BURLINGTON, Vt. – Mayor Miro Weinberger’s 2021 budget plan proposes to reduce funding for the Burlington Police Department by more than $1 million and to increase spending on social services.
The plan unveiled Monday cuts spending on police by $1.1 million, or 10.2 percent, while reducing the number of officers from a maximum of 105 to 93. Parking enforcement would also be shifted over to the Department of Public Works.
It would be a 10.2 percent drop in the police department’s overall budget, and would decrease its maximum number of officers from 105 to 93. Weinberger proposes to put $300,000 toward a new fund for racial equity and police transformation, with the remaining $800,000 toward reducing the deficit.
Weinberger said a study conducted with the Burlington Police Commission would determine whether the cuts would be made permanent.
“I’m also thinking its important this study evaluate police department culture and the degree to which it does or doesn’t align with Burlington’s values,” he said.
The funding shift would create a second position in the Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and move responsibility for mental health calls from police to social service professionals. The city would develop an action plan with the Howard Center by July 15 for what Weinberger called ‘chronically underfunded’ social services.
He stressed that other funding sources will need to come into play.
“It can’t just be city dollars that are funding this,” Weinberger said. “It never has been that way, generally local dollars are only used for social services in a very limited way. I’m willing to push the envelope on that and make some additional investments that haven’t typically been seen as local investments given the urgency of this moment and need for transformation.”
The budget was slated for discussion at Monday’s City Council meeting, but hundreds of residents called to weigh in during public forum, using most of the meeting’s time. City Council President Max Tracy said that at one point, 967 people were waiting to speak during the public forum.
An overwhelming majority of residents called on the city to do more.
“Taxpayers are paying millions of dollars that could be going to education, cleaning up the water, all kinds of social services, and instead are paying for the violence of the police,” said Jabari Jones.
“We cannot tolerate officers who constantly see civilians, especially people of color, as a threat to society and therefore enforce police brutality,” said Fabiola Mujomba.
The city has projected a budget shortfall of roughly $10 million caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, Weinberger’s budget seeks to maintain core city services while putting off the new taxes that voters approved in March.
The new initiatives listed in the budget are limited to racial equity, the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency.
In addition to unveiling the 2021 budget on Monday, Weinberger also announced several mayoral actions to advance racial equity and public safety. He’s expected to declare that racism is a public health emergency, which will include new resources and partnerships to address it.
He also called for transformation at the Vermont Police Academy to make it a progressive institution directly accountable to the governor.