Richmond localities address budget shortfalls

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Facing the weight of a heavy budget crisis, local leaders took a unified message to state lawmakers today. For the first time, they set priorities as a group, in hopes of sending a strong message to the general assembly.

They oversee the region's two biggest counties. And both Jay Stegmaier of Chesterfield, and Virgil Hazelett of Henrico are concerned about the future.

"This year's General Assembly session is going to be extremely difficult," said Hazelett, the Henrico County Manager.

"Right now, we're dealing with a shortfall of about $70 million overall," said Stegmaier, the Chesterfield County Administrator.

It's why they're each part of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, which today met to let state lawmakers know its 2010 priorities. 22 elected leaders, from nine local governments supported new ways of funding transportation, and opposed further cuts to public safety.

"I think the impact broadens when you get more jurisdictions looking at the same problems, and looking at  solving them the same way," said Sen. John Watkins (R-Powhatan).

But, in a year where money for things like roads and schools will be down dramatically, some lawmakers were concerned about how to pay for anything, but the most critical services.

"I don't see how we're going to fill the budget hole, as big as it is, without some new revenue," said Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond).

The commission did not take a stand on the proposal to drop Virginia's car tax, and replace it with a 1 percent rise in the income tax. So local and state lawmakers must still work to fill a budget gap that keeps growing.

"Assessments are down as they are in other localities, I know ours are going to be down, it's just a question of how much?" said Hazelett.

"We cannot afford, moving forward, to keep the same level of services in place that we've had in the  past," added Stegmaier.

The budget outlook is likely to change when the McDonnell administration takes over, but even then, money won't start to magically appear. Leaders know the cuts are coming. The question is, what gets left  behind?

(c) 2010. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.