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Richmond City Council passes $3B budget for new fiscal year

Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders, Councilmembers Stephanie Lynch, Cynthia Newbille, Mike Jones, Kristen Nye, Reva Trammell, Ann-Frances Lambert, Katherine Jordan and Andreas Addison
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Center: Council President Mike Jones gives remarks during a Richmond City Council meeting on Monday, April 24, 2023 at City Hall.

The city’s finalized budget made few tweaks to what Mayor Levar Stoney initially proposed.

Richmond City Council approved a budget for the 2024 fiscal year Monday night, making few tweaks to Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed budget.

The $3 billion budget is comprised of two parts: the fiscal plan, which covers year-to-year operations and short-term spending, and a 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which funds long-term projects and investments.

“There were not a lot of huge amendments that were made to the budget,” said 6th District Councilmember Ellen Robertson. “The administration came back with a reasonable understanding of the amendments that were asked for. And they agreed to all of our amendments, which is historic in itself.”

The administration addressed many of the councilmembers’ proposed CIP amendments by incorporating them into current batches of funding, according to a presentation given to council in April.

City Council’s 37 amendments to the fiscal plan totaled $3 million, with most going to the council, the inspector general and the city attorney’s office. The amendments also included $384,000 in increased funding for the tax relief program for older or disabled adults.

Half of the $3 million in amendments came in the form of a transfer to debt service to fund planned park improvements. The other funds for amendments will come from earned interest income.

An overwhelming share of items in the budget went unchanged, keeping the mayor’s budget proposal largely unchanged.

Stoney’s letter presenting his proposed budget included six priorities: affordable housing, economic empowerment, equity and economic justice, police reform and public safety, well-managed and efficient government, and youth and education.

“I think this budget offers all Richmonders a better shot,” Stoney said on Tuesday.

On housing, the city will put $50 million over the next five years toward affordable housing and $800,000 to continue an eviction diversion program. At a press conference in March, Stoney said the city needs 23,320 housing units.

For people experiencing homelessness, there is funding earmarked for a new city homelessness services liaison and $1.8 million to support a year-round emergency shelter.

Much of Richmond’s planned temporary inclement weather shelter capacity never went online over the winter, with data indicating that many experiencing homelessness did not seek city services.

“We're looking forward to looking at programming that addresses the full spectrum of housing — from homelessness to homeownership,” said Robertson. “We're working on making that happen.”

Richmond Public Schools and Richmond public safety employees also saw increased funding. RPS will receive a $21.1 million increase in the city’s contribution. Most police officers and firefighters will receive a 5% pay increase, according to a city budget booklet.

This budget also included increases in utility rates: 3.75% for natural gas, 4% for water, 6.5% for wastewater, and 8.75% for stormwater.

The city needs to find $1.3 billion in funding for its combined sewer system. It faces significant challenges to fund improvements and policies to address public and lawmaker demands to address climate change.

Stoney told VPM News that those increases would help fund pay raises for Department of Public Utilities employees, who along with other city employees will receive an 8% raise.

The mayor claimed it was the largest salary compensation increase for employees in decades.

“This is, to us, the cost of doing business if we want to provide world-class service to our residents,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I know folks don't want to pay more. Hell, I don't want to pay more. But if you want a top-class, top-tier service, you have to pay for it.”

Councilmembers are also looking ahead to the possibility of more anticipated unexpected revenues. The schedule in which real estate taxes are projected and collected, combined with rising home values, resulted in higher than expected tax revenues last year.

In budget work sessions this spring, Councilmembers Cynthia Newbille (7th) and Kristen Nye (4th) sought to earmark extra revenues that could come in for retirees and upcoming collective bargaining agreements with employee unions.

“By the time we close the budget out and where we can identify surplus funding, there's still an interest in doing something specifically for our retirees, which we were not successful in getting in this budget,” said Robertson.

City employees are currently organizing for their union elections. Richmond Police are currently voting on which union will represent its bargaining unit. That election ends May 15.

In the interview Tuesday, Stoney didn’t say whether the prospective collective bargaining negotiations played a role in his proposal to raise employee salaries.

“Right now, we know that salaries are not keeping up with all the other costs are out there whether it's food costs, or housing costs,” he said. “We want our residents and our employees to be able to make it in Richmond. In order to do that, you got to invest.”

Virginia’s new fiscal year starts July 1; the passed budget goes into effect on that date.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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