Budget, Davenport, Better Build, and a Call to Action

ORD 137 and 140: Improving Richmond’s Budget

ORD 137 and 140 were continued at the request of their patron, Jon Baliles, to the July 21st 3pm Finance Committee meeting. 

From what I’ve heard, this was to allow time to gain support of a majority of Council members on the committee (Agelastro, Graziano, and Robertson) and wait for findings from the Davenport Multi-Year School Investment Funding Team (MYSIFT). More on this below.

From Councilman Agelastro’s response, there’s one vote in favor. I’ve yet to hear back from Graziano and Robertson, but I’m guessing they’re no votes for now. Earlier this year Graziano and Robertson voted against ORD2016-092 (directs money from resale of school property to schools) in committee. This went to City Council with a denial recommendation, but gained 5 votes in Council work session to be listed on the consent agenda. On April 11th, when it got to the Council floor for debate in front of a packed room, Council voted 8-0 to approve (Graziano voted to approve and Robertson was absent).  

This same path could be followed for ORD 137 and 140, but it would be great to get everyone on board from the start.

Next steps:

1. Learn about ORD 137 and 140 to form your own opinion. The Mayor's analysis isn't favorable, but we haven't received actionable solutions which are needed today. Read about Richmond Forward's support and (if you feel moved) pass on our one-pager

2. Show up to City Hall, 2nd floor Council Chambers, for the Finance Committee meeting on July 21st at 3pm! Public comment will be allowed when they discuss these ordinances. Continuity in support is powerful. Come early, come often.

If you can’t be there, be sure to contact City Council today!

Building a Better RPS

These people are legit and are doing the legwork of building human capacity to sustain a network of advocates for improving RPS. Throughout the summer they’re hosting awesome community events to fund raise and improve our school facilities! If you want to know more, visit their website and be sure to like them on Facebook to stay involved.

According to Style, they’ve raised $12,000 from area restaurants and you can drink to support RPS facilities later this month! For those looking to lend a hand with school improvements, sign up at HandsOn Greater Richmond for a plethora of opportunities in late July. Be sure to spread the word.

Davenport Multi-Year School Investment Funding Team (MYSIFT)

The information in this study is the most crucial factor in shaping the future of our city. I tried to triple bold this sentence.

Why is this triple bold important?

Our dreams, desires, and plans for the future of Richmond come down to money. If we envision a city with stellar public transit, a world-class school system, dynamic neighborhoods, and a healthy James River (which I hope we do), it’s going to cost money, smartly invested, to get us there.

Following the money will inform us if we’re true about stated intentions. How we spend our money is a reflection of our heart.

Finally, how we account for our money (or don't) reflects greatly upon the leadership we'll support. It’s easy to cast blame at City administration/Mayor for not turning in basic financial reports on time (e.g. CAFR), but are we not implicit actors if we sit idly by? Government is only as good as the people that hold it accountable.

What’s in the report?

Davenport & Company facilitated a study on the City’s long-term capital needs. An executive team and four working groups were developed to evaluate the data and provide recommendations.  

The report found that under our current tax levels and debt issued, we’ve maxed out our credit card for the next 5 years. As an entire city, we can only spend an additional $8.5M for capital projects over the next 5 years. Wow, that’s terrible.  

To solve this conundrum, the Mayor’s press release details a plan to raise the debt ceiling from 10% to 12% to free up an additional $253M to issue bonds over the next 10 years. To allow the City to take extra debt and maintain our A+ credit rating, we would need to raise additional revenues (e.g. real estate, meals, personal property, admission to theaters and shows, vehicle licenses or cigarette taxes) to balance the equation.

The full report (School Investment Funding Plan Scenario Analysis), draft report, and a lot of important financial documents on the future of Richmond can be found on this helpful webpage. Be sure to check out the shared documents link for a treasure trove of information on past and projected capital needs for RPS and the City.

What’s been the reaction?

Mixed, if not extremely critical, reviews. City Council’s original reaction centered on their opposition to raising the debt ceiling without increased revenues. According to the Mayor’s Triple Action Investment Plan, the debt ceiling raise would happen within the next 30 days.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Davenport shed additional light on “increased revenues” by detailing the following:

  • 5 cent increase in the real estate tax rate
  • 1.5 cent increase in the meals tax rate
  • 10 % increase in the personal property tax rate
  • 1 percentage point increase in the city’s admissions tax rate
  • New cigarette tax

So far, the Mayor has not endorsed any of these additional revenues, but would still like the debt ceiling raised. City Council is doing the correct thing in questioning this rationale. We can't always have more cake.

Other interesting commentaries I’ve read on this from Jon Baliles, Ross Catrow, and Taber Bain, all point out the key issue that we have to improve our understanding of budget constraints unique to the City of Richmond.

Call to Action 

As a community advocacy movement we've been intentional to position ourselves to disseminate/distill information to provide an education base for the empowerment of others. Our understanding of change is driven by the belief that those most impacted (existing organizations, government, citizens, etc.) need to be the change they want to see. With that said, we really need someone, or an organization, to step-up and provide the following:  

1. Decoding Davenport

More than money, we need to elevate this conversation and understanding of our City’s finances. We need a Teresa-Cole-like investigation to “decode Davenport” and provide analysis from a neutral source on the long-term financial future of our city. I've received input from those on MYSIFT committees that further scrutiny was needed to evaluate numbers provided by Davenport. Please contact us today if you want to take the lead or be involved in this effort. 

2. Election Action Team

Beyond the dust of our presidential and mayoral elections, the fate of Richmond will most directly be impacted by the school board and city council races for ALL 18 SEATS this fall! We're lucky to be a part of an awesome team to present Mayoathon 2016 at the VMFA on September 29th at 6:30pm.  

In our attempt to elevate the education conversation, we developed these questions on policy and funding to be answered by mayoral candidates. This is a start and more is needed to better define and educate voters on where candidates stand on issues. In the past few months, we've been receiving input from teachers, students, and others on education questions and policy benchmarks, but a champion is needed to further this effort.    

Please contact us today if you want to take the lead or be involved in this effort.