Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas proposed a budget Tuesday that would bulk up the GRTC Transit System’s bus network to include Short Pump, reduce a business tax, and give raises to teachers, police officers and other county employees.
The $871.9 million general fund budget proposed for fiscal 2019 marks the 40th year in a row that Henrico’s residential real estate tax has not increased, Vithoulkas said. The county’s real estate tax is 87 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Water and sewer rates would increase on average by $6.91 every two months. The general fund budget represents a 3.8 percent increase over the current general fund.
“It’s been a good year locally for really all our local revenues,” Vithoulkas said in an interview.
The budget would mark the biggest expansion to bus transit in Henrico in 25 years. Vithoulkas proposed $1.2 million to expand operating hours and add weekend service for three routes. One of the routes — the 19 Pemberton — would expand to West Broad Marketplace in Short Pump. The 19 Pemberton currently runs from downtown Richmond to near the intersection of West Broad Street and Gaskins Road. The proposal would increase the frequency of bus service from roughly every hour to every 30 minutes for route 19.
“By expanding hours and days, it is hoped that bus ridership will increase in our busiest corridors,” Vithoulkas said. “The county does review bus ridership on an annual basis to make sure subsidies are justified, and that will continue.”
The other two GRTC routes that would ramp up are the 7 Seven Pines, which runs from downtown Richmond to near just north of the Richmond International Airport, and the 91 Laburnum Connector, which goes from Willow Lawn to near the Shops at White Oak Village. Buses on the three routes would run from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
Supervisor Tyrone Nelson, who represents the Varina District, praised the prospect of expanded public transit, saying he has been hearing demand for expanded service for years.
“We are expanding the network across the county,” Nelson said. “That is major.”
Nelson said he appreciated the proposal to fund a new assistant county attorney position for special education cases, saying most if not all of Henrico’s supervisors have been wrestling with the rising legal costs of special education disputes. Last month, the Henrico School Board filed a federal lawsuit over a dispute about the education of a boy with autism.
“Hopefully we’ll get to the point where we won’t have to use firms like Reed Smith to deal with this,” Nelson said of the law firm representing the School Board in the case.
The budget would increase exemptions from business license taxes — called BPOL — for businesses for the first $300,000 in gross receipts.
The budget would give 10,967 county and schools’ employees a 2.4 percent merit-based raise. From fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2018, salaries for Henrico employees have gone up 9.9 percent. Employees who have worked for six or more years will be eligible for an additional 0.6 percent increase, for a total salary increase of 3 percent.
Schools and public safety would get $31.5 million in the proposed budget. Public safety funding is set to get $10.1 million more than it did in the current budget to fund initiatives such as increasing the overtime budget; a five-year replacement program for body cameras and Tasers for police officers; and adding three firefighters.
The budget fully funds the Henrico School Board’s general fund request for $485 million. The budget would continue funding for the Achievable Dream Academy for at-risk students at Highland Springs Elementary with $3.2 million in fiscal 2019. The program began in July and is a five-year public-private partnership aimed at improving academic performance, behavior and attendance. Funding would also go toward the second year of CodeRVA, a regional school focused on computer science.
The schools budget designates $1.4 million to give elementary school teachers a planning period and add 22 elementary school teachers. There is funding to create a new assistant county attorney position for special education cases. An additional $455,000 is aimed to fund additional teaching positions to reduce class sizes or instructional assistants for classrooms. The budget includes $700,000 to help with teaching science, technology, engineering, art and math at all middle schools, or STEAM, and to continue the middle school transformation at Wilder Middle School.
The capital budget includes $53 million of the $419.8 million of bonds approved by Henrico’s voters in the November 2016 bond referendum. The projects include $10 million for renovations for Tucker High School; $5 million for the new Brookland-area elementary school; $24 million for the new Fairfield Library; $10 million for the second phase of Greenwood Park; $2 million for the Staples Mill Fire Station; and $2 million for Dorey Park.
Other capital projects included in the budget are $4.9 million for the extension of Woodman Road from Greenwood Road to Brook Road and $2.5 million for sidewalk improvements.
A new initiative called the Community Revitalization Fund would designate $2 million to improve Henrico’s aging housing stock.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 10. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the budget on April 24.
Supervisor Tommy Branin of the Three Chopt District invited residents to sit in on the budget discussions planned for next week.