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Richmond council finalizes ‘balanced’ budget after 3 days

Posted at 7:13 PM, May 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 19:13:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- It took more than 25 hours of work over a three-day period, but Richmond City Council finalized their amendments to Mayor Levar Stoney's budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.  Wednesday afternoon, Council President Hilbert said they had achieved a $691 million budget that was balanced.  The final total is a $10 million increase over Stoney's original plan.

The council's approved amendments include $2.7 million for raises for city police and firefighters, a $1.8 increase in funding for school maintenance, and more than $300,000 for alley repairs, among others.

Wednesday's budget work session was supposed to last one hour, but stretched more than five and half hours.  After adopting their own amendments, council began the day $1.16 million short, and had asked the Mayor's Office for suggestions on making up that spending gap.

The administration proposed three items to make up that gap.  The largest proposal was small cuts to departmental budgets across the board at City Hall, except in areas like public safety, health and human services, and education.  The $696 million in reductions included $287 million to the city's funding for GRTC.

During the work session, the administration said the bus company has a contingency fund that totals more than $5 million, and presented a letter from the company's CEO that stated they could tap into the fund to pay for certain items.  However, a GRTC spokesperson countered that they could only use the contingency money in emergencies, like government shutdowns, and that the administration's proposed reduction could impact city bus routes.

While several council members expressed disdain that GRTC would write one thing and say another, council decided to reduce funding for the city's parking enterprise operation instead of cutting funds to GRTC.

At the end of the more than five hour session Wednesday, multiple council members said they need to find ways of improving the budgeting process. Fourth District Councilwoman Kristen Larson called on the Mayor's office to deliver budget information more timely.  Fifth District Councilman Parker Agelesto said he would like more transparency from the administration on how they spend city dollars after council appropriates them.  Multiple council members said reforming the budgeting process should be a priority.

Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Chief Administrative Officer for the City, said there was room for improvement for the entire organization, meaning council and the administration.  Cuffee-Glenn said she was concerned that some items in council's approved budget do not reflect "best practices."

City council will formally introduce their budget amendments at their formal meeting Monday, May 8 at 6 p.m.