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Richmond City Council reaches consensus on changes to employee pay, civilian review board funding

Richmond City Council reaches consensus on changes to employee pay, civilian review board funding

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City Hall in Richmond, VA was illuminated “Heartbeat Red” after sunset Friday, March 12, 2021, to commorate the lives of 220 city residents lost to the COVID-19 virus.

All Richmond city employees’ wages will rise 3.25% or more next fall, according to budget amendments the Richmond City Council agreed to on Monday, ahead of a vote on the spending plan next week.

Revisions to the blueprint Mayor Levar Stoney introduced in March include changes to the city’s employee pay plan and partial funding for increases proposed for a new civilian-led police review board and attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office.

The changes leave $5.8 million originally budgeted for wage increases largely unchanged, but direct the mayor’s administration to give a 3.25% pay increase to all employees and targeted raises for people making less than the market rate for their job.

The mayor’s original budget proposal includes raises for most employees, but wages for several hundred people would have stayed the same. Administration officials previously said there was only enough to implement the targeted raises, but recently found that it could accomplish both goals with roughly the same amount.

Several council members sought to scrap the plans for targeted raises in favor of an across-the-board 5% pay increase for all employees, but the administration sought a compromise to still address concerns about wage compression and employee turnover.

“I would say this enhancement is a true win-win,” Acting Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders said of the amended pay plan.

A collective of city police officers and firefighters also lobbied for an overhaul of the city’s pay scale system for public safety officials. Council members have agreed to allocate funding to study the plan, though several members said more urgency is needed.

“We’ve got to stop saying ‘a study, a study, a study,’” said Councilwoman Reva Trammell. “What kind of situation are we going to be in? We’re the ones that are going to catch the blame. ... We’re the ones that are supposed to adopt this budget.”

The city is still planning to freeze funding for 600 of the 3,700 positions in the general fund. In order to make up for projected tax revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration is planning to leave those positions vacant through next year.

With limited funding available, the council agreed to give the city’s Civilian Review Board Task Force only $200,000 of the $600,000 it recently requested.

Amid calls for police reform and more accountability last summer, the council approved the creation of the task force in hopes of establishing a civilian panel that can investigate alleged police misconduct.

The council also agreed to give only half of the $1 million sought by several council members to supplement the salaries of lawyers in the city’s Public Defender’s Office.

Unlike city prosecutors, which are supported by funding from both the state and the city, the city does not currently give regular funding for public defenders, which is common for localities across the state.

In a letter to the council last month, Saunders pushed back on the proposed amendments, noting that the city classifies prosecutors as local employees.

“Before the administration considers supplementing the pay of state employees, we must first pay our own city employees equitably,” he said in the letter.

The council also agreed not to seek budget amendments to fund increases that members sought for the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

As the city stands to receive nearly $160 million from the federal American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year, city officials said part of that funding could be used for the housing fund, eviction diversion and homeless services.

The council will meet again Tuesday to continue working on the budget ahead of its scheduled adoption next Monday.

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