Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is taking his budget pitch on the road.
Stoney is hosting a series of town hall events to make the case for a proposed budget that includes the first property tax increase in decades. He held the first event in the East End on Tuesday night at Woodville Elementary School. Stoney began the meeting by listing off statistics about Richmond's roads and schools, which he said are in desperate need of resources. He pointed to the fact that the city's schools have the highest dropout rate in the state, and about 65 percent of Richmond's roads are in need of repair.
The worst of both, he said, is in the East End neighborhoods.
“Sixty-five percent of our roads are poor and most of them are found right here in the East End," he said.
In fact, a presentation by Department of Public Works Director Bobby Vincent showed the Northside neighborhood has the worst roads with only 28 percent in good condition.
The proposed budget includes $18 million in new funding for schools and about $16 million for road repaving. The increased funding comes primarily from an estimated $21 million that will be generated by the property tax increase and an additional $3 million from a proposed 50-cent cigarette tax. Richmond City Council is debating the proposed budget and makes the final decision on whether to pass it or amend it.
Stoney also spent much of Tuesday's town hall responding to criticisms from City Council members and activists that claim the city isn't efficiently using the money it already has. Stoney said city government is collecting more delinquent taxes than in previous years and his proposed budget will save money by moving the operations of Main Street Station and 17th Street Market in-house.
Responding to questions about how Richmond spends more money on municipal services than the surrounding counties, Stoney said that the city is penalized for being the state capitol. He said there is $50 million in non-taxable property in the city owned by the state, and the school funding formula employed by the state treats Richmond differently, resulting in millions in lost education dollars.
"We also have to recognize we have a higher poverty rate in this city than we do in the counties," Stoney said. "We have to give them services as well. We have to meet their needs and we also have to lift them up."
Still, residents like Barbara Palmer weren’t convinced.
Palmer, a lifelong resident of Richmond, said she's been around for the first majority-black Richmond City Council and the first black mayor. And she's heard a lot of politicians make lofty promises.
“It always comes down to doing what you say you are going to do," she said. "Don’t make these promises and give us all these wonderful dreams about making the city better, and then nothing happens. That's my biggest concern right now."
Stoney has three more budget town halls planned. Here are the details:
Thursday, March 21
7 – 8:30 p.m.
Southside Community Center
6335 Old Warwick Rd.
Wednesday, March 27
6:30 – 8 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson High School
4100 W. Grace St.
Tuesday, April 2
6:30 – 8 p.m.
Northside Family YMCA
7207 Old Brook Rd.