Coun­cil OKs bud­get, with tweaks ex­pected

Stoney’s re­vised, $744.1 mil­lion plan passes in split vote

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK ROBIN­SON Rich­mond Times-Dispatch

A split Rich­mond City Coun­cil has ap­proved a bud­get for the up­com­ing fis­cal year that even its sup­port­ers ac­knowl­edged will re­quire rou­tine revision be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic.

“We do know there will be changes; there will be fur­ther im­pact,” said Cyn­thia New­bille, the coun­cil’s pres­i­dent. “This isn’t go­ing to be a one-shot deal.”

Mayor Le­var Stoney cut $38.5 mil­lion from the bud­get he first pro­posed in early March, be­fore the pan­demic took hold. Last

month, he put a re­vised, $744.1 mil­lion plan on the coun­cil’s vir­tual desk. Over ob­jec­tions from some mem­bers, the coun­cil ap­proved that plan on a 5-4 vote dur­ing a re­mote meet­ing held Mon­day night.

Sup­port­ing the bud­get were An­dreas Ad­di­son, 1st District; Stephanie Lynch, 5th District; Ellen Robert­son, 6th District; New­bille, 7th District; and Michael Jones, 9th District.

Op­pos­ing the plan were Kim­berly Gray, 2nd District; Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Chris Hil­bert, 3rd District; Kris­ten Lar­son, 4th District; and Reva Tram­mell, 8th District.

Coun­cil mem­bers who ob­jected to the re­vised plan said it didn’t ad­e­quately ac­count for fall­out from the pan­demic that has prompted wide­spread busi­ness clo­sures and thou­sands of job losses. They said they wanted to de­lay a vote for two weeks to re­view and make ad­just­ments based on newly re­leased fi­nan­cial data from the most re­cent quar­ter.

In par­tic­u­lar, op­po­nents ques­tioned whether an es­ti­mated 10% drop in meals tax rev­enues was re­al­is­tic, given the dam­age the pan­demic has done to the city’s din­ing scene. Eater­ies across the city have closed their doors and laid off staff. Some have said they will not re­open.

Even if the state moves toward a grad­ual re­lax­ing of pub­lic health re­stric­tions, there’s no guar­an­tee res­i­dents will pa­tron­ize the busi­nesses as they did prior to the pan­demic, Hil­bert said. In light of that, he called the meals tax fore­cast “wildly op­ti­mistic” and joined oth­ers in lob­by­ing to de­lay the vote.

“These dev­as­tat­ing eco­nomic times go deeper than what is be­ing pro­posed,” Gray said.

Be­fore the pub­lic health cri­sis, Stoney pro­posed a $782.6 mil­lion bud­get. That pro­posal would have funded 2% raises for city em­ploy­ees and $16 mil­lion in new spend­ing for Rich­mond Pub­lic Schools.

Amid COVID-19, Stoney cut out the raises; $10 mil­lion of the new fund­ing for city schools; and fund­ing for a dozen new po­si­tions planned for the De­part­ments of Parks, Recre­ation and Com­mu­nity Fa­cil­i­ties, An­i­mal Care and Con­trol, Hu­man Ser­vices and the City At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

In the plan ap­proved Mon­day, rev­enue from real es­tate, per­sonal prop­erty, meals, busi­nesses and other tax sources are pro­jected to be 5% to 15% lower than the plan Stoney orig­i­nally pitched.

With busi­ness clo­sures and thou­sands out of work, tax rev­enues from con­sumer sources — meals, sales, ad­mis­sions, lodg­ing — could fall even more, Gray and oth­ers said.

Pro­po­nents of the plan didn’t dis­pute that con­cern, but they pointed to a pre­vi­ously dis­cussed ar­range­ment to re­view and amend the bud­get on a rolling ba­sis through­out the fis­cal year.

“We have a lot of work in front of us on a monthly ba­sis when we look at the ac­tual rev­enues that come in and the ac­tual tough de­ci­sions that we may have to make down the road when we get some real num­bers,” Robert­son said.

In a state­ment af­ter the vote, Stoney echoed the need for flex­i­bil­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the coun­cil and his ad­min­is­tra­tion: “This bud­get is not the bud­get we first pro­posed, nor is it the bud­get we wanted, but it’s the bud­get we have to live with in light of these most dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing times. Amid the un­cer­tainty of this pan­demic, we must be pre­pared to make ad­just­ments as we go, and we fully ex­pect to do so in the com­ing months.”

Also Mon­day, the coun­cil ap­proved an amnesty pe­riod for real es­tate and per­sonal prop­erty taxes. Late pay­ers will not be charged penal­ties or in­ter­est if their bal­ances are set­tled by

Aug. 14. The ini­tia­tive aims to pro­vide re­lief for res­i­dents and busi­nesses un­able to pay by the reg­u­lar June dead­lines.

The coun­cil also ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion re­quest­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion cease pre-em­ploy­ment and ran­dom drug test­ing for mar­i­juana. The res­o­lu­tion, pro­posed by Lynch, does not ap­ply to pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees, or city em­ploy­ees sus­pected of us­ing the drug while on the job.

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