Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says city paving projects may be impacted by rising material costs, and also that it will take years to hire more police officers even after City Council recently raised the staffing cap to 87.
“We have had less paving this summer than in recent years for a couple of reasons,” the mayor said this week on the “Morning Drive” radio show with Marcus Certa and Kurt Wright.
“The biggest reason being, we went out to bid at the beginning of the season and just got absolutely crazy pricing back from the market, in the middle of the what I think are the supply chain issues that are going on now and the labor shortages that are going on now,” Weinberger said.
“We’re going to have to spend basically twice what we have spent in the past for asphalt and it didn’t seem like a wise use of those dollars,” he added.
The mayor said he expects to see a “major investment in our roadways” for next year. He explained that the bidding processes for road construction begin early in the season so voters can expect bonding votes by December.
According to a report from AsphaltKingdom.com, inflation of asphalt prices could continue to challenge municipal budgets well into 2022. There is also a concerning report regarding the availability of labor for the construction field.
As another part of the discussion, the hosts turned to the ongoing police staffing shortage facing the city as a result of a 2020 decision by Burlington City Council to lower the cap on police officers 30 percent, down to 74.
Weinberger noted it was an important step in the right direction for the City Council to vote last week to raise the officer headcount cap.
“At long last, the council finally acted correctly to raise the officer-authorized headcount back up to 87, which is squarely within the range that I’ve been calling on,” Weinberger said. “ … From the moment they in a rushed a three-day process announced a 30 percent cut to the police department, this is right where I’ve been saying we should be.”
He also said the damage has already been done and it could take years for the Burlington Police Department to fill in those positions.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, we have a long road ahead,” he said. “What this says is we can hire up to 87 officers. We’re at 68 right now and we just hired our first new officer in almost two years.”
In the meantime, crime is up. Weinberger expressed frustration that the council didn’t have more foresight in their initial decision to cut 30 percent of the force.
“I’ve always believed in that phrase ‘you measure twice, you cut once,'” he said. “What the council did here was they cut first before they took any measurements at all.”
Meanwhile Church Street, the popular pedestrian shopping center that stretches through downtown, continues to see increased crime.
“We’ve got a real problem and Chief [Jon] Murad and I have been sounding concerns about this problem for months now,” he said.
He noted that critics of the police have attacked him and Murad as “fearmongering,” even as data shows gun violence in the city is up several times the typical annual average.
One caller commented on the local court system’s apparent inability to get professional help to those who repeatedly get in trouble with the law.
“I have to agree with the caller that we have huge systemic issues that go well beyond what the city of Burlington alone can address with respect to our criminal justice and our mental health systems,” he said. “These are chronic issues that we have known about for a long time. It does feel to me that right now, coming out of the pandemic, these pressures and the problems are worse than ever.”