Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mayor Jones 2010 'State of the City'

by Brad Kutner

Download audio version here

Richmond State of the City 2010

With a wealth of economic woes ahead of us, the City of Richmond needs a decisive leader with a mission to tackle the problems that lie ahead.

Mayor Dwight Jones’s State of The City address was the platform for such a leader to get his concerns out, and let the people know what challenges were top on his list.

The year started with a difficult number crunch, and Jones attacked it head on.

“If were going to have a better Richmond, we must restore fiscal responsibility and physical accountability. We’ve already made some tough choices. Our first task was to shave an initial 28 million dollars from the general fund budget. We met that extraordinary at that time, and we did so without interrupting any core services and we did so without any layoffs.” Said Jones

Though that was only half of the cuts required so far. That’s right, they still need to let loose another 30 million dollars. Jones laid out the bad news like a bandage, quick, though this pain will last a wile.

“And so in order for us to close the 30 million dollar gap its going to require that we look at health care premiums - we will explore reducing the city's contribution for "employee only" coverage. Were going to have to look at Agency Consolidations. Unfortunately, were going to have to look at furloughs. We will explore a progressive approach wherein higher salaried persons may have more furlough days than lower salaried individuals. Tax Collections; we may change the way we collect taxes from once yearly to twice yearly and promote payment plan options. Now this doesn't mean anyone will pay more in taxes, it means that the annual payment will be broken out into two or more payments. This change alone can save us $2 million in interest payments. Unfortunately were going to be looking at targeted layoffs and Other Options including outsourcing, privatization, and managed competition are also being explored.

Yes, lay-offs are in Richmond’s very near future, though no specific departments have been mentioned

Jones returned to several positive points however. Richmond’s crime rating has dropped from 49th to 99th, to which Jones replied

“That means we are no longer listed as ‘dangerous places’”

Investment in the future was prevalent throughout Mayor Jones’s speech. First, he plans to invest in Richmond’s youth.

“After my first year I can stand here and tell you we are going to build schools in the city of Richmond.” Said Jones.

This includes 2 new elementary schools that will break ground this year and a new middle and high school slated for next year. This will be the first new high school in 40 years for the River City.

Jones also has plans for a summer work program for the 9000 15 to 19-year-olds who live in Richmond. Wile summer work programs have been in place before, this year will include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program.

Jones Said, “Our goal with this program is to ensure our business partners employ at least 95% of the young people in our city”

Businesses that are involved will have an opportunity to receive tax incentives, and the incentives increase from 25% to 50% over a three-year period.

Health care is important both nationally and locally, and Richmond is no exception. Jones unveiled a new committee, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Policy, which will advise and assist the mayor on healthcare policy decisions. They will also help secure resources for those in need.

“We need to understand the factors that give rise to health care disparities in our City and develop and implement strategies that can ameliorate those problems.”

Jones also urged people to consider taking more responsibility for their personal health.

“All of us may need to make modifications in our lifestyles and behaviors that allow us to live long, healthy lives.”

Many other projects are on the table for Richmond such as the redeveloping of areas like Dove Court and North Jackson Ward. Jones also has his sights on the 25th Street/Nine Mile Road Corridor, saying it cannot be neglected. These and other projects are all slated to help reduce poverty in the city, though he estimates the cost of these projects to be:

“There are more than 2 billion dollars worth of programs on the horizon. Opportunities we as a city have for economic growth and job creation.”

There are no easy roads ahead for Richmond’s citizens. Lay-offs, budget cuts, and other money saving tools are bound to change the face of our beloved city, but Jones ended his speech with one more yarn of hope.

“I want Richmond to be Richmond, so that in years to follow, people will come here to find out what we have done so that they can emulate what we have done to make their city as great as ours. Thank you for allowing me to be Mayor, Thank you for being here tonight, and thank you for allowing Richmond to be the great city that it is.”

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