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Henrico hosts public hearing on $1.2B budget

John Vithoulkas speaks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
County Manager John Vithoulkas gives Henrico's State of the County address on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

County Manager John Vithoulkas proposed a number of local investments.

For the second consecutive year, Henrico County has introduced a billion-dollar budget. The county’s Board of Supervisors were first introduced on March 12 to a recommended spending plan and have since conducted several work sessions to learn about the county’s interdepartmental needs.

As outlined, the $1.2 billion general fund budget represents an increase of 8.4%, or $97.6 million, over the current fiscal year’s plan. (Virginia’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.) As County Manager John Vithoulkas said, this budget focuses on as many priorities as possible while maintaining a real estate tax rate of 85 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

“It takes care of our employees and maintains the county’s position as a regional pay leader among local governments,” Vithoulkas said in a statement. “It also expands services through a meticulously planned process to enhance the quality of life for residents.”

Each year, Henrico’s supervisors review the budget department-by-department during several work sessions leading up to its eventual adoptions. These work sessions took place over the past week, according to Board Chair Tyrone Nelson of the Varina District.

Nelson said working with the board’s new supervisors has given new insights to the county’s ongoing needs.

“I mean, we do it every year, but this year is special,” said Nelson. “We got three new colleagues on board so we get to ask different questions, be engaged on some different subjects and you know, it's kind of pushing staff to go back and explain some things that they normally wouldn't have to explain.”

Education and public safety funding

Of the county’s $135 million in operating costs, over $101.3 million will go toward funding education and public safety initiatives in Henrico.

The total budget for Henrico County Public School stands at around $881 million, which is an increase of around 7.7% when compared to the FY24 approved budget. The school system largely prioritizes personnel and community driven initiatives like Henrico CARES — a plan to create an enhanced system of mental health care for youths and their families.

This plan incorporates a number of prevention and early response interventions for children struggling with their mental health as the county’s school system has seen a 42% increase in suicide risk screenings completed by its school-based mental health clinicians, over the past three years, according to school officials.

“In the face of the deepening mental health struggles gripping our youth, urgent action is imperative,” School Board Chair Alicia Atkins said in a statement. “This coordinated, collaborative effort amplifies our abilities to assist and empower families in accessing services, navigating care systems and paving the way for healthy and resilient futures for our children.

This budget also includes over $110 million for maintenance and larger capital improvements like:

  • replacing Jackson-Davis and Longan elementary schools
  • replacing Quioccasin Middle School
  • renovating Charles M. Johnson Elementary School

From the public safety perspective, this budget focuses on emergency service personnel and the cost of new facilities. The county’s fire department is requesting funds for 12 positions to staff soon-to-be Bungalow City Firehouse 23, which is expected to open next winter. It also provides county funds for new and updated technology for the implementation of emergency response systems like Marcus Alert and a crisis intervention team.

Employee retention and tax relief

Henrico is currently experiencing a critical number of vacancies within different departments. Currently there are 528 vacant positions in general government agencies and 607 within the school system, 359 of whom are teaching positions.

As recruiting public service employees becomes increasingly burdensome, the county has seen fit to propose funding a 4.8% merit-based salary increase for all general government and HCPS employees in an effort to retain and attract the workforce.

The total cost of this salary increase is around $56 million — on top of the $156.6 million increase from last fiscal year. The proposed budget also began a multi-year effort to adjust the overtime budgets for Henrico’s fire, police and sheriff departments.

Residents will also benefit from this year's budget in the form of an additional $1.5 million in tax relief for qualifying homeowners through the Henrico’s Real Estate Cap Program (RECAP) and an expansion of the Real Estate Advantage Program (REAP).

In the recommended budget, RECAP caps taxes for participants with an income up to $125,000 and a net worth up to $750,000, excluding the value of the home, all while maintaining the county’s current real estate tax rate.

Additionally, the board of supervisors will consider business tax relief exemptions on the Business, Professional and Occupational License taxes, from $500,000 to $1 million in an effort to augment the commercial office market in the county.

Pouring their heart into the environment and recreation

Henrico’s Environmental Action Resource Team (HEART) will continue to spearhead a number of interdepartmental services that aim to preserve the county’s recreational resources and attractions.

The budget calls for 10 new positions in the Division of Recreation & Parks for Taylor Farm Park and new athletic fields and facilities, including a pickleball complex at Pouncey Tract Park and a shelter and restroom building at Four Mile Creek Park, near the Virginia Capital Trail.

The county’s capital project also calls for $30 million for sidewalk, pedestrian and road projects, much of which is set to be paid for by local revenue allocations from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority.

There will be an additional $110.8 million for bond-funded projects — specifically replacement schools buildings, public safety buildings, drainage projects countywide; a new animal adoption center and a third phase of Tuckahoe Creek Park improvements.

Henrico also plans to invest in its sports and entertainment facilities as the success of the county’s sports and events center attracts record-setting crowds, as well as the expansion of its economic development and community revitalization efforts. It has also earmarked $2 million for neighborhood revitalization projects and $750,000 for the Henrico Investment Program.

As the work sessions conclude on March 21, the board of supervisors will hold a public hearing Tuesday, March 26 where residents will be able to give their input on the county budget. From there, the board anticipates a budget vote on April 9.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.