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Petersburg introduces new city manager; $20 million needed to balance budget

PETERSBURG, Va. -- The newly hired city manager for the cash-strapped City of Petersburg seemed confident about turning around the city’s woes, despite a new report that said the city is $20 million away from restoring their rainy day fund.

Aretha Ferrell-Benavides comes to Petersburg from Glenn Heights, Texas, a suburb of Dallas,  where she served as city manager. Benavides was introduced by city council Wednesday.

“Looking at the challenge, it’s great. It didn’t happen over night, I don’t think it will be solved overnight,” Ferrell-Benavides said. "But I believe working together we can do this, and I’m up for the challenge.”

The results of an annual financial report on the city’s books from fiscal year 2016 were presented to city council Tuesday. It found that Petersburg’s rainy day fund is $7.7 million in the negative, and that the city needs to find nearly $20 million to fully balance their general fund.

The report also showed that Petersburg has not maintained a cash balance of $0 every year since 2013, just one of several financial trend auditors labeled as “frightening” in the report.

Also, sources said Virginia State Police investigators spent the past two days at Petersburg City Hall reviewing financial records as a part of their ongoing forensics examination of the city’s finances.

A press conference to address both the audit and forensic examination was cancelled Tuesday after officials said a scheduling conflict was to blame.

Ferrell-Benavides said she was well aware of the financial turmoil the city is in, and that she will spend her first 30 days getting up to speed on the issues and possible fixes.

"I know that there is a need, and we all know there is a need. But I also know we’re going to have to plan this out because all decisions aren’t good decisions, and so we’re going to have to make our decisions very carefully,” Ferrell-Benavides said.

Ferrell-Benavides said she has wanted to be a city manager since she was a freshman in college, when she realized that government impacts everyone. She said Petersburg was the “right fit” for her.

“I’ve jobs in big cities and jobs in small cities. I chose to come here. I looked at this organization and said, ‘I want to help,’” Ferrel-Benavides said.

The Fort Worth native has a total of 25 years of professional experience in city government, including serving as the CEO for the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation and the Assistant County Administrator for Los Alamos County, New Mexico.

She was one of eight finalists for the job, according to city leaders. Ferrell-Benavides takes over July 10.