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City Council Debating More Funding For Police, Affordable Housing

City Hall
Richmond City Hall. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond City Council members are proposing various amendments to the 2022 budget, from salary bumps for police and firefighters to funding for a city-wide financial audit.

The proposed amendments would be attached to a bare-bones $770 million budget proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney in March. Because of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on local tax revenue, Stoney’s proposed 2022 budget includes little new spending or projects. Still, some members of Richmond City Council want to move money around to free up funding for various initiatives.

Three members — Council President Cynthia Newbille, Vice President Ellen Robertson and Reva Trammell — are proposing salary increases for police and firefighters, costing between $1.9 and $4 million.

Brendan Leavy, a detective and president of the Richmond Coalition of Police, said their union has been working with the firefighters union to highlight their low pay relative to other localities in the region.

“What we’re trying to do doesn’t even bring us remotely close to Chesterfield or Henrico [Counties], we’re just trying to institute a new pay plan to fix all of the inequalities of the current pay plan which is broken,” he said.

Leavy said examples of the broken compensation system include veteran officers who still can’t make top pay, a frozen career development program and a history of broken promises related to raises.

The proposed city council amendment to increase police and firefighter pay would be on top of two incremental salary increases, called step increases, already included in Stoney’s proposed budget. In Richmond, the police and fire departments have pay parity and are on the same pay scale. That means their salary increases are tied together.

It’s unclear whether there is enough support among members of City Council to provide the additional raises. Councilmember Michael Jones said he will vote no.

“For me, until we work out what reimagining policing looks like, I just think we are well within our rights to [keep the status quo],” he said.

Jones, along with Newbille and Councilmember Stephanie Lynch, make up another bloc of City Council that would like to direct more funding to the Richmond Public Defender’s Office.

For years, local public defenders have fought for pay parity with prosecutors in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. The city currently provides salary supplements to state-funded employees within the prosecutor’s office, but provides nothing to public defenders. As a result, the employees in the Richmond Public Defender’s Office make 40 percent less on average.

Budget amendments from Jones, Newbille and Lynch would direct an additional $1 million to fund salary increases for Richmond’s public defenders.

“They are like social workers and they are dealing with so much trauma,” Lynch said. “What we put them through is awful and we have a disparate criminal justice system here locally because of it, because no one stays in that office for more than a few years.”

City Council members are proposing to increase funding for a number of other programs and projects, including:

  • $100,000 for “education and outreach efforts” around participatory budgeting (Andreas Addison)
  • $500,000 in additional funding for eviction diversion (Ellen Robertson)
  • $580,000 in additional funding for youth programming/recreation (Anne-Frances Lambert)
  • $150,000 for photo speed ticketing equipment around schools (Stephanie Lynch)
  • $6 million in additional funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Mike Jones)

In order to fund their proposed funding increases, city council members also propose cuts to the budget.

Robertson, who is proposing $4 million in additional funding for police and firefighter salaries, is proposing to eliminate a city program that provides property tax relief for the elderly and people with disabilities. That cut would save the city roughly $4 million. Robertson is also proposing to reduce funding for housing affordable housing that could qualify for matching federal grants by $2.9 million.

Robertson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Other council members are painting with a broader brush when it comes to potential cuts. Councilmember Adreas Addison is proposing to cut funding to the Office of the Press Secretary and Richmond Police Department’s operation budget to 2019 levels, saving about $250,000. Jones is proposing to cut much of the increased funding for city departments in Stoney’s proposed 2022 budget by 34%, freeing up millions for city council’s amendments.

A full list of Richmond City Council’s proposed amendments can be found here. City Council will meet to discuss the amendments beginning Wednesday, April 21.