Mayor Levar Stoney on Monday unveiled his first budget, proposing utility rate increases and additional funding for Richmond Public Schools.
In remarks to Richmond City Council, Stoney prefaced his proposal by painting a picture of a city with needs long-neglected. “Let me be clear: This is a budget that is built on very limited resources. Our brief time in office has unearthed a stark reality, that for years we have not provided for the true needs of our city. It runs the gamut,” Stoney said, reading from prepared remarks.
Stoney’s $681 million proposal includes:
- $6.1 million in additional funding for Richmond Public Schools. Stoney said the sum would be “earmarked” for teacher salaries and retention. The Richmond School Board adopted a budget in February asking for $20 million in additional funding from council, meaning that if Stoney’s proposal passes as is, the board must cut $15 million. Asked about the gap afterwards, Stoney said he made clear what funds he could allocate to schools before the board passed its budget.
- $2.3 million for the Richmond Police Department and Richmond firefighters for staff retention. Said Stoney: “We are bleeding police officers and firefighters, and frankly teachers as well, into Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties. This budget keeps them competitive with their counterparts in the surrounding counties.”
- One-time funding of $2 million for the installation of a new phone system in City Hall. The Jones administration budgeted money for half of the new system during his second term, said finance chief Lenora Reid. The money will come from surplus funds at the end of the current fiscal year, Stoney said. Additional surplus funds – about $700,000 – will be used for alley repairs and grass cutting, he added.
- $500,000 to hire six workforce development staffers to grow the Office of Community Wealth Building.
Stoney’s administration weighed increasing various city taxes to generate revenue. He sought public input through a poll paid for by his political action committee, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported. The mayor ultimately decided against tax hikes, he told reporters after his remarks. “I think we’ve got to show the people of the city that they can be confident in the city government before we ask for more …” Stoney said.
Currently, the city collects 96 percent of the real estate taxes it’s owed annually. Stoney pledged to increase the collection rate to 97 percent, which would generate an additional $2.4 million annually. He also proposed a two-month grace period beginning July 1 for citizens with delinquent tax bills to settle overdue balances. The mayor estimated that would bring in another $2.4 million.
Under the mayor’s proposal, residents would see utility rate hikes. The average monthly utility bills would rise about $6.75. The breakdown: $1.77 per month more for gas (3.5 percent); $2.14 per month more for water (5.75 percent); $2.65 per month more for wastewater (5 percent) and 19 cents per month more for stormwater (5 percent). The new revenue would pay for two internal service funds in City Hall, one for technology and another for risk management, Stoney said.
Additionally, the mayor is proposing the city’s public works department handle bulk trash pickup and leaf collection differently. He proposed a $2.50 fee to raise about $2 million in new revenue, which will pay for eight trucks and 15 workers. The caveat: Residents must bag their own leaves under the new system.
Chris Hilbert, the North Side 3rd District representative and president of council, said the ball is in council’s court now.
“At the end of the day, this is math. We either increase our revenue or decrease our expenses,” Hilbert said. “That’s the only way to get to that balanced budget.”
Council must adopt the city budget by May 31.