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Henrico Board Votes on Scaled-Back Budget

Woman standing at podium
Henrico County is anticipating a steep drop in revenue for the coming year. (Source: Charles Fishburne/VPM)

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors’ $1.3 billion dollar budget framework  is almost $100 million less than its pre-pandemic fiscal plan for 2020-21.

They call it a framework, because this budget plan is like no other.

“We are planning for 2021 projections,” said Brookland Supervisor Dan Schmitt. ”We don’t even know the damage we are going to see from Q4, 2020.”

But they are beginning to learn. Occupancy, meals, sales and personal property revenues are projected to be down 49, 32, 24 and 7 percent respectively. But this is just an estimate.

We are asked to predict unknown numbers when we are balancing people’s jobs and tax dollars and we are holding that in the balance,” Schmitt said.

But Schmitt and his colleagues on the board are clear about their priorities.

Deputy Finance Director Meghan Coates said they have given the county staff a list of non-negotiables. Among them: not placing any additional burdens on the taxpayers.

The real estate tax rate will remain unchanged at 87 cents…as it has for 42 years.

Coates said another priority is local businesses. The county wants to help them survive the downturn and thrive in recovery. The county has postponed tax payments and waived penalties for most small businesses until August.

Coates also said the county will protect its workforce of 11,000, with no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts.

And, the board insisted on maintaining core services.  Coates said education and public safety are the “Hallmarks of who Henrico is.”

“So you see very little done by way of reduction in those two areas,” she said.

Meanwhile, Henrico Public School employees will not get their three percent raises, but they will keep their jobs.  There is also a hiring freeze. 

School officials say their budget is largely intact with a total operating budget of $509.9 million dollars, just .9 percent less than the current one.

Andy Jenks, spokesperson for Henrico County Public Schools, said they understand the need for cuts.

”We’re glad that things like our workforce, our health insurance and VRS contributions will be protected,” Jenks said, “That comes because of the partnership that the school board, the board of supervisors and the administrative teams on both sides have.”

The public safety budget is 22% of the operating budget, about the same as this year.  

Overall, the plan includes a $900 million dollar general fund budget for operations.

The county managed it by cutting $100 million dollars from the proposed budget to offset anticipated losses in revenues.

Among the other changes: 

  • A delay of capital projects funded with cash, saving $23 million.  
  • A 5% across-the board reduction in department operations, saving $9 million,
  • Additional targeted cuts for another $3 million.  
  • Filling no vacancies except for public safety, about $6 million.

Schmitt said at the April 14 board meeting it was just a framework and he wanted to be sure constituents understand there will be month-by-month analysis with quarterly adjustments. 

Schmitt said as the pandemic defines a new normal, Henrico and its residents are seeking ways to adjust. And, they have input.

County board members and the administration are getting suggestions from a email at [email protected]. Coates said they have gotten hundreds of emails that continue to come in on a daily basis. She said residents and employees have asked that the county workers keep their jobs and avoid pay cuts. Many have suggested working from home on a regular basis.

Coates also credits those emails for a plan for voluntary retirement, that the county was not originally intending to consider, but is now on the table.

“Staff, early on, sort of wrote-off retirement as a cost-saving initiative,” she said. ”We did not feel like we would have enough people that would take it. But based on the amount of feedback and the number of people reported to that email address that they thought it was something that we could pursue or should pursue, it is absolutely back on the table.”

Voluntary retirement, she said, could reduce the workforce without laying off anybody and could result in an estimated $1.5 million dollar annual savings.

It was an idea that gained traction from Henrico residents, sending in their ideas online in a budget process that has had no precedent.

“We want to make sure this virus and the crisis we’re dealing with doesn’t impede folks ability to participate in the budget process,” said Assistant Deputy County Manager Brandon Hinton.

And, like so many other things that will never be the same, that process in Henrico will be ongoing.  

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