Category Archives: Budget

City Hall’s 60 Million Dollar Spending Spree

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Let the quibbling begin! This week we learned Richmond’s Mayor had scored big. He negotiated a deal with the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) for $60 million. The money is a decades-old debt, owed to the city from when the Downtown Expressway was built. It was supposed to be repaid in 2022 when the road was officially turned over to the city. Jones got it much earlier than expected and kicked off a welcome “firestorm.” Everyone has an opinion on what to do with the money.

Which brings us to today. Three city council members called for a press conference. It was clear, the mayor’s announcement of the money and some of his ideas for spending it had hurt some feelings. Marty Jewell wondered  aloud why the Mayor hasn’t yet asked for council member opinions on how it should be spent. It was clear today, we’re in for a long debate over how the money should be budgeted.

The mayor made said on Tuesday, he believes some of the money should go to the communities that were pushed aside when the Expressway was built.  He’s targeting poverty and believes several projects in those area would boost the tax base and spur development. He’s made suggestions about helping build a new ball park and re-paving areas like Jeff Davis Highway.

Reva Trammell, Marty Jewell and Bruce Tyler focused on Richmond’s historically high tax rates. Trammell says the city should find ways to lower the admissions tax, meal’s tax and real estate tax. Tyler added, “At the end of the day we have to figure out a way to reduce taxes so that we can take the burden off the citizens.”

Jewell said, “clearly there are a lot of needs. Some of his approach (the mayor) makes sense, but then there are other ideas. We’re not short of them on council.”  Trammell added, “The money belongs to the citizens of Richmond, not the mayor, not the council.”

Council President Kathy Graziano was not a part of the press conference. She said today that the city should be cautious with the money; spending as much time “saving it” as spending it.

Now the city doesn’t actually get any of this money until at least November and you probably won’t see it budgeted until the 2012-13 budget cycle. So, there’s several months for the mayor and council to get together and work out a plan.

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Mayor Wants New Budget Deadline

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

It seems like I need an office at City Hall because I’m about to start spending a lot more time in the building. Fall proposals and deadlines are ramping up and budget time is already here. Mayor Dwight Jones officially began the process today, by asking City Council members for more time to put together his 2011 budget.  He said, “This will be the first, truly, outcome based budget that Richmond has ever had. We’re not just putting numbers together. We have goals and priorities to meet.”

The Mayor is asking the council to allow him to present his final budget proposal on April 7th. By law, the council has to pass a budget by May 31st. The  mayor is also offering to hold more joint meetings with council members during the budget process.

Councilman Marty Jewell says he doesn’t mind extending the Mayor’s deadline. He said, “It’s a good idea. Usually we wait until February/March to get his budget. Well, this way we’re able to input into that budget all year-long.”

Council member Chris Hilbert says he’s concerned about not having enough time. He said, “This is a big, thick, document that we have to go through line by line and we owe it to the taxpayers to be able to deliberate over that.”

Bruce Tyler also says April 7th is too late to wait for the budget report. Tyler added, “It’s going to be very difficult for us to ask questions and get good answers back. So, I believe we need to roll it back to the traditional date.”

City Council members will have the final say on this issue. The mayor must formally submit the proposal and it must be approved by the council.

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The Devil is in the Details…

Rachel DePompa – bio | email   

Sure, there are no new taxes in the Mayor’s proposed budget. And there are no major cuts to services, but that doesn’t mean the city’s budget situation won’t hit taxpayers in the wallet. Jones is calling for rate increases for natural gas, water and waste water.

If his proposal is passed by city council the water rate would rise 4%, and the gas and waste water fees would rise by about 2%.  So what does that mean in dollars and cents????

Average Monthly gas bills would go from $91.96 to $92.79 …. difference-83 cents

Average Monthly water bills would go from $29.17 to $29.32….. difference 15 cents

Average Monthly waster water bills would go from $44.18 to $44.40…. difference 22 cents

 The city says the increases are necessary because of  increased state and federal regulations as well as capital needs of the utilities systems. (Translation: that means because of the economy.)

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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.

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Wilder Sighting and Budget Woes

Rachel DePompa – bio | email      

Catching Up with Wilder:   

Yes, you read that headline right! I ran into former Richmond Mayor and Virginia Governor Doug Wilder today. I don’t have a lot to report, but I can tell you… He says he’s doing well, enjoying teaching, (he doesn’t miss his old job) and he’s working on a book that should be out later this year.  

On To Bad News Monday:  

I knew I was doing a budget update today, but the news just seemed to get worse as the  morning progressed. (I’ll start with the good news) The city’s projected budget shortfall for this year is far less than expected. It was thought to be at $10 million, but now is estimated to be $2.8 million.  Mayor Dwight Jones says, “This is largely a result of unanticipated improvements in real estate and sales tax performance as well as a better picture of State Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT).”    

Now to the bad news…. Next years budget is far worse than expected. There’s already a $30 million budget gap and that number could grow. Furloughs, position eliminations, layoffs and cuts to services are all on the table. Councilman Bruce Tyler told me today, “Yeah, there are going to be tough choices but quite frankly, I’ve watched fellow collegues have to go through that and it’s time for the city to do the same.” Council President Kathy Graziano said, ” The Individual is in the same boat as the government. Two years ago you went out to dinner three nights a week and had a great time. Now you don’t go out to dinner. Governments are in the exact same boat.” She went on to say, “It’s tough times. The money’s not there and we’ve got to figure out how we can best spend our resources.” Mayor Jones has also asked for more time to get his budget recommendations together. He normally presents his plan to City Council on March 5th, but he’s asking for an extra month so he can get a better handle on what the General Assembly does with taxpayer money.  

 And just when I thought I was done with budgets for the day, I went to see school Superintendent Yvonne Brandon who was delivering difficult news to teachers and parents today. She say the school system is $14 million in the hole for the 2011 budget and that number could grow to $23 million depending on what the General Assembly decides. She says every single RPS employee will have to be furloughed at least a day, possibly three. I learned today that one day of furloughs at RPS equals $900,000. Brandon says she’ll do everything she can to avoid layoffs. Classroom sizes will also increase by at least one student. Brandon will deliver her recommended budget cuts to the School Board next Tuesday. Both the Mayor and Superintendent will then seek public input on the cuts. It’s going to be a long couple of months at City Hall….    

 

   

   

    

    

   

  

 

 

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Filed under Budget, City Council, Doug Wilder, Dwight Jones, Richmond Public Schools

Top Ten Richmond Stories of 2009

Rachel DePompa – bio | email   

Back from vacation and ready to work. Well, for three days. Then I’m off on vacation again! In the meantime, our Henrico County reporter Andy Jenks was asked to name the top 10 stories of 2009. A difficult task I think he aced. His top stories covered our entire viewing area, so I’ve decided to ride his coattails and post the top stories for the city this year. My criteria was simple… the story must have happened in the city’s borders and must be a talker!  Here goes….

10. Burglar Shot and Killed in Union Hill: This one hits criteria number two right away. A Virginia Union student shoots and kills a man breaking into his girlfriends car. Eric Driver is eventually charged with murder and instantly sparks a gun debate over whether or not you have the right to protect personal property. His case goes to trial in February.

9. CenterStage/Miller and Rhoades Open: Two Richmond landmarks are open again. Miller and Rhoades is now a hotel and condos. The project was years in the making and has sparked the revitalization of Broad Street. CenterStage soon followed. Also years in the making, it will be interesting to see what the venue does for arts in the River City.  

8. Storm Water Utility Fee: They said no new taxes… but this new utility fee certainly has become one. Homeowners on average pay about 45 dollars a year. Businesses on the other hand face stiffer charges. We’ve seen some bills in the thousands. The fee is designed to help pay for future storm water projects. Now, there are rumblings that the City Council may revisit this idea.

7. The City’s Budget: The good news.. no layoffs this year at City Hall. The bad news… we’re now 10 million in the hole. The stimulus money got us through, but now some tough choices are ahead at City Hall. This story will carry over into 2010….

6. Shockoe Bottom Development Strikes Out: A baseball stadium in the Bottom? There were no grey areas here. You were either for or against this idea. And the naysayers won out, and the Bottom lost a big chance to grow. Or did the Bottom win because it can choose its own identity? I suspect this healthy debate will rage on for years to come.  

5. GRTC Deadly Accident: A woman walking to work is mowed down by a GRTC bus. She was in the cross walk and had a walk light. The driver was eventually convicted of reckless driving. A sad story that turned tabloid when a local media outlet decided to run a graphic and unnecessary picture of the accident. You can read my thoughts about that in prior blog posts. 

 4. Vacant Properties and Richmond Slumlords: In a down economy, you expect to see some blight and down trodden areas. But, the attention vacant properties are getting this year deserves a nomination. Lets see??? We have Oliver Lawrence going to jail and then having to serve part of his sentence in one of his rundown properties. You have my Don Lacey investigation: a former Henrico County cop and real estate agent accused of bilking dozens of Richmonders out of millions. His vacant properties line Richmond’s East End. And then there’s the new legislation being considered by City Council to give people tax breaks for building on vacant lots or for fixing up old homes. And don’t forget the new slumlord website which calls out bad property owners.

3. Wilder Out/Jones In: This story technically happened in late 2008 with the election, but Jones didn’t take office until January. Anyways, Jones jump to the helm of this city is a complete 180 from what we had just one year ago. Though, it makes my job a little more boring, I’m sure residents are grateful for the calm at City Hall. The City Council and the Mayor actually get along. We’ve had no knock down/drag out fights. If there’s a disagreement, it appears to be worked out rather than stonewalled or fought in the media spotlight. All I have to say is this… What a difference a year makes?!?!

2. Squirrels Crack Richmond: (Baseball is back) After a year without a team, it was  nice to have some good news to report. And this new ownership group has really gotten people excited about baseball again. Even if you don’t like the team name or the logo, you were probably interested in knowing what it was going to be. My twitter page went NUTS the day the team decided on a logo. Let’s just see if that enthusiasm continues to opening day.

1. #Ukropalyse: No other story gave me such a headache this year! 🙂 (that’s why it gets my number one vote!) Also, no other story generated more emails to my inbox, twitter messages and secret phone calls and anonymous sources. With more than 3,000 employees in the area and a shopper in every household, people wanted every bit of information they could get on this Richmond icon. Six months of rumors became news headlines. And just before the New Year, we have the end of an era. Ukrop’s sold its stores to Royal Ahold.

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Filed under Baseball, Blogging, Budget, CenterStage, City Hall, City Hall Talk, Doug Wilder, Dwight Jones, Election, Martin's Food Markets, Ukrop's

Richmond’s Budget Problems: 10 million in the hole

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Update: Friday Nov. 20th: Met with the city’s Deputy Chief of Finance today, Marcus Jones. Nice guy. He’s been on the job for about 3 months now and walked into a tough budget.  The city’s already trimmed 25 million from its budget. Now its facing another 10 million dollars in cuts. The city’s already made the tiny cuts to get by… this time there may have to be some real meat. Not good news. Service and jobs could be on the table. The mayor has given his finance people until mid-December to come up with a viable plan. Update end.

The state just released a bleak financial picture and a day later… Richmond follows. The city is facing a $10 million dollar budget shortfall. It’s actually not too bad considering the city has a $1.5 billion dollar overall budget. The mayor cites reductions in state funding and a drop in sales tax revenues as the reason for the shortfall.  Mayor Dwight Jones says, “The entire nation has been experiencing lingering effects of the recession and Richmond is no exception. A number of key revenue sources weakened in FY 2009, and they are continuing to falter in the current year (FY 2010).  Moreover, we have to be realistic and assume that the ripple effects will continue into FY 2011.”

The main reason for the lower than project revenue is the decline in the sales tax collections. Local sales revenues are 7.9 million less than projected and the state share is down $1.9 million. Another $2.6 million of the shortfall is a direct result of the state’s budget cuts announced in September 2009.

The Chief Deputy of  Finance will speak before Council Vice-President Ellen Robertson’s Finance Committee meeting  tomorrow at 4:00 in City Council chambers. He’s going to go over the shortfall and how the city is planing to handle it.  Sounds like I’ll be following up on this tomorrow.

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