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City Council besieged with requests for more money

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/13/2017, 6:18 p.m.
As it wades into the details of city spending, Richmond City Council, as usual, is finding itself besieged with pleas ...

More money, please.

As it wades into the details of city spending, Richmond City Council, as usual, is finding itself besieged with pleas for additional funding from departments that feel shortchanged by Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s spartan budget proposal.

Police Chief Alfred Durham and interim Fire Chief David Daniels are putting on a hard-court press for $2.6 million in additional funds to improve salaries in order to stem the loss of veterans to other localities offering higher pay.

While Mayor Stoney included $2.3 million in his budget plan to improve pay for police officers and firefighters, both chiefs are telling City Council that is not good enough — even though the mayor did not propose pay increases for any other city employees.

Then there is the interim property assessor, Melvin Bloomfield, who said he needs about $170,000 extra to fill seven vacancies to keep up with the rising property values in the city. He already has hired three new people, but the mayor’s proposed budget does not include enough money to cover their salaries.

And then there is the city auditor, Umesh Dalal, who also needs about $170,000 to fill two vacancies on his staff so he can do his watchdog job.

Meanwhile, interim Director of Public Works Bobby Vincent is hoping that the council will approve a new $2.50 a month fee so he can buy new trucks and add at least 15 new people to the department’s workforce to improve trash collection.

Plenty of other city department heads also are giving council an earful about the important work they are doing and the extra funding that would help them keep up with demands for service.

During the next month, the council will be considering changes to the mayor’s budget in a bid to address some of the concerns they have heard.

Whether the council members can find extra money remains a question. Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, said he is considering proposing taking some money from the city’s “rainy day” fund.

He said city policy requires setting aside the equivalent of about 10 percent of the general fund. Based on the mayor’s proposal, that would translate to about $68.1 million.

But in recent years, as the Free Press has reported, he noted that the fund’s balance has grown to 12 to 13 percent. He said the extra dollars in the rainy day account potentially could be tapped as a source of one-time funds. He suggested that such funds might be used to beef up the city’s underfunded retirement system or allow some money in the general fund to be shifted to other purposes.

Meanwhile, the departmental lobbying continues.

Chief Durham is clearly the most active. He has been traveling to community meetings and civic groups to make his pitch for at least $1.6 million in additional money for his department.

The money is need to boost salaries of veteran officers, who did not get regular step increases during the Great Recession. As the result, some have “lost $18,000 a year in pay,” he said.