow for anything else at risk.

    I have issues with Leopold myself, but his work on restructuring the retirement fund has been good, and the mayor's budget has been fully funding the pension. It was Peter Clavelle who was underfunding the pension for years and years, not Bob Kiss.

    the "sinking fund for the water system" from 25 years ago, I can't speak to. But it sounds like a tangential rant. Maybe you could explain a little more about that and how it's related to the school board's impossibly expensive bond proposal.

  • At September 25, 2008 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    O.K., let's take it slowly and stop hiding the peanut.

    The only reason the school bond is argued (not proved) to put the City's borrowing capacity at risk is because of the other obligations facing the City. If we didn't have the mess with the retirement system and the water bond issue, borrowing this amount would be completely feasible.

    The fact that the administration is currently making the required payments does not speak to the fact that they have failed to clean up the mess you acknowledge already exists.

    The failure to fund the sinking fund is another factor (though undisclosed) behind the Administration's magician's claim that Burlington can't afford to educate its kids. I don't have time to explain this to you, but it is a huge problem and you should ask your city councilor to explain it to you if you don't understand it. That's their job.

  • At September 25, 2008 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The proposal was ridiculous from the beginning. Does anyone honestly think it would have received the necessary 2/3 majority to pass? We're not just talking about making schools handicapped accessible here; the school board was proposing new parking garages, magnet schools, and wholesale renovations of five schools. Sorry, we cannot afford it. Families tell that to their kids all the time. We as citizens need to give the school board a reality check. Think about how they approached this: first discarding all talk about closing Barnes to curtail costs (of course, dramatically running up their operating budgets over the years as they gave lip service to cost reductions), coming up with a $225 million wish list that includes parking garages, reducing their ask to $90 million or so (which still multiplies the city’s bonded indebtedness – what about other capital needs? what about our bond rating?), and essentially proclaiming that they won’t back down from their original wish list (they’re just going to “phase it in” on us). Even if the city, its taxpayers, and its bond rating could weather the spending spree represented by the school board’s bond proposal, nobody calculated the overall school tax burden when you combine the bond proposal with what we can surely expect in terms of raised operating budgets over each of the next ten years.

  • At September 25, 2008 8:20 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    "I don't have time to explain this to you, but it is a huge problem and you should ask your city councilor to explain it to you if you don't understand it."

    While this could be true, this is a silly response. Either its a problem, or it isn't. If it is, then tell us about it. "Hey, there's a volcano about to erupt, but um, I'm not telling you where." That's great, thanks for the help. FYI, it isn't Haik's job to be an investigative reporter. If you know something, let's hear the details. Otherwise, thanks for nothing. Cuz that's the extent of what you're offering.

    "I don't have time"...
    Jesus, that makes me laugh. You DO have time. We all have time, if it matters.

  • At September 26, 2008 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When someone is impatient and says, "I haven't got all day," I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day? George Carlin

  • At September 26, 2008 11:44 AM, Blogger JayV said…

    Love the Carlin quote. Cheers.

    Bill Keogh put out this in the FPF for my neighbourhood:

    At the City Council meeting on Monday night, I voted to support putting on the November ballot the proposed School Bond issue of $92-million. I did not want the City Council itself to say "no" to the issue. I wanted the voters to make that decision, not the Council. I also made clear that I thought it unlikely that the voters would pass the school bond, especially during these economic times.

    Having said that, our schools are in decrepit condition as we know, and badly need fixing. As in much of our City infrastructure, officials have not addressed capital improvements thus avoiding possible tax increases.

    The City administration, the Council and the School Board will now have to come up with some plan to upgrade the conditions of our schools. Continued neglect is not an option. Look for a proposal on the March ballot.

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