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Henrico County to begin 2020-21 leaf collection efforts week of November 9th

Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

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Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

Free collection of bagged leaves is scheduled through Feb. 13. Crews will work week to week in five zones; each zone will receive two pickups over the course of the program. Collection is provided automatically for residents living in designated zones. Residents living outside those areas can order free pickup of bagged leaves by calling (804) 727-8770.

Residents are encouraged to place their bags at the curb or road’s edge on the Sunday of the assigned pickup week; crews will begin collection at 7 a.m. Monday. Bags should be free of trash and debris and must be accessible from the street as crews are not authorized to enter private property.

Henrico also will offer vacuum leaf collection from Nov. 9 through Dec. 30 and again from Feb. 22 through March 31. Residents can order the $30 service by calling (804) 501-4275. Leaves should be placed at the curb or road’s edge and be free of trash, sticks and other debris.

Whether using the bagged pickup or vacuum service, residents are encouraged to avoid placing bags or loose leaves in traffic lanes, parking spaces, storm drains or ditches. In addition to creating a potential traffic hazard, misplaced leaves can block drainage and contribute to stormwater pollution.

Henrico’s public-use areas, located at 2075 Charles City Road and 10600 Fords Country Lane, offer residents another leaf-disposal option. Bagged leaves will be accepted at no cost from Nov. 9 through Feb. 13. Loose leaves and other yard debris are accepted year-round at no charge. The public-use areas are open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. except for certain holidays.

Additional information is available from the Department of Public Utilities.

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Schools can opt for remote learning during inclement weather

Virginia lawmakers insisted there will still be snow days for public school students, though the General Assembly recently passed legislation allowing unscheduled remote learning during inclement weather. 

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By Sarah Elson

Virginia lawmakers insisted there will still be snow days for public school students, though the General Assembly recently passed legislation allowing unscheduled remote learning during inclement weather.

“I have heard this bill referred to as ‘the killer of snow day dreams,’” said Alan Seibert, superintendent of Salem City Schools, during a subcommittee meeting. “That’s not the case.”

Lawmakers passed two identical bills stating school divisions can opt for virtual learning during severe weather conditions and emergency situations that result in the cancellation of in-person classes.

Remote learning or distance education is when the instructor and student are separated by location and do not physically meet.

“I would like to emphasize that this is not a bill to eliminate snow days but simply provide some flexibility to school systems,” said Del. Joseph McNamara, R-Roanoke, who introduced House Bill 1790. Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, introduced Senate Bill 1132, an identical bill. The bills had strong support in both chambers, though they each moved through the Senate with unanimous support.

 “As you know this pandemic has made us think outside the box and some benefit has come from this thinking,” said Mark Miear, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in the New River Valley, during the House subcommittee meeting.

Public schools must offer 180 days or 990 hours of instruction each year or receive a reduction in state aid, according to Virginia law. School districts typically build in extra snow days for inclement weather. If those days are used up, schools must make up days to meet the required instruction time. The bills also allow schools to make up missed instruction by scheduling a remote learning day.

Both bills state that no school division can use more than 10 unscheduled remote learning days in a school year unless the superintendent of public instruction grants an extension.

 “I’m really glad that the state is allowing this type of [learning] to happen in the 21st century, because it’ll allow us to be able to have days that actually count toward that 990 hours,” said Max Smith, assistant director of operations at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond.

Miear said unscheduled remote learning days will allow the school district to set an end date for the school year and schedule summer programs. Some districts can miss 17-20 days for inclement weather, Miear said. The updated policy will allow for instruction to be “more consistent.”

Moving to online learning during inclement weather will not make up for lost education, Owen Hughes, a permanent substitute teacher at Elmont Elementary School in Ashland, stated in a text message.

“Remote teaching only truly takes place when there is remote learning,” Hughes stated. “This means that if students are disengaged and not learning, teachers aren’t teaching they’re just talking and staying busy.”

Smith said that it will be easy to implement remote learning days because Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School has been teaching students through virtual learning. The school provided some students with laptops and hotspots if they needed them.

“Now if we hadn’t had an infrastructure in place, it might be really difficult to be able to pull off one of these unscheduled instructional days from the legislation, but we already have the infrastructure in place,” Smith said.

Hughes is concerned some students will not have access to a working internet connection during inclement weather. The General Assembly this session funded the expansion of rural broadband internet access, though it will take a while to implement the infrastructure.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, sponsored a related bill. SB 1303 will require both online and in-person learning to become available to students by July 1. The student’s parent or guardian would decide on the learning modality. The bill expires in August 2022.

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Mayor Levar Stoney releases proposed FY22 city budget

Despite municipal revenues projected to be nearly $18.5 million less than revenues in last year’s FY21 proposed budget, the $770.3 million proposal is balanced, with expenses in line with current revenue projections.

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On Friday, Mayor Levar M. Stoney and administration leadership presented the proposed FY22 budget to Richmond City Council. Despite municipal revenues projected to be nearly $18.5 million less than revenues in last year’s FY21 proposed budget (when excluding one-time funding sources from both fiscal years), the $770.3 million proposal is balanced, with expenses in line with current revenue projections.

“The difficult decisions we had to make reflect the extraordinarily challenging economic times we’re in, and while this budget is limited in its ability to provide for new programming, it does protect the work we’ve started to make our city more equitable,” said Mayor Stoney. “Facing the need to do more with significantly less challenged us to look even more closely at how we can allocate the resources we have to produce better results for Richmonders.”

With proposed utility rate increases, the average customer will see a $5.27 increase in their monthly utility bill. This increase in utility rates will fund more than $3 million in infrastructure improvements to address flooding in key areas, particularly Southside.

However, the budget as proposed contains no increases in real estate, personal property or other general taxes.

The proposed Operating Budget and FY22-26 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) include the following key investments (the list is not exhaustive):

Transit, Mobility and Transportation

$8 million to the Greater Richmond Transit Company;

$33.5 million in investments in sidewalk maintenance and construction, paving, new bike lanes and bridge maintenance, and other transportation-related improvements in addition to an anticipated $16.7 million from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority;

$2.5 million specifically for new sidewalk construction (up from $900,000 in FY21) as well as an increase in the number of sidewalk crews in the Department of Public Works;

Housing Affordability and Security

$2.9 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (level-funding from last year);

$485,000 to the Eviction Diversion Program (level-funding from last year);

Equity and Community Safety

$1.1 million in operational funding to the Department of Emergency Communications to establish the Marcus Alert (as supported by community advocates and members of the Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety);

$28 million for the Enslaved African Heritage Campus in the FY22-26 CIP;

Funding for a Community Safety Coordinator, the city’s point person for implementing a gun-violence prevention framework, coordinating services for Richmonders experiencing homelessness and working with residents to address other community safety concerns;

Creation of the Office of Engagement under the Department of Citizen Service and Response;

Creation of the Office of Equity and Inclusion under the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services;

Children and Families

$187 million to Richmond Public Schools, fully funding the school system’s operational funding request (constitutes a $6.4 million increase when excluding RPS’ use of one-time funding in FY21);

$200 million for school modernization in FY24, including funding for a new George Wythe High School;

Good Governance

Full funding, in the FY22-26 CIP, to complete the renovation and expansion of the Southside Community Services Center;

A two-step salary increase for sworn police officers and firefighters;

An hourly wage increase for city employees making $12.07/hour to $13/hour; and

Nearly $6 million in the general fund to implement the recommendations of the Gallagher Class and Compensation Study, which found that many city employees make significantly less than their mid-range salaries compared to market rates.

In favor of implementing the recommendations of the Gallagher Class and Compensation Study, Mayor Stoney appealed to service quality and consistency: “The fact is, we will not achieve service improvement goals if we do not stabilize the attrition rate in the city workforce or if we cannot competitively recruit.”

He also shared that the creation of a pandemic-era budget resulted in the adoption of multiple municipal best practices, including increasing the transparency and accountability of the budgeting process. In the budget document, the Richmond City Council will be able to view a list of frozen and funded positions per department, tying the funded positions to specific city needs and functions. In order to balance the budget, the administration has decided to freeze an additional 150 positions, compared to last year’s budget.

The Mayor closed on a positive note, stating, “Whether times are lean or prosperous, I want you to know that I will continue to be bold and embrace the challenges before us.”

“We will take the actions required to remove barriers to opportunity and ensure our city can recover the right way.”

Interested parties will be able to learn more about the budget, read the mayor’s remarks and watch the presentation at www.rva.gov/budgethub.

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Downtown

City Council unanimously approves sale of the Public Safety Building

The city is selling the three-acre property to Capital City Partners, LLC for $3,520,456 who will then redevelop the site into a $325 million mixed-use project anchored by VCU Health System, The Doorways, and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

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Richmond City Council approved three Ordinances introduced by the Stoney Administration for the sale and redevelopment of the site of the of the existing Public Safety Building. The city is selling the three-acre property to Capital City Partners, LLC for $3,520,456 who will then redevelop the site into a $325 million mixed-use project anchored by VCU Health System, The Doorways, and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The negotiated sales price takes into account the developer’s responsibility to demolish the existing building and build public infrastructure that includes reconstructing Clay Street between 9th and 10th Streets.

“The sale and redevelopment of the Public Safety Building site is a critical first step to improving downtown,” said Mayor Levar Stoney.  “My Administration was glad to work with City Council and Capital City Partners, LLC to create this great win for Richmond.

The project will aid minority businesses, create child care slots for Richmond families, fund scholarships for graduates of Richmond Public Schools, and generate nearly $56 million in new revenue for the city’s General Fund over the first 25 years. We can, and we will, continue to grow Richmond by redeveloping underutilized city-owned property.”

“For many years the city has needed to find a better use for the Public Safety Building site.  I am glad that City Council has approved this important project that moves the city forward in redeveloping our Downtown, benefits our community, and strengthens healthcare in the city and region,” said Councilmember Ellen Robertson.

“We want to thank Mayor Stoney and Richmond City Council for supporting the sale of this property and allowing this important development to go forward.  Too often real estate transactions are thought of only in terms of investment and economics, but not in the lives they improve.  This project will help improve the lives of thousands of families in crises and will further Richmond’s reputation as an important healthcare capital,” said Capital City Partners’ Susan Eastridge and Michael Hallmark.

“VCU and VCU Health are strongly committed to the redevelopment of this area.  The Public Safety Building Project, along with the current construction of our new children’s inpatient hospital and Adult Outpatient Pavilion, will play a critical role in supporting a thriving urban center,” said Michael Rao, president of VCU and VCU Health System.

“We are pleased that the City has chosen to move forward with the sale of the Public Safety Building to Capital City Partners, LLC.  This announcement marks the beginning of a long-awaited initiative to breathe fresh life into this section of the city, while providing a much needed new home for The Doorways to lodge the thousands of families who depend on our services to access their medical care.  This announcement is truly a win-win for the Doorways and the entire Richmond community,” said Stacy Brinkley, President and CEO of The Doorways.

“As specialty pediatric care grows in the Richmond region, so does the need to support the whole family.  A new, fully-accessible Ronald McDonald House provides more capacity to help families whose sick and injured children are receiving care at all pediatric hospitals throughout the Richmond region as well as families whose children are the most vulnerable and medically complex being cared for at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.  This project is a game changer for pediatric healthcare,” said Kerry Blumberg, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond.

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