Open letter to Council re: city budget / police funding

In the inbox from the OTMG: “Below is an abbreviated version of an email recently sent our councilman, who offered to then forward it to his fellow councilpersons, city manager, and mayor so they all know the kinds of questions we are asking.  The questions along with the apparent answers might find the funds in […]

In the inbox from the OTMG: “Below is an abbreviated version of an email recently sent our councilman, who offered to then forward it to his fellow councilpersons, city manager, and mayor so they all know the kinds of questions we are asking.  The questions along with the apparent answers might find the funds in the existing budget to take care of our immediate shortfalls in Police salaries, allow for new hires, and a greater likelihood of retention.  This “letter” could also serve as a template for others wishing to communicate with their councilpersons, the mayor, the city manager BEFORE THE UPCOMING MAY 6 COUNCIL MEETING. Please EXPRESS YOUR CONCERNS!  

Emails are:  David Canada – City Manager – / Dama E. Rice – Councilwoman, Ward 1 – / Carl (Mike) Ross – Councilman, Ward 2 – (or try / Kenneth Pritchett – Councilman, Ward 3 – / Brian A. Moore – Councilman, Ward 4 – / Annie M. Mickens – Mayor / Councilwoman, Ward 5 – / David Ray Coleman – Councilman, Ward 6 – (or try / Horace P. Webb – Councilman, Ward 7 –  You may also write all above at City Hall, Rm 210, 135 N Union St., Petersburg VA 23803.  Or you can call and leave a message on the City’s message system by calling 733-2323, press #3 to leave a message, then press the Ward # for the mailbox of the specific Councilperson.  

Thanks for your support on this critical issue, and please plan to attend the May 6 Council meeting! Your presence is needed!


This city has a crisis of manning in the Police Department.  It has been growing for several years, and was most likely also influenced by this city’s failure to hire a Police Chief for so long.  For whatever reason, now we have a chance to be proactive and help this city, and the Police Department.  This matter will be addressed in the Public Comment time slot at the next City Council meeting on May 6.  I and other concerned citizens requested information from the Police Dept and were stunned by the facts.  I am hoping that the city council members are simply not aware of how big an issue this is.  For the life of me I can’t see any city council not believing the manning of the police department and the impact that has on public safety should be one of their primary priorities.   
Please tell me how you plan to help Chief Dixon fully man the Police Department to the numbers of officers he is already authorized.  Just giving him more slots for officers that he cannot recruit now, when 27 positions are already vacant, is not the right answer.

The bottom line is this city is 27 police officers below what it is authorized to have.  This city has the lowest starting salaries for Police officers in the region.  Combine a high crime rate, lack of adequate manning (resulting in 12 hours shifts and one man patrols), and the lowest pay in the region and you’ll see why the turn-over rate for officers is so high, and understand why the Police Department cannot recruit adequately.  The City Council has finally hired an experienced and proactive Police Chief.  He has come to Petersburg with new energy, and a Strategic Plan to tackle the problems we have.  He needs to fill all the slots the department is already authorized. The only way he will be able to do this is by stopping the attrition of officers, recruiting quality officers and requiring their pay be made commensurate with the surrounding communities.  He has created this plan, and yet lacks the funding to do it.

I know this will generate a response of “so where is the money going to come from?”  Because of that, I’ve examined the FY08 budget and the proposed FY09 budget, which generated the following questions.  I would really ask for your help in explaining these so I can understand them.

1. Is there a written or unwritten city policy (or HR policy) that limits the pay scale of city works to below the surrounding communities?.  I have heard this stated as fact.

2. In the FY08 budget that was adopted, it was stated that the revenue factor used for real property taxes was $1.33 per $100, based on a decrease in the tax rate.  This decrease did not happen.  The city real property tax stayed at $1.35 per $100.  Where is this excess revenue that was generated in 2008, and not funded to any department?  I’d like an accounting of it please.

3. How many properties does the city own of all types, but specifically how many types of property has the city taken possession of that are not income generating, or paying real property taxes?  I have heard it is over 400, and some say 700.  I’d like to know the number (within a dozen).

4. What is the estimated value of all this property that is not generating income?

5. What is the city’s plan to sell the property and get it off the books, thus making it taxable property and generating income for the city?

6. In the draft FY09 budget that the City Manager has submitted to Council, there is a statement in it “The City’s current undesignated General Fund  balance is 18.66% of the proposed FY09 operating budget.”  How much is this, and why is this city leaving tens of millions of dollars in general funding with no accountability or public oversight?  Is this a City Policy?

7. Who authorizes the expenditure of these “undesignated” funds?

8. Where is the accountability of the FY07 and FY08 “undesignated” funds that are/were in this category?

I realize helping Chief Dixon (and in reality all the citizens of Petersburg) will cost money, but public safety should not take a back seat to any other funding issue.  This year the city raised property assessments 10%, and did not lower the tax rate.  That’s a good place to start with.  Liquidating the non-income generating properties the city holds is another.  I also am very anxious to understand what the “undesignated General Fund” is for, how the money is allocated within it, and the accountability procedures that are in place for it.  I look forward to discussing other options with you.”

Thank you Councilman, for your time.  I know you are in a difficult position during this budget cycle.  I want to provide you input, so you know the priorities of your constituency.  If we don’t give you our input, how can we expect you to represent us accordingly?  We all share responsibility in this.   

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