What is more important than fixing Richmond Public Schools (RPS)? Apparently, a lot if you are Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
In a report from Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mayor Stoney said, “I know that some have argued that we can find funds for our schools’ needs without raising any taxes,” during a recent debate over his meals tax hike. “Unfortunately, I do not own a magic wand and do not have $150 million in the seat cushions in City Hall.”
A magic wand he does not have. But, as many in the city are now claiming, Mr. Mayor should have looked deeper between the cushions.
The $150 million refers to the city’s debt capacity that has been increased because of the meals tax from six percent to 7.5 percent. The funds are not collected in one year, though. The money will be raised and allotted to be spent over five years, and paid off over 20 years. So, the mayor only needs to find $30 million a year – a high amount, but very feasible for a medium-sized city.
For the 2018 budget, $1.6 million has be put aside for “arts and culture.” Of course, paintings, statues, and other interesting aesthetics are great to have, but are they more important than fixing RPS?
The city has allotted $74 million for the Capital Improvement Program, including funds to improve swimming pools. Well, swimming in a nice pool is great, but is it more important than fixing RPS?
In 2018, Richmond will pay $8 million in city subsides to the convention center and $1 million to the Main Street Station event venue, which compete with each other. Not a great economic model.
$1.7 million will go to the Richmond Coliseum to improve entertainment. On top of that, $1.6 million will go to tourism marketing. Promoting tourism in the city is a great idea, but are 80’s cover bands and car shows more important than fixing RPS?
Mayor Stoney’s budget is also delving out money to a handful of corporations around the city. $500,000 will go to Clayco, who is building Dominion Energy’s new office tower, $250,000 to the Fulton Hill Studios apartments, and $250,000 to MeadWestVaco. Why is city government providing funds to private enterprise before it finds a way to fund the fix for RPS?
As well, the Department of Parks and Recreation will be given $54,000 for dance classes. Yes, having city residents who can cut-a-rug is great, but is it more important than fixing RPS?
The city of Richmond also spends $750,000 a year to have the Washington Redskins keep their training camp within the city limits. Many Richmonders are fans of the football team and love to be to see them practice live. However, is it more important than fixing RPS?
In the current budget projection, $50,000 per year is alotted to conferences and conventions for city employees. Instead of having a massive budget to meet with people you see in the office, city employees should have to meet in the city itself. One can bet that would not cost tens of thousand of dollars. That $50,000 could go to providing the money needed to fixing RPS.
The Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority (RRHA) wasted tons of city money after failing to act on calls to provide general maintenance and repairs to housing projects. Now, they are stuck with the bill and an embattled organization. If the city could provide real reform to RRHA, perhaps some of the money saved could go to fixing RPS.
In reference to current RPS facilities, the School Board has not even entertained the idea of consolidating or closing under-utilized schools. Furthermore, before building all the new schools, the School Board should at least consider alternative ways of housing the city’s schoolchildren in other buildings around the city that are not in use.
Mayor Stoney has consistently called for everyone to have a “shared sacrifice.” Well, what about the bonuses city employees have been given or the $125,000 per year Stoney earns running Richmond? It is understandable that a mayor of a city like Richmond should be paid well, however, it does not seem he is participating in the shared sacrifice he exclaims so often.
The mayor got his meals tax increase and the hike in debt capacity that comes with it. However, it is considered just to be a down payment on the $800 million over 20 years that is needed to rebuild RPS facilities. There is widespread support for fixing RPS, no doubt. Though, many Richmonders are now thinking that Stoney should have looked deeper into the city’s budget to cut out necessary expenditures that could be used in funding RPS construction.