BURLINGTON, Vt. – During a remote meeting in which city business was largely conducted from home via conference call, the Burlington City Council passed a series of measures aimed at addressing the economic concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
The city’s COVID-19 response plan has five key elements, which were summarized in a memorandum to city council by Mayor Miro Weinberger:
- Provide meaningful relief to Burlington residents and businesses by delaying or waiving certain fees and tax deadlines.
- Take steps to protect the City’s financial health given expected reduction and delays in City revenues.
- Establish the Burlington COVID-19 Resource and Recovery Center.
- Appropriate $1 million of Burlington Telecom revenues toward the costs of addressing this crisis.
- Approve the Emergency Work and Paid Leave Policy (for city employees).
In the memo, Weinberger “dozens if not hundreds” of Burlington businesses face an uncertain future. The outbreak has killed five people in Vermont — four of whom are residents of Burlington Health & Rehab on Pearl Street.
“There are huge questions about how Burlingtonians will pay for food, rent, mortgage payments, and make good on personal guarantees on small business loans,” Weinberger said in the memo. “After enjoying years of strong and stable economic growth, with very little warning, our community finds itself in scary and uncertain economic times.”
Burlington’s COVID-19 Resource and Recovery Center is an online resource that can help residents and businesses get answers to their coronavirus-related questions. Staff will be available from 8 am to 4:30 pm Monday-Friday.
According to Weinberger, the center will help people experiencing homelessness, laid-off workers, renters concerned about housing security, small businesses, volunteers and others.
It’s also being described as a channel to identify gaps in assistance efforts as the pandemic unfolds.
Participating in the council’s public forum over the phone, Charles Winkleman of the Burlington Tenants’ Union said the response plan doesn’t have enough protection for renters.
“If you don’t cancel rent payments, the two options are tenants will go hungry, or they will work and spread COVID. They will be the ones on the front line with no hazard pay and no protection,” Winkleman said. “The emergency order that is being discussed tonight doesn’t come close to enough.”
The resolution originally included language calling on Gov. Phil Scott to suspend evictions, but after a council debate, it was expanded to include calling for a rent freeze among other measures.
The council also urged Scott to issue a shelter-in-place order and a shutdown of non-essential businesses. Earlier on Monday, Scott indicated more measures were inevitable.