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Henrico outlines $1.4 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2021-22

The proposed plan would advance projects, services after last year’s “ultraconservative” budget.

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The Henrico County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday received a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that would strengthen investments in education, public safety, and other core services, provide a generational boost to employee pay and advance key capital projects, including the final ones from the 2016 bond referendum and a treatment-based recovery center for those struggling with addiction.

County Manager John A. Vithoulkas presented a $1.4 billion budget for fiscal 2021-22 that builds slightly on the plan that was under consideration last spring before the onset of the pandemic. Officials ultimately eliminated $100 million in planned expenses as a hedge against COVID-19’s uncertain impacts on revenues.

The proposed budget for fiscal 2021-22 includes a $983.9 million general fund to support most governmental operations. That represents a $21.4 million, or 2.2%, increase over the budget that was initially proposed for fiscal 2020-21 and an $84.8 million, or 9.4%, increase over the plan that was ultimately adopted with the extensive cuts.

“COVID-19 has made this past year challenging in many ways,” Vithoulkas said. “From a budget standpoint, we were extremely cautious last spring and set aside key initiatives, including many capital projects and employee raises because we did not know then how substantially our revenues would be impacted by the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we have seen revenues outperform our ultraconservative projections as well as growth tied to new construction, the hot real estate market, and strong consumer spending late last year. As a result, we have prepared a budget that will allow us to build a stronger, more vibrant Henrico County, with excellent schools, thriving businesses, and an unmatched quality of life for everyone.”

Highlights of the proposed budget include:

  • No change to the real estate tax rate of 87 cents per $100 of assessed value. The county’s rate has not increased, although it has decreased, in the past 43 years;
  • A $707.5 million operating budget for Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS), an increase of $65 million, or 10%, over the current year. The plan would support additional positions for the fall openings of the new J.R. Tucker High, Highland Springs High and expanded Holladay Elementary schools. The budget also would support the Achievable Dream Academy’s expansion to the sixth grade;
  • More than $224 million for capital projects, including the final projects planned as part of the 2016 bond referendum. Among these are a renovation of Adams Elementary School, a new firehouse along Nine Mile Road, and improvements to various parks, including the development of Taylor Park, upgrades to Tuckahoe Park and Three Lakes Park, and an expansion of Tuckahoe Creek Park. In addition, $54 million would be set aside for career and technical education centers at Hermitage and Highland Springs high schools;
  • $9 million for construction of a transitional recovery center, which was recommended by the county’s Recovery Roundtable to help reduce jail overcrowding by enhancing substance use treatment and other services for adults struggling with addiction;
  • $22.5 million in new funding from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, which would support various road projects as well as sidewalk and other pedestrian facilities;
  • $4.1 million for initiatives to continue to reduce stormwater pollution and mitigate residential drainage;
  • $57.6 million for a comprehensive employee-compensation plan that would reward longevity, provide market adjustments for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public safety employees, and begin to increase the county’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Overall, the plan would provide pay increases from a minimum of 4.4% for general government employees and 6.9% for HCPS teachers to more than 14% for employees who are eligible for both market adjustments and longevity pay;
  • $585,896 to support the creation of a sports authority, which would guide the county’s sports tourism program and oversee sites and venues, such as the planned indoor sports and event center at Virginia Center Commons;
  • An average increase in water and sewer rates of $3.05 per month for residential customers to keep pace with service and maintenance needs. Due to the pandemic, officials withdrew a rate increase that was initially proposed for fiscal 2020-21 and placed a moratorium on disconnections of water and sewer service for late or nonpayment.

The Board of Supervisors will begin its review of the proposed budget during legislative work sessions March 15-19. The meetings will be held in rooms 2029 and 2030 of the Henrico County Training Center, 7701 E. Parham Road, and will be available for remote viewing via WebEx. All sessions are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for the one set for 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 23 in the Board Room at the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. A vote to adopt the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13. Once approved, the budget will guide operating and capital spending for the year beginning July 1.

Copies of the proposed budget are available at Henrico libraries, the Office of Management and Budget in the Henrico Government Center, and at henrico.us.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Downtown

McAuliffe crushes competitors in Democratic primary for governor

For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.

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For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.

The almost-victory dance became the real thing Tuesday as the former governor and prolific Democratic fundraiser cruised to a lopsided win in a split field, setting up a general-election matchup with deep-pocketed Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Tuesday’s victory cements McAuliffe’s return to the forefront of Virginia politics after serving as governor from 2014 to 2018. He had to leave office due to Virginia’s ban on governors serving consecutive terms, but there was nothing stopping him running again after a brief hiatus in which he explored the idea of a presidential run or a potential post in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

Though McAuliffe has said fellow Democrats encouraged him to return and help keep the state blue, a claim backed by his lengthy list of endorsements from senior members of the General Assembly, some have faulted him for taking the rare step of reasserting himself atop a party that was racking up electoral successes and policy wins in his absence.

That didn’t seem to be a tough question for the primary voters who showed up Tuesday and overwhelmingly chose McAuliffe over four other contenders. Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, both of whom had hoped to make history as the first Black woman elected governor of any state, were on pace to finish second and third, respectively. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, his political aspirations hobbled by sexual assault allegations he denies, was in fourth place as of about 8:30 p.m., while Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, was in fifth.

In-person turnout appeared sluggish at polling places Tuesday, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that could be attributed to a lack of enthusiasm for an uncompetitive contest at the top of the ticket or the broader shift to mail-in ballots due to the pandemic and looser rules on absentee voting.

Two-thirds of the 2021 Democratic ticket will be a rerun of the party’s 2013 slate after Attorney General Mark Herring defeated challenger Jay Jones, a state delegate from Norfolk.

Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, backed by establishment Democrats like Gov. Ralph Northam and Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, came out on top in the crowded primary for lieutenant governor, adding diversity to a ticket with two other slots filled by White men who have held statewide office before.

In interviews Tuesday about their picks for governor, some Democratic voters indicated they didn’t look much further than McAuliffe, deciding early that someone who did the job before could do it again.

“He was forthcoming. He was honest,” said Doreen Taylor, a self-described “60-plus” voter who cast her ballot for McAuliffe in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. “He told people what needed to be done and he did it.”

Nick Walker, a 26-year-old craft brewer who saw his Virginia Beach brewpub shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had a more specific McAuliffe story. He said he met the former governor at a beer event during McAuliffe’s first term and complained that the state’s arcane beer distribution rules were preventing small brewers from transporting their products throughout the state. Instead of getting brushed off, Walker said, McAuliffe connected him with a state official who could help.

“At that moment, he was just a guy who didn’t understand what was going on, but knew that something was wrong,” Walker said. “And instead of being like, ‘Oh we’ll fix it’ and then saying nothing, he delegated it to someone who knew how to fix it. And then we literally fixed that problem within the craft beer industry within a year. That doesn’t happen. And that was huge for me.”

While voting for McAuliffe at Petersburg’s 112-year-old train station, Carol Johnson said that, as a Black woman, she had considered supporting McClellan or Caroll Foy, both of whom have strong Petersburg ties. But she ultimately decided McAuliffe gives Democrats their best shot at victory this fall.

“I don’t think we have time to waste. I think we need somebody in there who knows how to get things done from the start,” Johnson said.

Darrell Mason, however, was all about getting “some new blood in there.”

“I voted for Jennifer … somebody,” he said, sliding down his mask to show a sly grin. Later, he said he voted for Carroll Foy.

“I know Terry McAuliffe; had my picture made with him. I like him and I know, hands down, that he’s going to win. It’s a sure thing,” Mason said. “I just want her (Carroll Foy) to get some votes to help her with her career.”

Other voters said they were frustrated by the way McAuliffe blocked the rise of other contenders who could have offered a fresher perspective.

Patty Loyde, a 51-year-old bookkeeper who voted for McClellan at a church in Richmond’s Fan District, said McAuliffe was “sucking all the air out of the room because he’s got so much money.”

“If Virginia allowed two terms and he won a second term, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Loyde said. “But he’s had his turn. And I just feel like it’s time for a Black person and a woman to be our governor.”

Martha Hoagland, a 23-year-old supply chain management major at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she voted for Carroll Foy because she was looking for the most progressive candidate with the broadest appeal.

“I just don’t want Terry McAuliffe to win,” she said. “Because I think he’s just kind of a corporate person.”

“He seems like a cool-enough guy,” said Kofi Roberts, a 23-year-old recent VCU graduate now working as a copywriting intern. “But it’s just like, what have you done since you’ve been governor that’s impacted me that I could point to?”

A McAuliffe win, he said, would feel “kind of like the Joe Biden presidency.”

“I wanted Bernie to win. Biden won. It’s not great. But it’s not terrible,” Roberts said. “Like the world still might burn. But at least in the meantime …”

“It’s not being lit on fire,” Hoagland said.

Mercury columnist Bob Lewis contributed reporting.

This has been a breaking news post. Check back for updates. 

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Downtown

Department of Public Utilities accepting new applications for CARES utility relief assistance

Funds are limited and applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligible customers are encouraged to apply immediately.

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On June 1, 2021, the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities began accepting new applications from customers who have fallen behind on their utility bills due to economic hardship due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Municipal Utility Relief Program funding provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is being administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and supports municipal utility relief efforts during the pandemic.

To be eligible for funding under this Relief Program, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a residential or non-residential customer of the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities with active utility service;
  • Have experienced/been impacted by an economic hardship due to COVID-19;
  • Have fallen behind on their City water, wastewater, or natural gas utility* bill for services from March 1, 2020, through November 1, 2021;
  • Have not received any other forms of relief or financial assistance for their City utility services. However, previous CARES Act utility relief recipients are eligible to reapply within the extended service period defined above.

Funds are limited and applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligible customers are encouraged to apply immediately. More information, including the application, is available at www.rva.gov/public-utilities. Customers may also request an application via email to [email protected] or pick one up at any of the following locations:

  • City Hall | 900 E. Broad Street, Room 115
  • East District Initiative | 701 N. 25th Street
  • Southside Community Services Center | 4100 Hull Street
  • All Richmond Public Libraries

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Business

Governor Northam drops COVID restrictions as Virginia fully reopens

All capacity and gathering restrictions are now lifted as Virginia fully reopens. Businesses can still make their own rules about whether patrons must wear masks, however.

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Governor Ralph Northam today dropped all distancing and capacity restrictions, two weeks earlier than planned. Northam’s office says Virginia is able to take these steps as a result of “increasing vaccination rates, dramatically declining COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and statewide test positivity rate, and revised federal guidelines.”

“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia. I strongly urge any Virginian who is not yet vaccinated to do so—the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19. The message is clear: vaccinations are how we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to being with the people we love and doing the things we have missed.”

The CDC guidelines state that fully-vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most indoor settings, except on public transit, in health care facilities, and in congregate settings. Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their establishments. Employees who work in certain business sectors—including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment—must continue to wear masks unless fully vaccinated, per CDC guidance. Those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear masks in all settings.

The state of emergency in Virginia will remain in place at least through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Governor Northam will take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date. Masks will continue to be required in K-12 public schools, given low rates of vaccination among children.

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