Henrico County’s next budget will preserve employee pay, but plans for a new arena at Virginia Center Commons and an elementary school are on hold.
The Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt a revised $1.3 billion spending plan Tuesday for the budget year beginning July 1 that’s $100 million below the original draft. Officials are hoping the recovery from an economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic will begin soon so that those projects can come back online sometime in the next year. County staff will review finances quarterly to gauge what’s possible.
“The most important take-away is not the numbers themselves. It’s really the approach we’ll take for the next year,” deputy finance director Meghan Coates said. “This is more of a framework than a concrete plan.”
County leaders ruled out furloughs, layoffs and pay reductions as they searched for solutions last month to a $12.8 million funding gap prompted by revised revenue estimates, but compromised in pausing plans for the new elementary school and an arena that would anchor the redevelopment of a dying shopping mall.
Coates said the final decisions about the budget proposal were made after a series of recent meetings with leaders on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.
“In times like this with the unemployment the way it is, with the climate and anxiety, the last thing we want our employees to do is worry,” School Board chairman Roscoe Cooper said.
On top of pausing new capital projects, freezing vacant positions, removing a 3% pay increase for employees and cutting all departmental budgets by at least 5%, the county is making the following cuts:
- $4 million in additional operating cuts for government and school division departments;
- $1.5 million in employment costs by incentivizing early retirement;
- $780,000 in debt service costs through refinancing;
- $1.5 million less for recreational events and library materials;
- $4.5 million from school personnel changes; and $500,000 from fuel costs.
Coates said the county is still paying for design work to be completed on the new arena at Virginia Center Commons.
Henrico last fall announced it would partner with The Rebkee Co. and Shamin Hotels on the $50 million arena project after plans to build it at the Richmond Raceway fell through due to financial constraints.
“What we’re choosing to pause on is the actual construction of the facility,” Coates said. “Others are being hit really hard by this. We need to be coordinated and have a united front for a project of this magnitude.”
Officials say the 12-court basketball arena with at least 4,500 seats will be a boon for the local and regional sport tourism market, expanding the capacity to hold tournaments and events that can draw visitors to spend money at local restaurants and hotels.
Halting a new elementary school planned for the Fairfield District could prove problematic, as redistricting proposals under consideration are inclusive of the new school.
The School Board originally was expected to adopt a final redistricting plan for the start of the 2021-22 school year this month; a decision was delayed because of the pandemic.
Crystal Parker, a co-chair of the elementary school subcommittee, said in a recent email to the county that the school is needed to alleviate overcrowding at nearby schools. “Voting to fund the new school doesn’t address a future need, but a current one,” she said.
“Tough decisions need to be made with regard to the budget, but I hope that you can find a way to do so that doesn’t impair our ability to provide quality education to our children.”
Cooper said Thursday that the school division has yet to set a timeline for deciding on a redistricting plan.