Capping a budget-review process that its members described as successfully collaborative, the Richmond City Council this week adopted a spending plan for next fiscal year that increases employee salaries and holds the line on existing tax rates.
Following several rounds of workshops and a pair of public hearings, councilmembers were unanimous in approving the $2.7 billion city budget that went largely unchanged since Mayor Levar Stoney proposed it in March.
The plan includes an $838.7 million general fund budget, up about $2.7 million from the general fund initially proposed. The budget represents an 8.5 percent increase over the current general fund and includes no increases in real estate, personal property or other general tax rates. The city’s real estate tax rate stands at $1.20 per $100 of assessed value.
The plan provides a 5 percent salary hike for all non-sworn city employees and $17.4 million for a first responder pay plan aimed at making the city’s police and fire pay more competitive in the region. The increases, ranging from 10 to 15 percent or more per employee, were expected to bring the starting pay for police from $44,000 to over $51,000 per year.
Also increased with the budget is the minimum hourly wage for city employees, which will stand at $17 an hour when the budget takes effect July 1.
Other big-ticket items funded in the budget include an additional $15 million for Richmond Public Schools, on top of the city’s local contribution of $185.3 million. The plan increases funding for the city’s eviction diversion program by 50 percent to $727,000, restores $436,000 in pandemic-era cuts to city libraries, and allocates $400,000 to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.
The budget also includes funds for the purchase of new software for the city’s inspections and permitting office. The city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program, at $627 million, includes $28 million that was set aside this fiscal year for the planned Enslaved African Heritage Campus in Shockoe Bottom.
In a final public hearing that preceded the council’s vote Monday, Martin Wegbreit, who serves on the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Oversight Board, called for more funding for the trust fund and scrutinized the $10 million that’s allocated in the budget, noting those funds are federal pandemic-relief funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Noting no city funds were allocated on top of the ARPA funds, Wegbreit told the council, “Those federal ARPA dollars are intended to supplement local funding. They are not intended to replace local funding.”
While acknowledging that not all of their budget goals could be met, councilmembers and administrators described the budget as an accomplishment and lauded the review process and collaboration with city budget staff, as well as with citizens who contributed to the process.
“To Richmonders who weighed in, who routinely gave us calls or emails or came down to speak, we heard you and we tried to be responsive to the concerns that you raised,” Council President Cynthia Newbille said. “Job well done, everyone.”