More budget changes proposed
New spending plan includes restoration of city pay cuts
PETERSBURG — Consultants working for the city have crafted a revised operating budget for the current year that they say will have something no Petersburg budget has had for at least 10 years – balance.
At a City Council work session this week, representatives of the Robert Bobb Group presented their proposal for a second amended version of the city’s 2016-17 general fund budget, incorporating new information that has come to light since council members in September approved major revisions to the budget that was originally passed last spring.
Headlining the new proposal: rollback of a 10 percent pay cut put in place in August after a team of experts from the state Department of Finance and two private financial firms warned City Council that the city’s finances were in major disarray, with a roughly $12 million deficit built into the 2016-17 budget and nearly $19 million in unpaid bills remaining from the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Public safety workers will see their pay restored first, according to the Bobb Group’s interim city manager, Tom Tyrrell. “In our proposal, the 10 percent pay cut of police, fire and emergency management communication services employees will be restored with the April 7, 2017 payroll, and the remainder of the city employee pay cuts are scheduled to be restored no later than July 1, 2017,” Tyrrell said.
Tyrrell and another Bobb Group employee, Interim Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Nelsie Birch, said the original 201617 budget and the September changes suffered from a problem that has plagued the city for at least a full decade: forecasts of revenue and tax collection that were “not realistic.”
Last year alone, Tyrrell said, “We overspent ... by approximately $2.8 million and revenues underperformed by $6.7 million.”
The new budget forecasts revenue and spending this year to equal each other at $68.4 million, down from expected revenue of $70 million and planned spending of $69.8 million in the original budget, but higher than the projected $64.8 million in revenue and $61.8 million in spending in the amended budget from September.
Some of the additional funds will come from funds that were allocated but not spent in past years.
City Council is expected to vote on Jan. 17 to appropriate about $5.1 million to a variety of programs from stepped-up building code enforcement to public schools to the police and fire departments, restoring some of the funds that were cut in the September budget changes.
Funds from the city’s 2012-13 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) totaling $465,000, originally allocated to Centre Hill Mansion, will be used instead to fund building code enforcement, sidewalk repairs and improvements, and the Virginia Main Street economic and community development program.
Funds amounting to $197,000 from the 201415, 2015-16 and 2016-17 CDBG programs, originally earmarked for various Petersburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority initiatives, will now go to improvements to Sycamore Towers, the housing authority-owned senior and disabled housing facility on South Sycamore Street.
The majority of the reallocated money comes from interest previously earned on proceeds from Petersburg bonds issued through the Virginia Resources Authority. City Council in November approved the allocation of a total of $4.69 million to high-priority capital projects.
The Bobb Group is recommending these specific appropriations from that pool of money: about $81,000 to Petersburg City Public Schools, $500,000 to General Government, $3.5 million for public works, $500,000 to the Police Department and $143,000 to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
Robert Bobb Group founder and President Robert C. Bobb Jr. emphasized “the urgency of our recommendations and that everyone will be accountable for his or her actions. We will institute performance metrics to prevent further crises from occurring in the future. This is a crucial process for Petersburg and it needs to be done correctly. A good budgeting process is the Super Bowl for government entities.”