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VIDEO: Mayor Stoney delivers third State of the City Address at VMHC

In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Stoney highlighted three years of progress, laying out his vision in the coming year for what he calls investments and initiatives to make Richmond “the most inclusive, equitable and competitive city in the nation.”

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In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Stoney highlighted three years of progress, laying out his vision in the coming year for what he calls investments and initiatives to make Richmond “the most inclusive, equitable and competitive city in the nation.”

“The state of our city is stronger and more competitive than it’s been in years,” the mayor said. “This is our time, our chance, our opportunity to realize our potential to work together to empower others,” he said.

The mayor shared his upbringing as the son of a returning citizen who struggled to make ends meet for his family and a student who grew up on free and reduced lunch, saying he feels a duty as mayor to be a voice for the voiceless.

“A compassionate government must be in the business of lifting people up, not writing them off,” the mayor said during remarks at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture on Thursday.

“I want everyone to feel that sense of community and support here in the city of Richmond. Each and every day, we are taking positive steps to be the city we want to be.”

The mayor highlighted some of the many accomplishments of his administration in 2019 and over the past three years. He charted Richmond’s progress in doing the “blocking and tackling” of city services.

Since 2017, the city has filled 84,000 potholes, paved over 355 lane miles, repaired 4,700 alleys and placed 30 miles of sidewalks. The Department of Public Works has filled 34,000 potholes in 2019 alone and has paved 188 lane miles since July 2019.

Before 2017, the city frequently filed its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) late. Since 2017, the mayor’s administration has completed every CAFR on time, and the tax collection rate has increased to 97 percent, the highest in 25 years.

The City of Richmond Eviction Diversion Program has prevented 76 individuals and families from losing their homes since October and is on track to meet the goal of diverting between 300 and 500 evictions within a fiscal year. After highlighting the success of the program, the mayor recognized the members of the Eviction Task Force, which is tasked with addressing the root causes of and solutions to Richmond’s housing crisis.

The mayor also noted the city’s plans to continue building One Richmond through initiatives in housing, investments in transportation, and steps to ensure a quality education and workforce empowerment.

City on track to surpass the goal of 1,500 housing units under construction by the end of 2020

In 2018, Mayor Stoney and his administration set a goal of increasing the number of housing units that are affordable by 1,500 by the year 2023. The lofty goal was a response to the increasing demand for housing in a growing city as well as a dearth of housing suitable for vulnerable groups, namely low-income families, veterans, people living with disabilities, the elderly and teens and children living in foster care.

In the speech, the mayor announced that the city is on track to exceed its goal of 1,500 units, with 1,628 units completed or under construction by the end of 2020. Those units will range in area median income from 30 percent to 80 percent, ensuring a variety of affordability levels from below the poverty line to city workforce housing.

In the coming weeks, the city will release its Affordable and Equitable Housing Strategy. The plan will create housing opportunities for renters, homeowners, and those seeking to become homeowners through tools such as tax abatement and zoning reform, tax deferral programs for very low- and low-income homeowners and housing rehabilitation programs.

Ten pieces of city land to be turned into parks and recreational space to address greenspace inequity

Parks and green space play a central role in the quality of life and livability of cities, providing recreational space, exposure to nature and protection from the heat. However, Richmond currently only uses six percent of its land for parks and recreation, compared to the national average of 15 percent. As a result, 51,000 residents of Richmond live further than a 10-minute walk to a park.

To address this disparity, Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, the Mayor’s Office and community partners will join forces with the ultimate goal of identifying 10 pieces of city-owned land to be converted into green spaces. In phase one of this project, the mayor’s “Green Team” will identify and design five potential parcels of land.

The city will partner with leading area experts such as Jeremy Hoffman, Chief Scientist at the Virginia Science Museum, to focus on areas that have proven to be disproportionately vulnerable to climate change while also applying an equity lens, prioritizing areas that have been historically overlooked.

“We will also work closely with these communities to ensure that the green space is designed in a way that meets their needs. This will be a community effort.”

2020 will see the formation of the city’s first Office of Children and Families

Stoney announced that, in 2020, the city will launch Richmond’s first-ever Office of Children and Families, designed to establish citywide goals and evaluate and improve the services provided to children and those who care for them in the City of Richmond. The office will work in partnership with other city agencies and Richmond Public Schools to reduce redundancies and ensure that Richmond is the very best place to grow up and raise a family.

“My administration believes that thriving children are the product of thriving families. The Office of Children and Families will be our north star, setting the direction for the entire city so that we collectively support our families and together lead our children to one destination: a happy, healthy adulthood, no matter their neighborhood or background,” said Mayor Stoney.

The office will be housed within the Human Services portfolio, and its director will report to the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services, Reggie Gordon. Its creation is part of a broader effort to reorganize Human Services to be more person-centered and responsive to community needs.

Contractors and property owners now have the option of contracting with a third-party for permitting in the city

Construction investment in the city has doubled in the past three years to approximately $1 billion in 2019.  And while that is a good thing for growth, the result has been that some have had difficulty in obtaining plan reviews, building permits, and inspections.

By the end of February, the city’s Bureau of Permits and Inspections will initiate a Third-Party Plan Review and Inspections Program that will give developers and property owners the ability to contract directly with qualified, third-party inspection agencies to perform building plan reviews and building inspections in a timely manner.

The program allows contractors and property owners to rely on qualified, registered third-party professionals to perform building plan reviews and building inspections in a timely manner. This will alleviate lengthy wait times, benefitting both residents and the efficiency of the department.

“The important thing is that when we encounter a bump in the road, we don’t let it knock us off our course. We focus on the fix,” said the mayor. “We commit ourselves to the work of problem solving, not problem seeking.”

Third-party program services will include plan reviews, special inspections, limited 48-hour inspections, and unlimited general inspections.

A copy of the Mayor’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found here.

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Downtown

VDH launches first of its kind contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

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Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Governor Northam said in a news release. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Officials say widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

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Henrico County names Meghan F. Coates new Finance Director after leading county through budget shortfall negotiations

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

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Henrico County has appointed Meghan F. Coates director of the Department of Finance, effective Saturday, August 1st.

Coates joined the county staff in 2019 as deputy director of Finance and most recently served as acting director of the department. She will succeed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. in the position. Smither had led the department since 2017.

Coates was key to the county’s efforts this spring to navigate a $99 million shortfall — brought on by the sudden economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as Henrico was beginning its budget process for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

As director, Coates will head an agency with more than 160 employees and a budget of $13.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Finance comprises the divisions of real estate assessment, treasury, management and budget, accounting, purchasing, and revenue. Among its scope of duties, the department prepares and administers the county’s operating and capital budgets and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report; reviews, assesses, bills and collects taxes, licenses, and fees; assesses real estate and certain personal property, and purchases goods and services for general government departments and Henrico Schools.

Coates also will serve as commissioner of revenue and treasurer for the county, as prescribed by the Code of Virginia.

Prior to coming to Henrico, Coates held several positions with Chesterfield County, including budget analyst, budget manager and director of budget and management. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College and a Master of Science from Virginia Commonwealth University. Coates is the mother of two daughters.

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Downtown

Stoney administration commits $25-50 million for commemoration, memorialization of “complete history”

The first investment of $3.5M will fund the Shockoe Area Memorial Park campus.

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Surrounded by members of the Shockoe Alliance on Tuesday, Mayor Stoney committed to funding a capital improvement budget amendment of between $25 and 50 million in the city’s five-year CIP plan specifically for the commemoration and memorialization of what he calls “Richmond’s complete history.”

The mayor asserted that the shared priority of the Shockoe Alliance and city leadership is embracing and “telling the truth about Richmond’s history, centralizing the turmoil, resistance, resilience, and triumphs of Black Richmond.”

“Black lives built this city. Black lives have defined Richmond’s history. They matter,” Stoney said. “The story of Black lives should span our skyline, our landscape, and our textbooks accordingly.”

Priority investments will include the Shockoe Area, various African American burial grounds, and the Slave Trail. The effort will begin with a $3.5 million investment in the Shockoe Area Memorial Park.

The memorial park, a vision developed by the Shockoe Alliance and informed by decades of community work in the area, will use greenspace and structural sites such as a heritage center or museum to create a space of memorialization, education, and atonement.

The space will encompass the African American Burial Ground, the Devil’s Half Acre site, and the two blocks east of the railroad tracks that may constitute a future archeological site.

“In this city, we care about our history. We are our history, no matter how painful that may be to confront, and we are committed to telling our full story,” said Mayor Stoney. “That story, and so rightfully that investment, begins here. On the ground of Shockoe, and in honor of our ancestors.”

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