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Henrico may cut services, salaries to cover COVID-19's impact on county budget

Posted at 12:58 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 17:36:39-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said his revised budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be nearly $100 million less than his original proposal made on March 10.

“Since then, as we all know, the world has changed,” Vithoulkas said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy and reports continue to come in. Here in Henrico we are approaching the eye of this COVID-19 storm. Our local economy, sadly, is at a standstill.”

Vithoulkas said the revised budget, which he will present to the Board of Supervisors at 6 p.m., will be $44 million less than the current budget and $99-million less than his original proposal.

Vithoulkas said they had already identified $86 million in reductions through measures like freezing capital projects, cancelling a proposed three-percent pay increase for eligible employees, across-the-board reductions in operating costs, and keeping open positions vacant.

He said they still need to find an additional $12.8 million to cut.

“We are throwing around lots of ideas on how to close that gap. And we're looking for feedback from our residents, from our employees, from our businesses from anyone who has an idea. And again, no idea is off the table, but know that job preservation is our top priority,” Deputy Director of Finance Meghan Coates said.

Vithoulkas added if nothing is done, between 250-350 jobs would have to be cut.

Vithoulkas said he will present several options to the board at Tuesday night’s meeting, but is also asking for public input on ways to make up that money.

He then described some ways that could happen.

“Things like not buying library books. Across-the-board reductions in pay,” said Vithoulkas. “What that would look like for, you know, the entire workforce. All of these are options that we have to go through and analyze and select the most proper fiscal choice.”

“I think you could also see us consider things like wholesale reduction of programs or services that are delivered today. There may be things that we are doing today that we are no longer able to do moving forward,” added Coates. “And while job preservation is our number one priority, I don't think that adjustments to personnel or benefits are off the table.”

Vithoulkas said that while he will be presenting options to the board, they are also asking for the public to weigh in and offer suggestions. They can do so by sending an email to budgetfeedback@henrico.us.

Vithoulkas added he is recommending the board delay adoption of the budget until May 12 to allow for more time for public input.

“It will be the longest public hearing in this County's history,” said Vithoulkas.

Officials added that while the coronavirus will lead to are sharp decline in economic fortunes, they expect the recovery to be equally sharp.

“None of us working here have ever experienced a downturn of this manner. And so we're still learning as we go. And that's why you'll see this plan trying to preserve flexibility as much as possible,” said Coates.

As such, Coates said going forward officials will constantly be reviewing what the county’s finances are and where new money could be appropriated.

“We will be, basically, budgeting every 30 days for for the next 12-to-18 months. So, as soon as we have new data, we'll be bringing that forward to the administration and to our board for them to consider and revise the budget,” said Coates. “We do believe that this is going to be a fairly sharp recovery, a fairly quick recovery for us, but there will need to be some significant short-term sacrifice to ensure our long-term success.”