Items for the November ballot

Its been widely acknowledged that given the increases in fuel prices, especially oil, it will be a challenge this winter for many Vermonters to heat their homes. Burlington will not be immune to this problem, despite a much higher percentage of households that heat with natural gas compared to the rest of the state. The states fuel assistance program, which can be reached at 1-800-479-6151, may be able to help. Under the States program there are income and resource guidelines which must be met to receive assistance. Programs exist that also provide emergency or crisis fuel assistance. The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity administers the Crisis Fuel Assistance program in Chittenden County, and can be reached at 1-800-287-7971 (after-hours coverage is 1-800-287-0589). CVOEO also administers the WARMTH program, another emergency fuel assistance service. Applying for the States non-emergency fuel assistance program is required before applying for emergency programs. We know that even with these programs, there will be an ongoing need for fuel assistance. Vermonts congressional delegation has continued to fight hard for a funding increase in LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program). This is one area where the federal government must step up with additional funding. The state should recognize that some households not meeting the fuel assistance income guidelines could still be eligible depending on what fuel source they use. Burlington is also preparing for a possible increase in people heating their homes with space heaters or ovens, and resulting private and public safety issues related to fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. I hope that those who need fuel assistance will apply for help, and that the state and federal government are able to ensure that no one in Vermont goes cold this winter. Street funding increase on November ballot Last winter was especially hard on the citys streets, with several freeze-thaw weather events. The Burlington Department of Public Works worked through the spring and summer to identify and address several areas of need. Even with the continued loss of infrastructure funding at the state and federal level, DPW completed several significant projects to improve the streets. This included work on major streets such as Willard, North Avenue, Winooski Avenue, Pine and Park streets, and several smaller streets across the city. This roadwork was accomplished in part by a one-time allocation of $ 500,000 added to the street fund. In order to address current and future street infrastructure needs, the City has proposed a general obligation bond and property tax increase to be voted on in the Nov. 4 election. The bond would be for 5.5 million dollars (an estimated property tax obligation of 1.17 cents per $100 of assessed value) and the tax dedicated to street work would increase from a maximum of 4.17 cents to 6.17 cents per $100 of assessed value, for a total 3.17 cent tax increase. The city council approved placing the bond and property tax questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. Its clear that we need to apply more resources to our street infrastructure. The increased funding will allow the city to improve the condition of streets and will save city residents money in the long run, by addressing infrastructure needs sooner, rather than paying the cost of deferred maintenance in the future. Parks funding proposal needs more review Another question that will be asked on Nov. 4 is a dedicated tax for parks department capital needs. I recognize that parks facilities have capital needs like other areas of the city. This proposal, which would dedicate a penny increase on the municipal tax rate for capital improvements for parks department facilities, should have been reviewed more thoroughly before going on the ballot. The city undertakes an annual analysis of capital needs across the city and prioritizes those needs according to available funding in the capital needs fund which is primarily funded with a $1 million annual bond and grants. The parks department is routinely part of this process. Over the last 10 years, the city has invested over $7 million in Parks facilities and infrastructure including $2.5 million in the bike path, $1 million in the conservation Legacy program, nearly $1.7 million in improvements to the greenbelt, and most recently $1.5 million in improvements to the Gosse Court Armory and Leddy Arena including the dedication of $250,000 per year in bond funding over the past four years. An alternative to dedicated funding for parks capital needs would be to increase the current $1 million annual bonding authority of the city for capital Improvements. It is a more sensible, efficient and cost-effective approach to consider all of the citys capital needs together. Bob Kiss is the mayor of Burlington, Vt. His column apears regularly in the Times Sentinel.

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