Want to hit the highlights of the Mayor’s speech last night without sorting through all that rhetoric?
Last night, Mayor Dwight C. Jones gave his annual (and final) State of the City Address. We sat through the rhetoric, then re-read it this morning, then pulled out the actual pieces of info for you. They are listed below!
“Today, violent crime is at its lowest rate in 45 years–down 30% since 2009” and “…At 214,000, our estimated population is higher than it’s been in 30 years.”
The City gave money to some businesses and some buildings and now those businesses and buildings are doing well and/or looking nice. Maggie Walker is getting a statue, the Arts District is a thing, the Black History Museum is a thing.
The City hired some coordinators to coordinate tourism, public arts, sustainability, and pedestrians, bicycles, and trails.
Regarding the Big Bike Race™, it brought “650,000 spectators, $170 million in economic impact for the Commonwealth. It brought visitors from 34 states and 24 countries; generating media coverage about Richmond all over the world.” It also was “the best party we’ve ever thrown!”
Stone Brewery and Virginia Port Authority deals…don’t forget those.
“[People who thank me, Mayor Dwight C. Jones] understand that we delivered seven balanced budgets during a time of economic downturn; that we paid our bills; that we didn’t raise property taxes; that we didn’t layoff or furlough employees when times were tough, and that we built cash reserves (undesignated fund balance) from $48.6 million (in 2009) to over $80 million today (in 2014). They get that we got six bond rating upgrades for the city, even as we continue our work to improve financial operations.”
Office of Community Wealth Building and RVA Future are both things that now exist to help with poverty issues. As will the…BRT
Education and the already-infamous tax referendum
“Public schools are funded with a mix of state money and local money. The state sets the rules.”
“Wealthy localities have more money, so they get less from the state. Poor localities have less, so they get more from the state. We’re both rich AND poor, and that hurts our public schools.”
RPS needs a ton of money. “But preliminary estimates suggest the RPS needs could cost over 15 cents more in new real estate taxes. Such an increase is a major decision and one the public should be deeply involved in. Therefore, my plan is explore with Richmond City Council the idea of an advisory referendum on the November ballot to determine whether the public wishes to raise its taxes, and by how much…
If it is the will of the people to significantly raise taxes, then they will have a chance to directly indicate that. If the people prefer to drastically cut services – give up any leaf collection, cut City Hall hours of operation, reduce trash pickup, bulk trash services, etc.; then we’ll know that too.”
“Right now we have a site that generates no more than $400,000 in total tax revenue to the City. We could have a site that generates 20 times more than that, if we make wise decisions.”
— ∮∮∮ —
Full text, complete with requisite anecdote
Each year, I’ve been so grateful for this opportunity to pause and reflect on the things we have accomplished together. And this year is a special time, because we can reflect upon what we have accomplished during the last seven years – leading into this final year of our two terms together.
Thank you all for being here this evening. To members of Richmond City Council, please stand and be recognized.
I also want to recognize other elected officials that have joined us this evening…..
Let me take a moment to acknowledge members of my Executive Team; please stand. And to city employees, in general, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with you all.
I want to say with respect to the recent weather…Bravo to city crews who were in neighborhoods in less than 24 hours after the last snowflake fell.
The city mounted an impressive response to the storm – actually this was not a storm, it was a blizzard – and I just want to thank hard working dedicated city employees for their efforts.
Tonight, I won’t keep you long, even though we have seven years of accomplishments we could go over.
I want to focus more on the direction that we’re going in, and I want to talk a little about how we got where we are today, because it is important and we should acknowledge our achievements; even as we look to the future.
Seven years ago, we came into office at a time of economic distress – the worst global recession in decades, the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression.
When I took office, I said we would position the city for economic growth – that we’d be “on the ready” when the economy turned. And we’ve done just that. I said then that we could not tax our way out of the economic challenges, nor cut our way out. I said we would implement new pro-growth strategies that would allow us to weather the storm and put us on a stronger and more sustainable path.
That meant two things: Growing our economy and reducing our poverty, and that’s what we need to talk about tonight and throughout this year.
Yes, we have had our challenges, however, our moments of success and triumph must not be forgotten, but should be celebrated, and built upon as we move into an amazing future.
I love Richmond and my commitment has always been to protect her well-being and the well-being of each and every resident over the last seven years.
Today, the city has never been more attractive for investment, and our brand has never been stronger.
So many exciting new changes have brought RVA together during this time. A few years back, we didn’t even call ourselves RVA.
Today, you see the RVA brand proudly displayed on cars from Fredericksburg to Petersburg–and it’s especially nice to see them all over Henrico and Chesterfield as well!
There was a time when people said crime will always hold Richmond back. People said, you need a bigger jail to make Richmond safe.
But we rejected that idea. We threw out the ugly notion that safe communities depend on more jail cells and bigger locks.
Instead, we launched innovative alternatives to incarceration, and new programs that have earned national attention – programs that have touched the hearts of people and changed lives.
We have a smart, aggressive team–people like Sheriff C.T. Woody, prosecutor Mike Herring, and Police Chief Al Durham, the newest team member. The results speak for themselves.
Today, violent crime is at its lowest rate in 45 years–down 30% since 2009.
Make no mistake about it–if you lived in Richmond in the 1990s, you know how important this is.
This turnaround is driving our economic resurgence, and again, the numbers tell the truth.
For decades, the city’s population steadily declined, as middle class people quietly slipped away, both black and white. But today, we’ve reversed that trend.
Today, people are moving INTO Richmond, not out–and at 214,000, our estimated population is higher than it’s been in 30 years.
As a result, we have one of the hottest housing markets in the country. You might have heard that on all the national news outlets last week. Businesses are moving into our downtown and our urban center is more vibrant and more alive than ever before in our lifetimes.
Our restaurant scene is on fire. National Geographic has called Richmond a top foodie destination, thanks in part to projects the City has backed and supported, like Rappahannock, Blue Bee Cider, Hardywood, Stone, and lots of others.
Right here in the heart of our downtown – our Façade Improvement Program, our lending programs and micro grants, have infused areas like Grace Street with new life–advancing restaurants such as Pasture and Julep’s new location. We’ve supported Pop’s on Grace, Visual Chefs and 93 Octane. This very theater, the Sara Belle and Neil November Theater has undergone a beautiful restoration making it a central part of our cultural renaissance.
And lest anyone say we play favorites, we’ve invested in a coffee shop and a furniture store on Broad Street–even though those businesses consistently oppose other important downtown revitalization projects. And we’ve done it because the city’s success depends on everyone’s success, even our critics.
A few blocks away, we helped bring the historic Hippodrome back to life.
On Leigh Street, we grew tired of all the talking and waiting for something to happen with the old armory that sat dark and abandoned for so long. So we took action, and in just a few weeks, that historic national landmark will become the new home of the Black History Museum.
On Broad Street, we helped find a way to bring the long abandoned CFB building back to life after sitting idle for many, many years. Later this year, that beautiful Art Deco building at the corner of 2nd and Broad streets will be full of life, housing our growing population of millennials and urban dwellers.
A moment ago, you saw the video about the Richmond Speaks series and our progress toward appropriately developing the Lumpkin’s Jail site. In RVA fashion, it’s been a long, emotional, and contentious process. But today, we have $19 million available to better tell Richmond’s story.
That’s up from zero when I took office, and it matters because we are not just bringing light into dark buildings, we are shining light into the city’s dark past.
Today, we are telling the story of the men and women who built this city and this nation, and we are honoring the memory of these forgotten souls who have been lost to history.
Later this year, we will erect a monument to Maggie Lena Walker–and we will honor her in the center of our commercial corridor. We’ve made it a priority, and it’s possible because of the hard work of many Richmonders, including Melvin Jones, whose unwavering voice about the importance of this project help catapult us to where we are today.
Our downtown is flourishing in so many ways, and we are sitting right here in the middle of what is now known as our Arts District – something else that was established during our time in office. And we were told, at one time, this was too complicated. We reached an agreement and got it done.
Today, our Arts District is comprised of galleries, cultural institutions, shops, hotels, restaurants and more. An intentional effort on our part because we recognized the importance of the tourism dollar to our future – accounting for more than $600 million annually.
Investment in our Arts District just in FY15 alone amounts to some $72.9 million, based on permits issued.
To support our vision, we hired the City’s first Tourism Coordinator.
We also established the city’s first Pedestrian, Bicycles and Trails Coordinator, the city’s first Public Arts Coordinator, the city’s first Sustainability Coordinator.
We’re dramatically upgrading the Riverfront, with exciting projects like the Potterfield Bridge and the Intermediate Terminal improvements.
And all of these things are increasing our brand…making our city more friendly for walkers and bikers.
By far, the biggest event we took on that has and will impact our tourism draw for many years to come was the UCI Road World Championships – something else some said we could not succeed at.
The numbers tell the story. 650,000 spectators, $170 million in economic impact for the Commonwealth. It brought visitors from 34 states and 24 countries; generating media coverage about Richmond all over the world.
This wasn’t just a bike race.
And if you missed it, you missed the best party we’ve ever thrown!
For Richmonders, it’s proven that we not only conceive of big things, we achieve them.
And similarly, we kept telling people that the Redskins training camp is about more than football.
With respect to that project deal, development in the East End was important to us and was successfully leveraged.
We had underutilized land on Leigh Street behind the Science Museum forever, and now we’ve got an NFL team that visits every year and that has attracted two other NFL teams to our town for a visit.
We’ve got a beautiful state-of-the-art football training facility that is utilized throughout the year for other purposes – and regardless of whether you are a fan of this project or not, the fact remains that the project resulted in $40 million worth of economic development commitments for our city, because of our partnership with Bon Secours.
Any Mayor would relish that kind of return on investment.
At the beginning of my term, I spoke about getting tangible return on any investment we make.
That is what was promised and that is what we are achieving.
In the East End, Fulton has been devoid of significant development and economic activity for decades. That area has been neglected and faced many broken promises. But we followed our economic development strategy and beat out 300 other cities to attract Stone Brewing to Richmond – to our City and to Fulton. People thought we couldn’t do it. But again, we beat the odds.
Now we’ve got a 200,000 square foot distribution facility that soon will employ more than 200 people. That project is coming on-line this year.
And let’s not overlook our recent agreement with the Virginia Port Authority for a long-term operating lease for our Richmond Port.
This agreement is a game-changer for the City – our once under-used Port is already booming into the New Year, and we have added four new shipping carriers to the six we had before Council approved our lease proposal in the fall.
To put that into perspective, that would be like the airport adding four new international airlines in just a matter of months.
Richmond is ascending to a key position in global trade because of what we are doing now. The Port berth is being dredged, more and more shipping lines are connected to us every day, and we are cutting the ribbon on a new harbor crane on Monday when we celebrate the long term
Richmond lease with our partners at the Port Authority.
This partnership shows how we do business with people who do what they say they are going to do. The Port’s strong foundation for jobs and economic resurgence will bring dividends to all Richmonders – and the entire region – for years to come.
These accomplishment and successes are the types of things a legacy is built on.
For me, my legacy will not be determined by news articles, editorials or interviews. My legacy is in the voice of the citizenry and in the faces of the people that I meet on our streets who thank me, and let me know that we have made a difference in their lives.
They understand that we delivered seven balanced budgets during a time of economic downturn; that we paid our bills; that we didn’t raise property taxes; that we didn’t layoff or furlough employees when times were tough, and that we built cash reserves (undesignated fund balance) from $48.6 million (in 2009) to over $80 million today (in 2014). They get that we got six bond rating upgrades for the city, even as we continue our work to improve financial operations.
So we proudly claim progress. We’ve never claimed perfection. But we are proud of the progress that we’ve made and the job that we’ve done.
Truly, the state of the city is thriving!
COMMUNITY WEALTH BUILDING
The progress we’ve made is rooted in focusing on the whole city; not just the privileged few.
Our focus has been on people and community.
We became the first city in the nation to create a Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building, and just last month, we made that a permanent part of Richmond City Government.
This office is a catalyst bringing together the work of other city agencies and community organizations to address wealth inequality.
Under this effort, we’ve launched RVA Future, to connect Richmond Public Schools graduates to college and eventually to scholarships.
We’ve helped jump-start plans for the 7.6 mile bus rapid transit line. We’ve laid the framework to invest $24.9 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation into creating a progressive and competitive transportation network – a first stage in a much needed regional transit system to connect people to jobs.
This is an amazing funding opportunity to build a network that will address mobility concerns for our citizens who desperately need it.
We’ve been working on this for years and any delay will be costly for us as a city.
Now is the right time for BRT.
We are also charting a course for the creation of social enterprises – opportunities linked to existing large employers. We want to build on assets, resources, and potential already present, to provide jobs and build wealth so families and households can be successful, not just for a few month or years, but for generations.
And I believe that our successful future is largely rooted in utilizing our anchor institutions – these large employers- in this way, as sources of local jobs; as economic engines that can invest in the local economy.
For adults living in poverty, a job is the way out.
Expanded employment opportunities are exactly why a primary focus has been on economic development for our city.
Did you know that recruiting one or more major employers capable of creating hundreds of jobs accessible by underemployed Richmond residents was one of the top five recommendations of the Anti-Poverty Commission?
That’s exactly what we’ve done with the Stone project…hundreds of jobs, accessible by underemployed Richmond residents!
And let’s take a quick look at the commission’s other top recommendations:
Invest in workforce development targeted towards low-skilled and long-term unemployed and underemployed residents.
Check! – Our workforce development initiative, and particularly our program to train welders, has been successfully developing skilled workers. We’ve been sure to integrate the training opportunities into real life experience whenever possible. Participants in our welding program have built and installed bike racks throughout the city.
Our welding program alone has found opportunity with the UCI Bike Races – building and installing bike racks around the city as well as building race barricades.
One of my proudest moments was seeing our welders in the program who brought their families downtown to show off their work – work that supported an international event while helping them build a sustainable trade.
Another recommendation was to develop an effective educational pipeline that prepares Richmond Public Schools graduates for either college or the work force.
Check! – We talked about RVA Future a little earlier. We’ve opened in all five high schools. Also our technical training programs will become more robust – our welding program is presently venturing into auto repair, for example.
Create a regional rapid transit system.
Check! – This was a goal before we knew we’d win a $24.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Construction should begin this year for our 7.6 mile route.
And finally, achieve the redevelopment of much of the city’s public housing stock without involuntarily displacing residents, with the aim of weakening the concentration of poverty and improving the physical and social environment of public housing residents.
Check! – Our plans are advancing for public housing transformation in the City of Richmond.
Ladies and gentlemen, Richmond is now growing by design, not by default.
And others are noticing.
We’ve been in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and just yesterday, I spoke about inclusive economic development at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. Our city was recognized – the City of Richmond – because we now have a working model for inclusive economic development.
One of the things I talked about yesterday is our BLISS program. BLISS stands for Building Lives to Independence and Self-Sufficiency.
This program provides family-based wrap-around support services to assist working parents in getting ahead. The program is designed to address obstacles such as transportation and child care.
You know, sometimes we get caught up and have an impression of the kind of people we think need help. Let me tell you about one of our participants.
She is a mother of seven children. All of her children are well managed and very bright. Her eldest son has been an honor roll student in Richmond Public Schools. Her eldest daughter has been a part of the Mayor’s Youth Academy. The daughter is a Junior with a 3.67 GPA on a college track curriculum. The mother, herself, has an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science (Information Systems Technology) and a Medical Records Certificate from J. Sergeant Reynolds. She has 136 college credit hours complete. This family lives in Gilpin Court.
And this profile of capable and able families and children can be replicated in any of our public housing complexes.
These are people that deserve not to be left behind.
We have to continue our work to make the effects of poverty less punishing, to provide pathways to success.
We’ve set that course. We can achieve the absolute reduction in the number of people living in poverty in our city and increase the number of adults working full-time year-round.
Staying on this course is the key for the city’s healthy and successful future.
That is the goal of our creating a permanent Office of Community Wealth Building, and I thank the Richmond City Council for joining in this vision and voting to codify this new department and its work.
Let’s pause a bit, and really talk about education.
Of course, everyone knows that growing our economy and reducing poverty hinge on strong, high quality public schools.
I joined the Richmond School Board in 1979, and I have been working on educational issues for over 45 years.
Since I’ve been Mayor, we have focused on early childhood education, and we’ve built four new schools with community centers, including Richmond’s first new high school in four decades. We’ve established the RVA Future program, and supported new programs to support youth during out-of-school time.
It’s also why public schools are now the largest portion of the city’s budget, next to public safety. We singularly spend more on public schools than anything else–more than economic development, highways and streets, and human services put together.
There’s nothing wrong with this in the abstract, after all there is no more important priority, but we do need to ensure that we are getting high quality for the dollars that we spend.
We now spend more per pupil than nearly any other school division in Virginia. And while we celebrate the incremental improvements that have begun to tick up slightly, we have to acknowledge that our academic performance still ranks near the bottom.
This is surely why Richmond hears calls for more money. But it’s important to understand how school financing works in Virginia, and what that means for our capital city.
We have two problems. First, is how state money is allocated.
Public schools are funded with a mix of state money and local money. The state sets the rules.
Wealthy localities have more money, so they get less from the state. Poor localities have less, so they get more from the state.
We’re both rich AND poor, and that hurts our public schools.
One part of our city is growing and thriving, but 26% of our people live in poverty. That’s the highest rate in central Virginia, and poverty is concentrated in Richmond because of policy decisions made generations ago.
Today, this means we receive less state money AND we have higher costs than our suburban neighbors.
Here’s the second problem. During the recession, the state changed the school funding formula to give even less money to localities.
In fact, the Washington Post reported on Sunday that, “As the state’s economy rebounded, many of the formulas stayed the same. [According to a Richmond think tank, the result is that] Virginia schools are being shortchanged $800 million a year because of formulas that underestimate what it actually costs to educate children.”
In short, the state stopped funding thousands of support positions and student services, leaving cities and counties to pick up the tab.
Governor McAuliffe has proposed a two-year budget that starts to address this problem, but fixing it will take time, and there’s no guarantee that the General Assembly will support his proposal.
In the meantime, regardless of how we got here, we still have a problem in Richmond, and residents are demanding action.
Here are the numbers. Last year, RPS said it needed $25 million in new money just to operate the schools. City Council cut other budget line items and gave $9 million in new money to RPS. This year, on top of that, RPS says it needs another $26 million in new money, just to operate the schools that we have now.
In addition, RPS is advancing a building plan that will cost upwards of $600 million–phase one alone costs nearly $170 million. The annual debt service alone on that would cost roughly $17 million, for a total of $43 million in new money every year into the future.
So Richmonders need to have a serious conversation about the resources that we have and the tax levels we can stomach.
We’ve all seen this image, but we probably won’t see an image like this:
And that’s what we need to talk about.
The bottom line is the money has to come from somewhere. And, we have to broaden the conversation because these are the options that are available to us:
We can grow our economy to generate new revenue. But this takes time, and our school division says we can’t wait.
We can cut funding for other services, and shift the money over to schools. But City Council already did this last year, and I am not in favor of significantly diverting operating funds or raids our financial reserves.
Or, we can raise taxes.
These are serious decisions that shouldn’t just be made in the Mayor’s office or Council Chambers.
While we already have high real estate taxes in Richmond, public sentiment appears to be growing for major new investments in public schools.
But preliminary estimates suggest the RPS needs could cost over 15 cents more in new real estate taxes.
Such an increase is a major decision and one the public should be deeply involved in.
Therefore, my plan is explore with Richmond City Council the idea of an advisory referendum on the November ballot to determine whether the public wishes to raise its taxes, and by how much.
And we have to consider that while public schools are critical, Richmond has many priorities, so I believe we should also include questions on the ballot about other critical infrastructure needs.
That way, the city will know what our residents expect. And residents will be clear about the impact on other services as a result of spending decisions made.
If it is the will of the people to significantly raise taxes, then they will have a chance to directly indicate that.
If the people prefer to drastically cut services – give up any leaf collection, cut City Hall hours of operation, reduce trash pickup, bulk trash services, etc.; then we’ll know that too.
With this approach, together, we’ll determine exactly what course Richmonders would like to take to address our future needs.
Regardless of the outcome of that conversation, right now we have an obligation to continue to build our city – to grow our city and to work to produce the economic development opportunities that will generate the revenue we need to meet our needs.
Our city is strong. We are headed to a horizon that is better than it has ever been.
But we’ve got to make the prudent choices and not miss the rare opportunities.
The decision we make about Boulevard development is one of the most important economic and community renewal decision we’ll make for our City. The decision made here will have the greatest financial impact on the direction of our future.
This decision has everything to do with how are we going to bring more visitors…how are we going to create more jobs….how we are going to remain competitive and attractive.
We must build the economy of the future.
For a land-locked city to have its best 60 acres not reaching full market potential; against the backdrop of the city’s many needs – that would certainly be a tragedy.
And then for us to be criticized for daring to pursue the financial highest and best use – that’s just absurd.
Right now we have a site that generates no more than $400,000 in total tax revenue to the City.
We could have a site that generates 20 times more than that, if we make wise decisions.
It is our job to position the city to provide the greatest impact for its citizens.
And it is my hope that we’ll make the right decisions together. We want to hear every voice and we will not back down from making hard choices.
As for me and my Administration, our work has been good. We’ve set a clear course. And we can secure an even brighter future.
So, even as our time begins to wind up, we know that our work is not done.
We’ve got some unfinished business and we won’t be slowing down a bit over these coming months.
We’ll be working to keep our city on the right course for decades to come.
Make no mistake – we are going to make every day count!