Henrico plans to gradually reopen as 2021 budget is slashed due to COVID-19

Henrico plans to gradually reopen as 2021 budget is slashed due to COVID-19

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico leaders are taking steps to gradually reopen the County with areas reopening as soon as Saturday.

On Wednesday, Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said amenities at County parks will reopen to the public.

"Tennis courts, pickleball courts, gazebos, that had been closed with the expectation that our residents socially distance and do everything that the Virginia Department of Health has put forward,” he said.

Those amenities also include dog parks, but the actual buildings and facilities will remain closed.

It’s part of the County’s gradual plan in reopening Henrico during this pandemic. The first step was to completely revise the 2020-2021 County budget, which projects a nearly $100 million shortfall due to COVID-19.

“We were preparing for one of the best years ever and in the last six of seven weeks we’ve really seen everything turn upside down,” said Henrico Deputy Director of Finance Meghan Coates.

New programs and services expected to be implemented under the new budget were slashed, including a 3% pay raise for County and school employees.

"All of those things have really been put on ice for some period of time,” Coates said.

However, that's not to say things couldn't change in the future.

“As we see what the needs of the residents are we’ll come back to the board with other options, alternatives, hopefully additional revenues as things start to become a little more clear and we will absolutely change course every 90 days,” Coates said.

The revised budget will total $1.3 billion across all funds – an overall reduction from the original proposal of $1.4 billion.

“Overall, the plan includes an $899.1 million general fund budget for operations,” a news release said. “HCPS would receive $509.9 million, or 57%, with the remaining $389.2 million, or 43%, supporting general government operations.”

The general fund budget would total about $99 million less than originally proposed to the Board of Supervisors on March 10 and $44.8 million less than the budget for the current year.

Shortly after the March 10 proposal, the county established an “employee work group” to explore cost-cutting strategies and received hundreds of ideas through the email budgetfeedback@henrico.us.

“I have 93 pages of emails right now from that email address, some ranging two to three pages,” Coates said. “So really hundreds of unique reactions.”

Coates added through the feedback, the County leaders also devised a plan in the budget to offer a retirement incentive program for those eligible to leave the county’s workforce.

Roughly 21,000 Henrico residents are currently unemployed. With that in mind, County leaders had several non-negotiable areas when debating the new budget:

  • The real estate tax rate will remain at 87 cents
  • Eliminate a proposed 5% increase in water and sewer rates
  • Businesses would not have to pay license taxes (BPOL) on revenues below $500,000 (which will cover about 80% of the businesses in the County)

There was also an “untouchable” measure when it came to County positions.

“Absolutely no impact to our workforce, ensuring that we don’t have furloughs or layoffs,” Coates said. “They went so far to say they will not have a reduction in pay.”

The Board of Supervisors and School Board agreed that protecting employees would be a top priority as they began to consider ways to reduce expenses in the fiscal 2020-21 budget. County Manager John A. Vithoulkas says job cuts, furloughs and salary reductions were all declared non-negotiable. Henrico County Public Schools More information: https://henrico.us/budget/proposed-bu.... Comments: budgetfeedback@henrico.us.

Posted by Henrico County Government on Thursday, May 7, 2020

“Like millions of businesses and families, Henrico is only beginning to understand the severe impact that the COVID-19 crisis will have on our finances,” Vithoulkas said. “While Henrico is better positioned than many communities to withstand these difficult times, we must be prepared to make difficult decisions and accept short-term sacrifices to ensure our community can weather this storm.”

Among the most significant changes in the new proposed budget are:

  • A delay of capital projects scheduled to be funded with cash, generating a savings of $22.7 million
    • The only new projects that will continue are ones funded through the 2016 bond referendum, specifically Taylor Park, Deep Run Park improvements, Richmond-Henrico Turnpike improvements and Staples Mill Fire Station;
  • A 5% across-the-board reduction for department operations, $9.2 million
  • Additional targeted departmental cuts, nearly $3 million
  • Holding open all vacant positions, excluding public safety, $5.7 million
  • Reductions in general fund dollars for solid waste programs, $2 million
  • Eliminating non-departmental contributions, except for human services, $899,600

Officials anticipate sharp drops in consumer-driven tax receipts as a result of stay-at-home orders as well as business reductions and closures including:

  • Occupancy taxes, a decrease of 49%, to $11.5 million
  • Meals taxes, a decrease of 32%, to $19 million
  • Sales taxes, a decrease of 24%, to $55 million
  • Personal property taxes, a decrease of 7%, to $124.1 million

Officials do not plan to include anticipated federal COVID-relief funds in the county’s revised proposal, noting that one-time revenues cannot sustain ongoing expenses.

“Because the impacts of COVID-19 are so unclear, our revenue projections are ultraconservative and represent a worse-case scenario,” Vithoulkas said. “This next fiscal year will truly by unlike any other.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the propose budget at 6 p.m. May 12. The public will be able to participate and provide comments remotely. The School Board will vote on its plan May 14.

The meeting also will be live-streamed. For more information, click here.

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