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Mayor calls for $2M school fund as council votes to keep tax rate unchanged
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Mayor calls for $2M school fund as council votes to keep tax rate unchanged

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Mayor Dwight C. Jones may not have gotten the lower tax rate he wanted, but as long as the city is taking in extra revenue, he wants to direct at least $2 million to a reserve fund for the maintenance needs of Richmond Public Schools.

After the mayor called last month for a 1-cent reduction in the city’s property tax rate, the City Council voted unanimously Monday to keep the rate unchanged at $1.20 per $100 of assessed value. Under a state requirement that forces localities to consider rolling back the tax rate when assessments rise by more than 1 percent, the tax rate would have fallen to about $1.19, the same rate the mayor suggested.

Ahead of the council vote, the mayor announced that he wants some of that surplus revenue, projected to be around $4.5 million, to go to schools.

“While it was my desire to see us, as a government, offer the first reduction in the city’s real estate tax rate since 2007, it seems the will of the many is headed in a different direction and it is unlikely that City Council will approve the reduced rate,” Jones said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“I agree that the city has many needs that the additional funds can be directed toward, and I am suggesting that we initially establish a reserve fund for maintenance needs of Richmond Public Schools,” the statement said.

Last month, the mayor proposed a 1-cent reduction in response to a

2.2 percent increase in the taxable value of city real estate. The rising assessments required the city to reconsider the tax rate. A vote to keep the rate the same, which can only happen after a public hearing, will amount to a vote for slightly higher taxes for many property owners in the 2015 tax year.

Several council members have pointed specifically to the need for more school funding as a reason they could not support reducing the tax rate as proposed by the mayor.

City Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, said at Monday’s meeting that the council always battles during budget time to improve basic city services. He also urged the council to take an active role in shaping how the extra revenue will be allocated.

“I simply would ask that our colleagues support the maintaining of our rate but also making it essential that we identify our priorities early enough in the budget process that we can influence where those resources are going to be deployed to meet the expectations of our citizens,” Agelasto said.

The city gave the schools an extra $7 million in its current budget for school maintenance, and the mayor’s office said

$3 million had already been spent in the first three months of the fiscal year that began July 1. School officials have estimated they have $35 million in immediate needs.

Jones stressed that the reserve fund is a “short-term measure” and that a long-term plan is still being discussed.

Jones recently established a school finance working group made up of local finance professionals. The statement from the mayor’s office said that body is exploring several ideas, “including possibly using funds from new assessed real estate to finance payments for a major loan, using savings from performance contracting to pay for maintenance needs, state and federal tax credits and tax-exempt bond financing.”

“I’m confident that we will chart a course for the long-term that will meet necessary needs,” the mayor said. “As the body responsible for the funding, we are doing our work to ensure we meet that responsibility. At the same time, I’m hoping to receive a plan from RPS that will address enrollment and performance concerns.”

The mayor’s office also said a 2002 review showed city schools were under-enrolled by more than 3,000 students, adding that current data show that trend continuing.

“I still believe that sometimes less is more and that if RPS can work towards correcting the size of the system they are operating, we can save money, better direct the available resources and, hopefully, return to lowering the tax burden on the residents of the city,” the mayor said.

The mayor said he would not direct all the surplus money to schools, saying the city has “other funding priorities” to support, such as compensation for police and fire employees. Jones intends to introduce an ordinance to establish the fund, which would need council approval.

There were several other notable pieces of business on Monday’s council agenda, which began with 68 items.

Late-night music

at The Camel

The council approved a permit for The Camel restaurant and music venue to allow the venue to host live music until 2 a.m. on any day of the week. The venue had been limited to a cutoff time of 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. City officials plan to review the matter again after a year.

Naming the dam walk

The planned Brown’s

Island dam walk project will officially be named the “T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge” in honor of the late city planner after the council approved a naming ordinance.

Stadium-related issues continued

The council delayed action on four papers connected to the ongoing debate over whether to build a new minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom or the Boulevard.

Those papers — one to seek regional participation for a stadium project, one to express council’s support for a previous Shockoe revitalization strategy that did not include a ballpark, one to solicit broad development proposals for the Boulevard, and one to encourage the purchase of Shockoe land — are now scheduled to be heard

Oct. 27.

Coliseum, library, offices return to city

The council passed three pieces of legislation to retake ownership of some major public properties from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The Richmond Coliseum, the Main Library and the Theatre Row office building on Broad Street were transferred to city ownership. City officials have said the moves have little financial impact.

The city transferred the Coliseum and the library to the housing authority about 20 years ago to help finance the construction of the SunTrust bank complex in the Manchester area.

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