Mayor Jones’s $780 million budget focuses on housing, schools, new stadium

Yesterday, the Mayor presented to the City Council a proposed budget for the next fiscal year. While containing no new taxes, the budget allocates money for the building of public housing, increased school funding, and a new baseball stadium

Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced yesterday his proposed budget totaling $780.9 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The budget includes $70.9 million devoted to increasing city reserve funds and paying down existing debts. A portion of the budget will also fund projects using the $62.1 million refund of a loan paid to the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, this will include contributing to a new baseball stadium that will replace the deteriorating Diamond.

In a letter to members of the City Council, Mayor Jones wrote: “Given the enduring challenges with the economy, for the fourth consecutive budget, we are employing cost reduction and alternative delivery strategies to control costs without affecting core services.” No new taxes are to be levied in the final budget during the Mayor’s first term, and the proposed budget contains no raises or bonuses for the city’s workers. The City Council must approve the budget before it becomes official.

“Perhaps the boldest and most potentially catalytic are my proposals to transform public housing into mixed income communities anchored by high performing schools. These new communities will provide safe, healthy and economically diverse neighborhoods.”

Accordingly, the Mayor has apportioned $123.8 million of the budget to Richmond Public Schools, including the construction of four new schools. However, the Mayor’s budget offers no additional funds for the city’s school system, which are operating with a $23.8 million deficit.

On Monday, the Mayor announced the formation of a Task Force to review the school system’s request for money to compensate for the lack of funds. The Task Force will review the school system’s budget in the hopes of finding ways to cut costs. “My number one commitment is to focus more money in the classroom, with teachers teaching students and getting excellent outcomes,” said Mayor Jones. “Again, if we need to provide more money to [the school system] to get better results for students, then we will. However, one way of putting more money in the classrooms and in the hands of teachers, is to spend less money in the offices.” The Task Force is expected to complete their study within six weeks.

The Mayor noted a particular focus on public housing. “Affordable and diverse housing options in livable neighborhoods are important parts of a Tier One City. This approach would include a mix of different income levels and housing options available within a healthy and inclusive community.” He noted that $5 million will be apportioned to fund predevelopment and/or infrastructure for two mixed-income public housing communities.

A significant portion of city revenue comes from a $62.1 million [repayment to the city][repay] by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA). After apportioning $26.1 million of the windfall to pay off existing city debt, the Mayor has proposed setting aside $1.5 million per year to invest in 15-year bonds to fund construction of a new ballpark. The Flying Squirrels, which have openly [expressed their desire][diamond] to replace the nearly 30-year-old Diamond, recently [created a citizen advocacy group called Ballpark Nutz][nutz] to encourage city participation in the matter.

Another $5 million of the budget proposal will be given to the Riverfront Plan when it is formally adopted by the City Council. Proposed funding will also go to roads, sidewalks, pedestrian and bicycle paths, as well as toward preparations for the 2015 Road World Championships.

“As I have said, we cannot tax or cut our way out of this economic downturn. While we must be prudent and operate efficiently, we must also invest wisely and focus on rebuilding our tax base, and creating jobs for Richmonders. Even in this difficult economic environment, we must continue to invest in those areas that will yield the greatest economic, financial or social benefits in the long run.”


stock photo by Nathan Cushing

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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