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Vithoulkas reflects on Henrico’s accomplishments in State of the County address

In a wide-ranging presentation to several hundred business and community leaders at The Westin Richmond, Vithoulkas credited the Board of Supervisors for providing a vision to pursue major initiatives during the past year, including a countywide expansion of transit service and plans for the simultaneous construction of two new high schools as well as a new aquatics center and a new indoor sports and convocation center.

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Henrico County Manager John A. Vithoulkas today presented the 2018 State of the County address, highlighting major economic-development announcements, development projects, school construction and other facility improvements, collaborations and other efforts to enhance the community’s quality of life.

In a wide-ranging presentation to several hundred business and community leaders at The Westin Richmond, Vithoulkas credited the Board of Supervisors for providing a vision to pursue major initiatives during the past year, including a countywide expansion of transit service and plans for the simultaneous construction of two new high schools as well as a new aquatics center and a new indoor sports and convocation center.

He also lauded the board’s commitment to business- and resident-friendly fiscal policies that have allowed Henrico to keep taxes low and spur growth and investment, including Facebook’s $1.75 billion data center that is under construction in White Oak Technology Park.

“By consistently keeping taxes low for our businesses and residents, Henrico’s economy has thrived, and we’ve been able to do amazing things as a community,” he said.

Referencing the address’ theme of “Moving Forward Together,” Vithoulkas thanked members of the audience for all they do to make Henrico a great place to live, work, play and visit.

“You, along with other Henrico residents and businesses, are the heartbeat of this community,” he said. “The county’s government merely exists to serve you. Sometimes, our presence is noticeable. Other times, it’s hidden in the background. Whatever the situation, please remember that Henrico’s government is your partner. We are here, beside you, ready to move forward together.”

Vithoulkas highlighted how Henrico has been able to invest in schools, transit service, and other services while continuing to restrain its overall spending. The county’s general fund budget has increased by an average of 1.5 percent and supports 56 fewer positions than it did a decade ago.

“The efficiencies we’ve been able to achieve are even more striking when you consider the fact that we’ve enhanced public safety by adding 133 new positions for Police, Fire and the Sheriff’s Office,” Vithoulkas said. “We’re asking our employees to work harder and smarter, and they’re rising to the challenge.”

Other highlights of the State of the County address included:

  • Economic development announcements of more than 1,022 new jobs and $763.7 million in investments in new and existing businesses;
  • Private development projects underway throughout the county, including a Bon Secours freestanding emergency center in Short Pump, renovations and new businesses at Regency Square mall, continued investment at Libbie Mill-Midtown, construction underway on the Facebook Data Center in White Oak Technology Park, plans advancing for the River Mill community, new interest in the Westwood area and the completion of infield and other improvements at Richmond Raceway;
  • Thriving tourism and sports tourism programs, supported by the opening of Glover Park and the start of installation of synthetic turf athletic fields at the county’s high schools;
  • Continued construction on Cobbs Creek Reservoir, the largest public-utility project in Henrico’s history and a facility that will help ensure access to public water for the next half century;
  • Other facility and infrastructure projects, including the opening of Short Pump Firehouse 19 and plans for new fire stations along Staples Mill Road and Nine Mile Road; a new fire training center at the Woodman Road complex; a new mental health clinic under construction on Nine Mile Road and a new Fairfield Area Library under construction on East Laburnum Avenue;
  • A new housing initiative, with a housing specialist position and a $2 million fund focused on such issues as affordability, revitalization and the needs of aging communities;
  • –Enhanced support for the operating and capital needs of Henrico County Public Schools, with nearly $100 million in school renovations and additions underway and supported by the 2016 bond referendum as well as plans to build simultaneously a new J.R. Tucker High School and a new Highland Springs High School;
  • The start of service on the Pulse bus rapid transit system and expanded service countywide on the GRTC Transit System;
  • Continued efforts to combat the opioid crisis through a recovery program developed by the Sheriff’s Office and other initiatives;
  • Advancements in public safety, including crime reductions in several key categories;
  • Regional cooperation in public health, public safety, tourism, and other areas;
  • The announcement of a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Richmond to develop an indoor aquatics center and the ongoing review of proposals for the development of an indoor sports and convocation center; and
  • Salutes to Harvey L. Hinson, who recently concluded four months of service as interim supervisor for the Brookland District; Gary R. McLaren, who is retiring as executive director of the Economic Development Authority; and Douglas A. Middleton, who is retiring as deputy county manager for public safety, capping a 46-year career with the county, which included five years as police chief.

“The State of the County address provides a great opportunity to reflect on our hard work and accomplishments — as well as the work that’s left to be done — before we shift our focus to a new year,” Vithoulkas said. “We are particularly pleased to share this message with the community because our success depends on having strong partnerships with residents, business leaders, and other stakeholders.”

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Downtown

Stoney administration proposes supported isolation for select COVID-19 positive cases

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond, in partnership with the Richmond City Health District, will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with demonstrated need an opportunity to isolate safely and securely in hotel units.

Research shows that diligent testing, contact tracing and supported isolation will limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Boxing in the virus” in this manner requires that every COVID-19 positive patient effectively self-isolate, ensuring they do not spread the virus to family members, friends or the general public.

However, a prolonged, secure period of self-isolation is not possible for many Richmonders.

“The truth is that not all people are safer at home,” said the mayor. “Some aren’t fortunate enough to have a home large enough to isolate from loved ones.”

Using the CARES Act funding from the federal government made available last week by the state, the city will offer COVID-19 positive individuals with a demonstrated need to isolate securely a space to do so.

The city and Richmond City Health District will partner with the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care, a coalition of service providers with expertise in the intersection of physical security and human services due to their charge of aiding those experiencing homelessness.

Basic needs of those who choose to isolate, such as food and COVID-19 related primary care, will be funded through the Family Crisis Fund and safety net provider network.

The program will be facilitated by Richmond City Health District.

“Let me be clear: this program is specifically for those who cannot isolate safely, not a vacation for those who can,” said Mayor Stoney. “These COVID-19 patients will be cared for and sheltered for the good of themselves, their families, and the entire city.”

The Mayor ended with an appeal to the city’s communal sense of unity and compassion: “I know you’d want it for your family members; Richmond is my family. Let’s take care of each other.”

Upcoming testing events:

  • Friday, May 22 at Eastlawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27 at Eastern Henrico Recreation Center and Southwood Apartments from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 30 at Martin Luther King Middle School from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Education

Henrico County Public Schools considering starting school before Labor Day in 2021

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The proposal would apply to the 2021-2022 school year and going forward.

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In early March, Henrico County Public Schools introduced the idea of a pre-Labor Day start to the 2021-22 school year. That was before the educational landscape shifted with HCPS’ closure to combat the coronavirus pandemic. At its May 14 work session, the Henrico School Board decided to revisit the issue and consider two calendar options for 2021-22 — one with a pre-Labor Day start and another with a more traditional post-Labor Day start.

Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the two options by taking a survey, open until June 3 at 8 a.m. The survey is available by going to HCPS’ website, henricoschools.us, and looking under “Hot Topics,” or by going to henricoschools.us/2021-22-calendar-options/.

The two calendar options under consideration for 2021-22 are:

  • Calendar Option A (pre-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 3, 2022.
  • Calendar Option B (traditional post-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 17, 2022.

At the work session, conducted in a virtual format, the Board also considered a third option, where students would attend school year-round, with intermittent breaks. After discussing the “extended school year” idea, the Board decided to eliminate that option, citing a desire for more research and collaboration with other school divisions in central Virginia.

While the first and last days of school differ, as well as student and staff holidays, all options would include the same number of instructional days.

Possible advantages of a pre-Labor Day start (Option A) include:

  • Provides two additional weeks of instruction before International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement testing, resulting in less time between the completion of testing and the end of the school year.
  • The academic calendar would more closely align with the start of fall extracurricular activities, as well as college and university schedules.
  • Provides at least a four-day break for Labor Day weekend.

Possible advantages of a post-Labor Day start (Option B) include:

  • Maintains traditional HCPS school calendar.
  • Keeps intact the construction schedule for the new J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools and the expansion of Holladay Elementary School (a pre-Labor Day schedule would move up the construction deadline).
  • Maintains the length of the 2021 summer break for students and HCPS staff members (a pre-Labor Day start would require a one-time reduction of summer break).

There are no significant budgetary differences between the two options.

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

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Downtown

City announces plan to expand testing, increase access to protective supplies, address small business needs during two-week reopening delay

In response to the state granting the City of Richmond a two-week delay in entering Phase One of the statewide reopening plan, the Stoney administration will be ramping up the city’s efforts to support a safe approach to reopening in the near-term, it was announced Tuesday.

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In response to the state granting the City of Richmond a two-week delay in entering Phase One of the statewide reopening plan, the Stoney administration will be ramping up the city’s efforts to support a safe approach to reopening in the near-term, it was announced Tuesday.

The administration announced plans to use the next two weeks to expand testing access, distribute more face masks and hand sanitizer throughout the city, support underserved communities, expand safe spaces for social distancing and address the needs of Richmond’s small business community.

Expanding testing capacity and collaboration with safety net

Four weeks ago, the City of Richmond and Richmond City Health District began hosting COVID-19 testing events in the city’s areas of highest needs. RCHD has since conducted six testing events in the city, in and adjacent to public housing communities and along the Hull Street corridor in Southside.

The city now plans to significantly expand public testing capacity with a continued emphasis on making testing accessible to priority communities with higher vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With support from the Virginia Department of Health to ensure adequate capacity at the state lab, RCHD will organize community testing events in high-need areas three times a week for Richmond residents that meet screening criteria. RCHD will use epidemiological surveillance data to inform priorities for those parts of the city that may benefit most from increased access to public testing. This will include revisiting sites where testing has previously been offered.

In addition to the testing event at Diversity Richmond on May 19, the following events have been scheduled in the coming week:

  • May 21, Tuckahoe Middle School from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; and
  • May 22, East Lawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

City residents should contact RCHD’s COVID-19 Call Center to find out if they qualify and to register for these testing events: 804-205-3501.

To evaluate the outcomes of these expanded testing efforts, in addition to results from our hospital systems and network of other providers, the city will monitor the newly added data from the Virginia Department of Health about the locality’s percent positivity, or what percentage of tests administered result in positives. The city, VDH, and RCHD will use this data to inform plans for the gradual reopening timeline.

Ensuring a connection to a primary care provider for all residents who test positive for COVID-19 is critical to helping Richmonders monitor their symptoms and manage any underlying conditions. The city will be collaborating with members of the local safety net to facilitate access to primary care, and RCHD will invest in professional navigation services to match residents with providers and other needed support services. The city’s commitment is to make professional medical care available to all residents with a confirmed case of COVID-19, regardless of those residents’ insurance status.

Safety net providers will also be able to expand their testing operations, working with the city to add capacity. As increasing numbers of city residents are able to access testing, the Mayor’s Office, RCHD, and VDH will be able to more effectively monitor the progression and trends of the disease in the city.

Providing face coverings and sanitizing supplies

A priority intervention to protect the health of all of our neighbors is for everyone to wear a cloth or disposable face-covering whenever in public places or going out of the house. The science is clear that this can dramatically improve outcomes, driving down rates of disease transmission. The City of Richmond is invested in ensuring that residents can and will lead the way in making face covering a new, positive practice the entire community can embrace.

On May 12, the city began distributing 40,000 units of face coverings and sanitizing supplies provided by the state for Richmond communities that may benefit from immediate access to these resources. The city will continue that distribution, coordinated through the Richmond Fire Department.

The city will also provide 500 units of face coverings and sanitizing supplies to each member of Richmond City Council for distribution within their district based on their specialized knowledge of need.

Supporting small businesses

The Stoney administration recognizes the challenges small businesses face at this time. Existing programs remain open for application. Businesses can apply for the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan here. The $20,000 zero-interest loan has a six-month payment deferment period and is then repaid over 48 months.

Restaurants can apply for the First Responder Meals Program here. Participating restaurants are paid by the city for providing meals for public safety first responders while on duty.

Mayor Stoney has sent another letter asking for federal assistance to U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. He strongly requests that the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program be modified and that Virginia’s Senators support Senator Booker’s Small Business Local Relief Act, which would send $50 billion in direct assistance to localities and states to establish and grow local relief funds. He will be in ongoing contact with both senators.

In addition to federal advocacy, the city is working regionally to ensure small businesses are prepared to keep customers and employees as safe as possible throughout the reopening timeline.

Utilizing public space productively and safely

The city is preparing to assist businesses in navigating potential patio expansions by standing up an internal task force comprised of representatives from the Department of Public Works, Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, and Department of Planning and Development Review. Once the data indicates a negative trend in percent positivity and the city enters Phase One of reopening, this effort will both support the Richmond business community to more safely offer Phase One outdoor dining and create a network that allows for ample and ongoing social distancing in public spaces.

To submit a proposal for new or additional patio space or inquire for more information, please visit www.rvastrong.org/outdoorseating and fill out the interest form.

The Stoney administration has sent a request to members of Richmond City Council and their staff asking for their help in coordinating with local merchant and neighborhood associations to propose equitable opportunities for open streets, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and expanded patios with room to maintain social distancing. By working with local associations, council members will be able to bring forward optimal opportunities for the creative use of streets, sidewalks, and public spaces that are logistically feasible and have community buy-in.

The recommendations will then be reviewed by an internal city team with staff from the Department of Public Works, Richmond Police Department, Department of Planning and Development Review and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities.

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