Monthly Archives: March 2010

Breaking Down Richmond’s Budget

Rachel DePompa – bio | email   

It’s here! It’s here! (You’d think I was writing about a new Harry Potter movie hitting the theaters.) Nope! I’m referring to the Mayor’s 2011 proposed Budget. To a journalists it means lots of stories this week. It takes a few days to comb through all the fine print and pages. For now, I’ll give you the quick run through.

No New taxes. No major cuts to service. No furloughs for city employees. (No raises, either) And only 11 layoffs out of more than 4,000 positions. We’d been reporting about a $30 million shortfall. Well, it grew to $34 million. So how did they fill the gap without cutting services? They cut the fat and duplicate services. It looks like Richmond is trying to be more efficient. Mayor Dwight Jones said at the meeting, “We can not tax our way out of this situation, nor can we cut our way out of these financial challenges. We’ve got to implement new strategies that allow the city to weather the storm while positioning ourselves for stronger and sustainable growth.” The mayor called his budget an economic recovery strategy and went on to say, “We’re intentional about trying to change the way city government operates.”

I caught up with City Council President Kathy Graziano today. She said she liked the Mayor’s presentation and hopes, “that working together we can begin to be a city where people say, ‘hey we can get stuff done in Richmond.”

The budget:

*$637.2 million

*Proposes Semi-annual Property Tax payments. (you pay half in January/half in June) Projected to save the city $1.7 million each year. Currently the city borrows upwards of $70 million each year. The two payments will

*Gets tough on Delinquent Parking Fees. There are 47,819 outstanding parking tickets in the last three years on 33,548 plates. The bill totals $3,000,000.

*Adds a $30 Administrative Fee for taxpayers who are late paying real estate and personal property taxes

*Combines city and school plans for a projected savings of $3,000,000. (Currently the two city schools employees are on a different plan) The switch also means premiums will not go up.

*Dissolves the Broad Street Community Development Authority. (Expected to save the city $2.5 million each year)

Council will set the tax rate on April 12th. It currently sits at $1.20 per 100 dollars of assessed value. There are proposals to raise it, but my sources say that won’t happen. The council will vote on the Mayor’s budget on May 24th.

1 Comment

Filed under Budget, City Council, City Hall, Dwight Jones, Uncategorized

Richmond: Googled and Going Green

Rachel DePompa – bio | email   

I have to say, this taste of Spring has been much-needed. I was able to do a story today on the James River. Hoping for another outdoor story tomorrow! On to the news of the week….

First, there’s a big court case that could have far-reaching implications in Richmond. A judge is currently deciding whether or not to overturn a City Council vote. No other media outlets showed up! Here’s the link to my story.  

GOT GOOGLE?

Richmond is going after a google line. It’s the hottest project in the country and Richmond is hoping for a piece of the pot. The city announced today it will apply for the Google Fiber for Communities Project on March 26th.  In a news release, Mayor Dwight Jones said, “The city that wins this project will be recognized globally and the impact it will have is the technological equivalent of being awarded the Olympics.”

The project is an experiment to build a ultra-high speed broadband network that will deliver internet speeds 100 times faster than most Americans have access to today. The planned network will offer speeds over one gigabit per second in fiber-to-the-home connections.

You can support the city’s effort by registering on Social Media Networks like  Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/1GBforRVA/364688485652), Twitter: http://twitter.com/1GbForRVA, and http://gigarva.com/

GOING GREEN:

And the city just hired its first ever Sustainability Manager. (a mouthful… and at first glance I was said, “What the heck is that?” Alicia Zatcoff will fill the role. Her job is to help the city develop and implement sustainable green and eco-friendly policies and practices. She’s also hoping to create new jobs in the city. She will work under the Chris Beschler and her job will be to work with city agencies to reduce use of water, electricity, and gasoline. The Mayor said, “As we have already initiated several initiatives to become a greener city by reducing our carbon footprint, this is the right time to appoint a Sustainability Manager.”

3 Comments

Filed under City Council, City Hall Talk, Dwight Jones

Who Should Control Animal Control?

Rachel DePompa – bio | email    

Forget budget cuts and shortfalls! The real question these days at city hall is “who let the dogs out?” I’m kidding about the title, but not the brewing battle. It appears people are very concerned about who is in charge of Animal Control. From day one, the mayor has said he was going to look for ways to streamline government, find savings and increase services. He made headlines a few months ago when he decided to re-organize the Department of Economic Development. His latest proposal may not get through council as easy. His administration wants to abolish the Department of General Services. Then move the 311 Call Center to Public Utilities.  The print shop would go to Information Technology. Fleet management would be headed by Public Works. And then there’s Animal Control. The administration also wants to move it under Public Works. Some are pushing for the department to be headed by the Richmond Police. (Henrico County’s Animal Control is set up this way.) We learned today, the Police Chief is against the idea, so is the Mayor and CAO Byron Marshall. At a council breakfast they said, Animal Control would be better suited under Public Works. They’ve also moved to fill three vacant Animal Control Officer positions and will start getting more information out about the department through the Public Information Officer of Public Works.  

One source tells me this idea could split the council 5-4 and no one seems to know which way that vote would go.Kathy Graziano said today, “The bottom line is not what department does it. The bottom line is do we get the job done?”  At the meeting Byron Marshall, said Public Works would be better suited because it had the resources and man power. He also said better supervision by Public Works could lead to more animal adoptions and even more revenue for the city from people applying for animal tags.  Councilman Bruce Tyler raised the biggest stink today. He questions Public Works’ ability to handle all the new programs. Tyler said, “My biggest concern is that we’re creating a department that’s too big. We’re setting them up to fail.” He went on to say, “This is already one of the city’s largest departments and its track record is not good.” He sighted problems with the tree planting and removal program. He also pointed out the department’s trouble keeping up with Richmond’s pothole filled roads.

CAO Marshall said those problems are real, but are a money issue. He pointed out that the department was underfunded the last five years. And he said in this upcoming budget, the mayor will recommend more funding for Public Works for city roads and new city trees.

2 Comments

Filed under City Council, City Hall Talk, Dwight Jones

Fighting Blight

Rachel DePompa – bio | email    

Did you know 85% of houses in Richmond were built before 1979? Each year the city invests $2 million into code enforcement… aka fighting blight. Did you  know there are 1,400 vacant buildings in the city? I learned a lot today from the city’s latest audit. It’s an eye opener. According to the report the Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Division in the city has some major problems.

There’s no doubt blighted properties ugly up the neighborhood. But several recent studies suggest they do way more than that. It’s called the broken window theory. Studies show that blighted, vacant properties invite illegal activities. They invite crime. The audit as a very interesting diagram that shows high crime areas of the city versus high blighted property areas. You could almost overlap the two and get the same map.

Here are the salient findings from the report:

* PMCED has taken steps to reduce blight through property rehabilitation. However based on available data, auditors were unable to determine the total number of properties rehabilitated or the overall impact of these efforts on the resolution of code violations in Richmond.

* The auditors also found that certain City owned properties and City right of way areas were not in compliance with City code. PMCED must communicate code violations on City owned properties to the appropriate agencies.

* During the audit 46% of requested files could not be located. Some of the files may not have been maintained because inspectors have been instructed to destroy environmental files once abated.

*  Auditors found that 40% of selected vacant properties were not monitored in a timely manner. It is important to monitor vacant and abandoned structures because they invite crime, cause community blight and present potential hazards.

The city declined to comment and said the audit speaks for itself. However, it is noted in the audit that several of the recommendations will be implemented.

PS.. I interviewed the writer of Church Hill People’s News for my story on the NBC12 homepage. Check it out!

2 Comments

Filed under Audit, City Hall