As Richmond hosted approximately 450,000 spectators for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships last week, an early-September report to the city council revealed the city is at its breaking point with the police force understaffed, bulk trash collection pickups slowing down and lagging grass-cutting services.
The report shows 53 percent of properties due to have grass cut by public works employees are delayed by three weeks. Maintenance on the city’s alleys will drop by about 74 percent, snow removal would take longer than it previously has and bulk trash and collection have effectively been discontinued.
In response, the administration of Mayor Dwight Jones points blame at city council, but council members argue the mayor’s office should be held responsible for providing services with the city’s already-available funds.
Councilman Chris Hilbert, 3rd District, was critical of the mayor’s decision to approve the council’s proposed budget amendment.
“He could have vetoed our decision (in May) if he wanted to send a message that he disagreed with us, but he chose not to do that,” Hilbert told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In May, the council adopted a budget providing an additional $9 million for school operations and increased compensation for police and firefighters, despite Jones’ warning that this could affect the city’s abilities to provide services.
According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, the mayor says the council’s decision to use part of the money reserved for vacant positions, rather than to keep it in surplus, is responsible for crippling Richmond’s public works department.
Funding for vacant positions is included in the budget each year, and the city saves money when positions go unfilled or when employees leave. The city annually runs at a vacancy rate of about 13 percent.
At the time, council members defended the decision to shift the money to departments of education, police and fire, rather than to keep the money in the reserves.
“We stated last year that we were going to reinstate programs to strengthen our schools, police and fire departments, and by unanimous vote, that’s what council did,” said councilman Charles Samuels, 2nd District.
These cuts will also hurt the city’s ability to fight crime as, according to the mayor’s administration, the loss in revenue will result in cutting 16 full-time positions with the Richmond Police Department. The report also predicts that cuts to the Department of Information Technology could cause email outages and a failure to keep up with the city’s technological needs, such as a program used for financial reporting and other computer software licenses.
Jones approved the measure in May despite speaking out against it at the time. Six votes from the council are enough to override a veto from the mayor, however. This stipulation may have prompted Jones to approve of the budget despite his disagreement with it, in an attempt to avoid a measure that would have likely been overridden.
In light of the bike races, council members are calling into question the timing of the report.
“We don’t need a manufactured crisis. I don’t even understand the motivation here, and I think it’s unfortunate that this is coming at a time when we’re getting ready to play host to an international audience,” Hilbert said in a statement to the Times-Dispatch.
The Commonwealth Times reached out to the offices of Mayor Jones, Councilman Hilbert and Councilman Agelasto for comment, all of whom did not respond as of press time.