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Stoney to tax increase opponents: Can’t fund schools with ‘fairy dust and GoFundMes’

RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney continues to defend the tax increases included in his proposed 2020 budget as the majority of City Council has come out in opposition to the plan.

Stoney proposed raising the city’s real estate tax by nine cents to $1.29 per $100 of assessed value and to create a 50-cent per pack tax on cigarettes in order to fund Richmond Public Schools and repairs and maintenance for the city’s roads and sidewalks.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported five of the nine councilmembers are either opposed to the proposed increases or consider them too steep. Those five councilmembers are Andreas Addison (1st District), Kimberly Gray (2nd District), Chris Hilbert (3rd District), Kristen Larson (4th District), and Reva Trammell (8th District).

The report added that Councilmembers Parker Agelasto (5th District), Ellen Robertson (6th District), and Cynthia Newbille (7th District) have no position on the proposals until the budget review process has been completed. While Councilmember Michael Jones (9th District) is in support of the increases.

"At the end of the day, we can't fund Richmond Public Schools with fairy dust and GoFundMes. We can't do that. Here's a plan to do so,” said Stoney when asked about the opposition on Tuesday. "When we say no to this plan, we are saying no to funding, fully funding Richmond Public Schools, fully funding the maintenance requests and also saying no to actually fixing the streets and sidewalks in our city."

CBS 6 has reached out to the nine councilmembers about their positions and have gotten responses from several of them.

Craig Bieber, a liaison for Kim Gray said in an email that the councilmember is opposed to any real estate tax increase and added:

"She is opposed to any other tax increases until the City administration and RPS can demonstrate to her that the money in their current budgets is being spent wisely and efficiently.  As the parent of two current RPS students and a School Board member for eight years, she believes that lack of sufficient funding is not the issue.  Throwing more money at the City’s problems is not the panacea.  Rather, the key issues are accountability, leadership, and willingness to make tough choices.  The Mayor’s budget is unimaginative and presumes that City taxpayers are going to tolerate a substantial tax hike on top of double-digit assessment increases."

Addison responded in an email to CBS 6:

"We must begin with improving efficiencies and propose making cuts in City Hall before we pursue any real estate tax increase. The priorities laid out in the Mayor’s budget are crucially important, however we must explore every and all options before increasing taxes," Addison wrote. "I along with the rest of City Council, must get to work to find the best path forward. Our residents have been impacted by the highest tax rate in the region as well as last years increase in assessments. We must find a better way forward."

Jones spoke to CBS 6 by phone and said he supports the Mayor’s proposal because he is for “fully funding schools.” He added that he does not see the real estate tax as an increase, but rather as a restoration to where it was in 2006.

Steven Skinner, the council public information manager, told CBS 6 that "Newbille has no further comment at this time.”

Kiya Stokes, a liaison for Robertson said "She is reviewing the budget, therefore she does not have a position on it at this time."

When asked if council reduced or removed the increases, would he consider a veto, Stoney said it was too early to discuss such a move.

"It's my hope as the process continues that City Council gets on board or show me an alternative,” said Stoney.

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