Richmond 2015 budget increases school funding, proposes utility bill hike

Posted at 7:48 PM, Mar 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-14 00:47:24-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–  The mayor’s new budget includes increases in school maintenance funding, health care, fighting poverty and utility bills, and a disregard to recommended storm water fees associated with federal water management standards.

If you live in Richmond you could soon be paying more on your monthly utility bill. That’s from the new FY 2015 budget that Richmond City Mayor Dwight Jones released Thursday afternoon.

The breakdown would be gas costing an extra $1.32, water $1.82 and wastewater an additional $2.87 a month.

"He's not thinking of the people of Richmond, that's for sure," said Richmond resident Shamus Stovall.

Mayor Jones said he understands residents may have concerns about the increase, but said there are some things that the city has no control over, and when prices increase they have to pass it on.

The proposal would mean around $6 more a month, but the budget shows more than just a higher utility bill.

The total proposed spending plans for the General Fund are $777,340,828 million for FY2015 and $237,240,841 for the five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

The budget was crafted based on current revenue projections, which include revenues from the real estate tax rate, which is proposed to remain the same at $1.20 per $100 of valuation.

Mayor Jones promoted it as a “solid and fiscally conservative budget,” and said that the city’s rainy day balance has grown to 10% of the city’s general fund and Richmond Public Schools state-supported expenditures.

The proposal calls for more expenditure on health insurance costs for city employees, and an increase for schools maintenance funding.

The Mayor said for the second year in a row, they wish to absorb more health costs for employees, who are facing an 8.4% rate increase this year.

A real shift is the 900-percent change in school maintenance funding, the first year alone.

Mayor Jones’ plan calls for an increase from $500,000 per year to $18.2 million over five years, beginning with $5 million in FY 2015.

“We know we must work to maintain learning environments that support the highest quality education standards available to our students, and this increased investment will improve the function and operational efficiency of the facilities in our school system,” Jones said.

The budget proposal includes providing the school system with a $1 million more than last year to bring their local funding to $155.9 million in FY2015.

The M.L. King Jr., Middle School Pre-K facility would receive a proposed $7.3 million.

Jones hopes to saves almost two million with a proposed Parking Enterprise Fund that was pitched as a self-supporting system that would collect the fees associated with operating the City’s parking lots and parking decks.

This would remove parking related revenues and expenditures from the General Fund, the mayor said, and mean the General Fund coulda ccommodate an additional $65 million in much-needed debt capacity.

There would not be an increase in storm water fees. In 2009 city council approved the utility charge, but fast forward three years later and collection of said fees was said to be “miserable.”

It was reported that the city could not collect what it billed.

The storm water fees were to be used to implement water management plan required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. An increase was recommended for FY2015.

“I’m rejecting that recommendation at this time and asking for additional work to be done to determine how we can meet federally mandated water quality requirements,” Jones said.

“The analysis suggests that we need to find an additional $9.4 million to do the work necessary to remain in compliance with these new federal standards. I want to underscore, however, that even though I am rejecting this now, we will have to catch up financially in our next budget presentation if viable alternatives are not found.”

The budget includes an estimated $194 million in existing programs that relate to addressing poverty, The Mayor recommended an additional $2.3 million to support the recommendations of the Maggie L. Walker Anti-Poverty Task Force and an additional $1 million yearly for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The public hearing and comment period will be held on April 14. City Council is expected to vote on a budget on May 31.