Fadel Allassan, News Editor
Richmond City Council began deliberations Monday on a slate of measures, including new tax revenues, from a broad budget proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney last week.
Stoney told the council March 6 that he wants to raise the city’s property tax rate by 9 cents and levy a new 50-cent tax on cigarettes. The real estate tax increase would bring the city’s rate to 1.29 percent of any property’s assessed value.
The proposed budget also includes a utility rate increase for water, wastewater, storm water and natural gas. Stoney said residents would pay an increased $5.82 a month as a result of the changes.
The new sources of revenue would bring in more than $24 million for the city annually. A rise in property value is set to yield another $22 million. Stoney said he wants that money to go toward Richmond Public Schools and repairs on the city’s roads and sidewalks. In addition, Stoney is calling for a program to stem the city’s high eviction rate and funding for affordable housing.
All changes would take effect July 1 if passed.
“This budget marks a new beginning,” Stoney said in his address in council chambers. “With this budget, we have the opportunity to invest in our children, our families and our neighborhoods to build the Richmond our residents deserve.”
A majority of the council oppose the property tax increases, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Five council members said the 9-cent increase is too steep. Three members did not want to take a position.
The new taxes prompted heated discussion in the council last week when the mayor announced his plan before the council. Council members began excoriating the mayor from their daises directly after the speech.
Reva Trammell, who represents the 8th District, asked Stoney to return to the podium to face the council as it responded to his presentation in the Council meeting room last Wednesday, but the mayor didn’t comply.
“You said that you were not going to raise taxes when you ran for mayor. How can you stand here before all of us and do this to the people?” Trammell said. “You can laugh all you want, but I’ll tell you right now, you won’t be laughing much longer … I hope to God this is your last laugh.”
Another council member called it hypocritical for Stoney to ask to raise property taxes when he does not own property in Richmond.
“When you’re making decisions that will impact other people and not yourself, you should be accountable and be able to explain why you believe it to be good policy,” said 2nd District council member Kim Gray.
Ninth District council member Michael Jones took to Twitter after the meeting to respond to Trammell.
“The exchange that took place in Council Chambers is rooted in a type of privilege that is divisive and destructive,” Jones tweeted. “To bring up someones age and renter vs owner status when 60% of our residents rent is troubling. Especially when he is a young African American Male.”
The Richmond NAACP gave a sharp rebuke of Trammell’s comments and demeanor in a news release Friday.
“While everyone is entitled to their opinion on the proposed budget, there is a manner in which our city leaders should conduct themselves in conveying their opinions,” the release stated. “This was not the proper forum to attempt to address questions or concerns related to line items in the budget. Moreover, such language stated by Councilwoman Reva Trammell is divisive and destructive in nature.”
The statement continued: “The Richmond Virginia Branch NAACP is available to assist Councilwoman Reva Trammell or any other elected official with development of suitable interpersonal skills. What happened yesterday is an embarrassment and disgrace to our City.”
The money Stoney wants to raise via new revenues would fund a broad set of initiatives and programs. More than $18 million would go toward funding the public school system’s strategic plan. Richmond would match a 5 percent raise the state approved for teachers earlier this year.
“There is no investment more important, or worthwhile, than the investment we make in our children,” Stoney told the council. “Their future is our future.”
The budget proposal calls for more than $16 million to repair city roads and sidewalks. It would provide nearly $3 million to a trust fund that supports affordable housing services.
The budget would allocate an additional $965,000 for increased Greater Richmond Transit Company service and route frequencies in “communities that need it the most.” It is unclear whether the changes would affect the decreased bus frequency the East End and Fulton following the GRTC reroute last year. A VCU study found the changes to the bus system disadvantage low-income citizens.
The budget gives $485,000 to an eviction diversion program that will be the first of its kind in Virginia. The program will provide financial literacy education, access to supportive services and a payment plan for landlords who lose rent during eviction.
“From Church Hill to Westhampton, from Worthington Farms to Providence Park, these investments will allow us to support our neighborhoods in an equitable and sustainable way,” Stoney said, “not just this year, but every year.”