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Richmond facing $191 million deferred maintenance bill

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Shock waves from the Great Recession are still echoing through Richmond’s city finances, with a deferred maintenance bill now at some $191 million, city Budget Director Jason May said. That includes work on aging city vehicles, from firetrucks to police cars to dump trucks to trash trucks.

On top of that, the backlog for replacing those with new vehicles is already pushing $200 million, he said at the City Council’s annual retreat. The city’s been chipping away this, at a pace of about $10 million a year.

Other big deferred maintenance needs include upgrades and replacements for plumbing, heating and air conditioning and electric systems in city buildings, such as fire stations, police precincts and City Hall, he said.

“The cost of these is up something like 20%,” he said.

“When you replace the air conditioning at your home after 20 years, it’s $5,000 or $6,000; for our buildings, we’re talking $30,000 or $40,000,” May added.

Richmond was hit hard by the recession, as income from its main source of funds — real estate taxes — plummeted and remain depressed for years.

Like many Virginia cities, city officials and the council found delaying basic maintenance — “the kind of thing you do on your home, keeping it in shape,” as May described it — was a relatively easy way of cutting costs.

But the bills come in later, and for many years.

“You put off this year’s boiler replacement and then when you do it, you can’t afford next year’s air conditioning,” May said.

Richmond has been working on catching up with deferred maintenance for years. The city’s first priority for catching up on deferred maintenance was its battered streets.

“We’ve put in something like $70 million in the past three years,” May said.

Mayor Levar Stoney has also made a priority of school modernization. The city’s rolling five-year capital improvement plans — basically, its long-term construction budget — has reserved $200 million for school construction work for fiscal year 2024, the period beginning next July.

Budget Director Jason May


“That’s been there since the ’21 budget, and we’re keeping it there,” May said. On top of that, there’s $2.5 million for maintenance work.

Dealing with the real cost of deferred maintenance is a major strain on city governments, said Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders.

It means chasing after problems that only get more serious as time passes, while at the same time, the higher prices for supplies and contractors’ services that always follow an economic slowdown can make costs rise far higher than if maintenance had been done on schedule, he said.

“It can take years to really catch up,” he said.

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