Mayor Stoney says $715M City budget reflects ‘difficult choices’

RICHMOND, Va. – Mayor Levar Stoney presented his biennial budget proposal for 2019 and 2020 to City Council Tuesday, saying that the proposed $715.2 million budget for the coming year is fully balanced, and all expenses are in line with current revenue projections.

This proposed budget was $34 million more than the mayor’s first proposed budget in 2017 and expanded past the previous year’s focus of improving trailing city services and public education.

“This is a fiscally responsible and lean budget, but this plan still manages to continue to invest, and even improve and expand upon our support for targeted priorities in core services, public safety, poverty mitigation and education,” said Mayor Stoney.

"While we have seen growth in some revenue sources we have also seen declines in other, and increases in mandated expenditures such as retirement, health care and debt service," Stoney said. "So this should be no surprise, difficult choices had to be made."

Stoney said that many agencies will have a reduction in their proposed operating budgets compared to their current budget, and that there are many organizations providing vital services that will not be supported in his non-departmental budget.

The mayor did not elaborate when asked by CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit where cuts will be made. The 606-page document posted online shortly after the mayor's presentation.

One change that will effect a majority of Richmond residents is the proposed  reduction in water rate by Department of Public Utilities. The agency also proposed a rate increase of 3.25 percent for natural gas customers, effective July 1.

However, for the first time in many years, the utility recommended a reduction in the water rate for all single-family residential customers for the first 400 cubic feet of water they use.  This so-called "lifeline” water rate rewards the customer for decreasing water usage.  Beyond fixed costs, customers will pay for the amount of water they use.  DPU estimated that the average residential customer will see a $3.70 decrease in their bill. The gas service is expected to increase a customer's bill by about 40 cents.

The following are some highlights from the proposed budget, released by the City:

  • Reinvestment of $12.5 million of Richmond Public Schools balances to meet local funding requests for 2019
  • $3.3 million in funding to continue the salary decompression and step pay increases instituted last year for both police and firefighters
  • An additional $1 million toward the paving program to pave an additional 20 lane miles for the improvement of neighborhood streets
  • A reduction in the water rate for all single family residential customers (meaning the average residential customer will see a $3.70 decrease in their bill)
  • Creation of a new Department of Citizen Service and Response to oversee the 311 Call Center
  • Creation of a new Performance Management Office to track the implementation of key priorities and help grow a culture of accountability and success
  • Creation of a new Department of Housing and Community Development from reallocation of resources from the Office of Economic and Community Development
  • Four new positions for the Richmond Police Department dedicated to serving the needs of public housing communities
  • An investment of more than $630,000 in a pilot program with the Department of Parks and Recreation to extend hours of operation at six recreation sites
  • A substantial increase in the investment in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, from $731,000 in 2018 to $1 million per year in fiscal years 2019 and 2020
  • Increase funding for Richmond Behavioral Health Authority by $733,000
  • Free, on an unlimited basis, bus rides for every Richmond Public high school student provided by the Greater Richmond Transit Corporation for an entire year
  • At least one full-service, out-of-school time provider for every Richmond elementary and middle school
  • A 1 percent salary increase for non-sworn, non-constitutional officer employees to take effect in January of 2019 and an additional 1 percent increase in 2020
  • Four weeks of paid maternity leave for birth mothers and 4 weeks of paid parental bonding leave for the birth of a child (City of Richmond employees)
  • A budget amendment to include a 1% Cost of Living Adjustment for former City of Richmond employees if the 2018 fiscal year ends with a surplus

“This is a challenge we cannot turn down, and this is a test we must pass – not just to be fiscally balanced and to check all the boxes to meet our financial obligations, but to be creative, ambitious and to invest in our shared priorities: a well-run city, a safer city, a healthy city and a city of opportunity, One Richmond, committed to the promise of a brighter future for all of its residents," Stoney said.

School Board Member Jonathan Young said the mayor's budget was a "slam-dunk win" for RPS students.

"It is creative in not relying exclusively on RPS but instead e.g. invests more money in after-school activities and provides free bus transportation for our students, i.e. a first step in what I would like to see eventually become every high-school student use GRTC to get to and from school," Young said.

The mayor also addressed the progress displayed by city departments over the past year and applauded the accomplishments made by city departments, even with few resources. For example, the tax amnesty period exceeded projections and netted $2.8 million. Additionally, the mayor said that because the 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report was done on time, the city was able to refinance some bond issues, which will save the city nearly $13 million over the next 15 years.

"Our permit office is being revamped and modernized, improving service and turnaround time to make doing business with the city easier," Stoney said.

The mayor also said that the Department of Public Works shattered previous productivity goals by filling 25,000 potholes and repairing 1,600 alleys – the equivalent of 100 lane miles.

And in 2017, the under-resourced RACC improved its save rate from 89 percent in 2016 to  91 percent in 2017.

Read the mayor’s remarks as prepared for delivery here The mayor’s proposed budget is here on the website.