As everyone knows, we have reached the one year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic with its related restrictions and complications. All of us have seen drastic changes in our lifestyles, work habits, and social interactions. With vaccinations now underway, some optimism is appearing for a potential return to more familiar activity. We must all remain diligent and patient until that time.
Like all businesses and organizations, the city had to make significant adjustments to our operations. The first challenge was the immediate loss of revenue in the last quarter of FY20. (March 2020 through June 30, 2020). We projected a budget gap of $400,000 for that short period of time. Through furloughs, project delays, equipment delays, and open vacancies, we managed to close the fiscal year with a very slight $4,000 positive budget balance.
The quarterly shortfall was even more pronounced as we moved into the current fiscal year 2021. The city council approved a budget mitigation plan designed to close a projected $1.5 million gap for a full year. This required more project and equipment delays, continued furloughs through the summer, holding vacant positions open, reducing purchases, closing programs, and — with great cooperation from our employees — holding back cost-of-living pay adjustments.
All of this led to the preparation of the FY22 annual budget, which was recently voted upon. This budget was 2.5 percent lower than the approved FY21 budget. Once again, a large budget gap due to revenue losses and increased costs had to be overcome.
Over the last year the city has closed City Hall, closed the pool for the summer, suspended recreation and senior center programming, cancelled events, operated with short staff, delayed projects and purchases, conducted remote/virtual meetings, and increased online service delivery. All of this while keeping basic services such as police, fire, ambulance, and public works functioning.
These necessary decisions for now will create some very real challenges in the near future as we seek to catch up from delays and restore programming and services.
Annual Meeting Wrap Up
We congratulate council members Lauren Hierl, Jack McCullough, and Dan Richardson on re-election to their council seats.
I, again, thank the voters of Montpelier for their strong support of the city and school budgets. The city budget had 84.4 percent “yes” votes. This is up 3.7 percent from last year’s 80.7 percent and is the seventh consecutive year that the city budget has received 80 percent or greater support. The school budget received 72.7 percent, slightly down 1.3 percent from last year’s 74.0 percent. This is the sixth straight year of 70 percent or greater support for the school budget. Each year the council and staff struggle with finding the balance between delivering service and presenting reasonable budgets for consideration. We are grateful for your support and will continue to strive to provide the best possible services for you.
A total of 2,842 people voted on the city budget. The actual overall turnout was about 2,950.
Since 1985, this year’s city budget vote total was the fourth highest Town Meeting total. It was, by far, the highest city voter total for a non-presidential primary year. The next highest was 2,385 in 1990 and 2,326 in 2014.
A New “Year”
There are three distinct 12-month periods (years) in the city government world. The first is the obvious calendar year, which tracks with the rest of society. The second is the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30 and is the basis for our budget, accounting, and financial management.
The third, less formal, year is from Town Meeting to Town Meeting. This is the cycle of elections, city council changes, budget approvals, and voter-provided feedback about how the government is doing. Each March, the new city council is sworn in. They revisit their rules of procedure, ethics policy, group norms, committee assignments, and council officers.
One key effort each year is updating and adopting the strategic plan, which highlights the council’s short- and long-term priorities. This discussion will begin in March and April. The current strategic plan along with quarterly progress updates can be found on the city’s website.
The federal government has recently approved a major COVID-19 relief bill. This bill includes significant funding for states, counties, and municipalities. We are anxious to learn the amount of funding Montpelier may receive as well as any restrictions or requirements. Depending on the allowable uses, we hope to fund many of the recently delayed infrastructure projects. There is certainly no shortage of possible uses for this money.
Public Meeting on Community Safety and Policing in Montpelier
Montpelier’s Police Review Committee is seeking community input on public safety and policing in Montpelier. Please attend this virtual public meeting and share your vision for public safety for our community. Your input will help shape the committee’s report to the city council, due June 30, 2021.
Monday, April 5, 2021 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
- Location: Zoom: zoom.us/j/96781976356?pwd=eHduSC9ETnc5SHZocFhZZDZKRmw3Zz09
- Meeting ID: 967 8197 6356
- Passcode: 156959
- Call in: +1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
Background: On October 28, 2020 the Montpelier City Council established a Police Review Committee and charged that committee with:
- Reviewing the historic functions of the Montpelier police department;
- Reviewing modern policing trends and practices, such as those embodied in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and other reference materials;
- Meeting with community stakeholders for feedback on the role and function of the Montpelier Police Department.
- Reviewing existing historic law enforcement data for trends, significant issues, and other observations or conclusions that are relevant to current and future planning and funding of the Montpelier Police Department.
- Reviewing and analyzing the functions of the Montpelier Police Department, its existing policies, and helping create the department’s current strategic plan.
- Compiling the information into a report to be delivered to the city council by June 30, 2021. The report will include recommendations for this committee’s future charge and function.
Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee
The Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee has begun working with the consulting firm Creative Discourses, Inc. to develop information about the community. Creative Discourses has begun holding a series of meetings with city staff members and residents to learn more about the work environment, unintentional biases, community perceptions, etc. Thus far the meetings have been well received by our employees and residents.
For those of you who want to stay abreast of information about city government, there are several ways to do so:
- All meetings of city boards, commissions, committees and the like are open to the public.
- This article in The Bridge is written by the mayor or me and is published monthly.
- The city’s website www.montpelier-vt.org includes news, updates, notices and information about projects as well as agendas, minutes, and other meeting documents. All documents which go to the city council for meetings are posted publicly.
- The City Manager and department heads write a weekly memo to the city council providing updates and information about city activity. This memo is posted for all to see on the city’s website.
- All (or most) council meetings and meetings of major boards and committees are broadcast — and often rebroadcast — on local cable TV.
- All (or most) of the above meetings are both streamed and archived for viewing on the city’s website.
- The city has a Facebook page “City of Montpelier, VT — official”, which posts updates and also links some updates from the website.
- The city has a Twitter account “@VTMontpelier”, which also posts updates and links from the website.
- The city regularly posts items of interest, including council agendas, on Front Porch Forum.
- The annual report, distributed in February, provides an overview of the city government’s year. It is available online or in print at City Hall.
- ALL emergency notifications are issued using VT-Alert. People can receive phone calls, text messages, e-mail, or all. Register for VT-Alert through vtalert.gov or by calling 802-347-0488.
Finally, of course, please feel free to contact me or your elected officials with questions or comments about the city government. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-223-9502. The email addresses and phone numbers for other city officials are available on the web.