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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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Richmond health district moves into phase 2, all people 16 and older now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Anyone interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should pre-register at vaccinate.virgininia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA if they have not done so already.

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Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, Chesterfield Health District, and Chickahominy Health District are all moving into Phase 2 of COVID-19 vaccinations. Many pre-registered individuals will receive emails and phone calls today to schedule their appointment for as soon as next week. Additional scheduling outreach will be conducted over the coming weeks until everyone who has preregistered has been contacted for an appointment.

“This is a turning point in our vaccine distribution,” says Amy Popovich, Nurse Manager for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “Everyone ages 16 and over is now eligible; people no longer have to wonder if they qualify.”

“We are thrilled to make the move to Phase 2 and vaccinate more of our community members,” said the Chickahominy Health District Director, Dr. Tom Franck. “We will continue to prioritize those in Phase 1 as we move into Phase 2, while continuing to focus on equity and reaching our vulnerable populations with the support of our community partners.”

“We are proud to take this step forward in vaccine distribution alongside partners in our area,” explains Dr. Alexander Samuel, Director of Chesterfield Health District. “This is good news for all of our residents.”

Anyone interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine should pre-register at vaccinate.virgininia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA if they have not done so already.

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Marijuana possession and cultivation could be legal by July

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended legislation to accelerate the legalization of marijuana possession and home cultivation in the state to July as opposed to 2024.

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By Sam Fowler

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended legislation to accelerate the legalization of marijuana possession and home cultivation in the state to July as opposed to 2024.

“Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health and social justice,” Northam stated in a release.

The governor proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for possession.

“This is an historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” the group Marijuana Justice stated in a press release.

Marijuana Justice seeks to legalize the use and possession of marijuana. The group advocates for communities most impacted by the criminalization of drugs with their “legalize it right” campaign.

The bills allow adults 21 years of age or older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Individuals can cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The governor’s amendments would allow households to grow up to four plants beginning July 1. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21.

Legislators will review the governor’s proposals during the General Assembly’s reconvened session on April 7, according to Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who sponsored the House bill.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice.

“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said.

Accelerating the legislative timeline is key, Kory said.

“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said.

A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.

The original legislation established the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products.

The governor’s amendments would allow the authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor; or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors.

Lawmakers grappled with the dangers of juvenile use of marijuana, Kory said, and the impact of use on developing brains.

Marijuana Justice wants to remove the delinquency charge that designates marijuana possession a crime, not a civil penalty, if committed by someone underage. The penalty is still up to $25.

“Instead of punishment, young people should be evaluated for appropriate services that address the root causes of their usage,” Marijuana Justice stated.

The amendments would fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. The changes also would train law enforcement officers to recognize and prevent drugged driving. Northam stated that his amendments include “explicit language directing ongoing support for public health education.”

The bill established a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Board tasked with providing youth mentoring programs to marginalized youth and those in foster care, as well as providing scholarships to children who have been negatively impacted by marijuana in their family or community.

The current expungement of marijuana-related crimes is set for July 1, 2025. Northam’s new amendments call for marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. This will allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to be resentenced, according to the new amendment.

The bills originally passed along party lines. No Republicans voted for either bill, and several Democrats in the House did not vote on either measure. Sens. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, and Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, stated that the governor’s amendments helped assuage their original concerns.

The conservative, faith-based organization The Family Foundation told supporters Thursday to contact their representatives and urge them to vote against the accelerated timeline.

The organization stated that violent and nonviolent crime rates have increased in states that have legalized marijuana, citing an opinion piece from a police defense group.

“It’s always been about generating more tax revenue to finance the ever-expanding state bureaucracy, creating massive fortunes for those who would use marijuana (like gambling) to prey on our most vulnerable citizens, and catering to a generation increasingly void of moral standards,” stated Victoria Cobb, the foundation’s president.

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As of April 18th Anyone 16+ Eligible for Covid-19 Vaccine

To pre-register, visit http://vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA.

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Starting April 18th, every Virginian 16 and older will be eligible to get a Covid 19 vaccine. To pre-register, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA. Currently, Virginia is in Phases 1a, 1b, and 1c. On April 18th the commonwealth will be moving on to Phase 2. Find out more about the Phases and which category you fall into here.

The COVID-19 vaccine is FREE, regardless of insurance. The federal government pays for the COVID-19 vaccine but some healthcare providers can get paid for administering the vaccines. For those with health insurance, this cost is typically billed to the insurance company.

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