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Public Hearing Wednesday on Chesterfield’s $800M Budget Proposal

Chesterfield County
The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors will be holding a public meeting on next year’s proposed budget this Wednesday starting at 6pm. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM News)

The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors will be holding a public meeting on next year’s proposed budget this Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m. 

The budget rings in at just over $800 million -- $806,834,200 to be exact. 

It’s an increase from the final adopted budget of 2021 of almost $85 million, higher than prior increases, but with an important caveat: It includes restoring some $50 million in funding cut last year in a quick reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those cuts were made in anticipation of the ripple effects of the pandemic: lockdowns, job losses and business closures. Officials prepared for the worst.

“The unemployment claims that came in towards the end of March through the middle of April. I mean, it was almost depression-like,” said Joe Casey, county administrator, in an interview with VPM. “Fortunately, [It] wasn't a banking crisis, it wasn't a residential [or] real estate crisis.”

It was an unprecedented situation, and Casey says they reacted fast: 

“As you recall, [It] was just unbelievable. So we took a very conservative and safe approach coming out of that.”

But those cuts came at a high price to residents, including worker furloughs, a spending freeze, pausing training programs and closing county libraries.

In December, officials went through three fiscal years of analysis to find a way to restore those programs while keeping spending sustainable. This time, they had real-world data on the pandemic’s impact.

Casey called that level of planning unprecedented, saying, “I've never seen anything before [where] we actually talk about three years in one meeting in December.” 

The deputy county administrator for finance and administration, Matt Harris, said the current proposed budget should be looked at like a two-year budget increase; it's like “looking at two years worth of growth in a single budget.”

Where Is the Money Going?

The bulk of the more than $800 million budget will be transferred to schools, with much of that going toward fully funding a new teacher pay structure. It’s an $18 million increase over the current budget. “[It’s an] unprecedented period of investment in schools and school facilities. Nothing like on record,” Casey said.

That also funds 15 full-time school positions, such as teachers for English as a Second Language.

A similar new pay structure for public safety employees was approved by the board earlier this year. Harris said, “with those payment plans, that’s like $37 million of the bulk.”

What About the Real Estate Tax Rate?

One of the main questions citizens have asked is will the 95-cent tax rate on property change? 

It won’t, and not for a few more years at least.

The real estate tax of 95 cents is what homeowners pay per $100 of assessed home value. For a home assessed at $100,000, that comes out to $950 tax dollars for the county.

“That is our dominant revenue source, our property taxes, specifically real estate taxes,” Harris said. “And it was a very good year for the home sale activity.”

Homes are selling for more than they were a year ago, and that increase in value means many homeowners will pay more in taxes, although the rate has not increased.

The rate could go lower, Casey said, if the state can take over the cost of jailing over 300 people currently held in county jails.

“That's costing us millions upon millions of dollars,” Casey said, noting that it translates into one to cents of the tax rate. If the state took up that cost, the owners of the $100,000 home would theoretically save $10 to $20 a year at a 94 or 93 cent tax rate. 

Proposed expenses by category.

Tax Relief for Some Residents

Car owners who have an aging car worth up to $1500 will no longer have to pay a personal property tax. The prior cap was $1000, and set by Gov. Jim Gilmore, who left office in 2002.

“That [number] goes back to Governor Gilmore's initial personal property tax relief that those thresholds were set,” Casey said. “So we're simply inflating that to what they are today. [That] takes 14,000 vehicles off of the list that we have to bill. And quite frankly, it's a challenge for some of these households to, you know, pay the bill.”

Other Highlights

The county will also be making big investments in libraries, parks and recreation, and pedestrian infrastructure.

A $52 million capital investment will build two new libraries and renovate two others, while parks and recreation will get $1 million in new staff, the “largest investment in park staffing in over a decade,” per budget documents.

Over $5 million will go into the River City Sportsplex, a major revenue stream for Chesterfield, to increase field capacity, and another $4.5 million will renovate the former Beulah Elementary School into a headquarters for the department and community center.

Another $19 million will go towards sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure to increase neighborhood connectivity.

The public hearing on the proposed budget is this Wednesday at 6 p.m. It’ll be held in the Public Meeting Room at 10001 Iron Bridge Road. Those who want to speak in person will have to follow state health guidelines and seating will be limited. The online commentform is available for people to submit comments ahead of time. The portal will close at 5 p.m. on March 23.

Here’s a link to read the county’s entire budget.

The meeting will be streamed live on the county’s website and YouTube channel.

 

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.