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City Council Approves New Budget, Pay Raises For Employees

richmond city hall building
FILE PHOTO: Richmond City Hall (Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Despite the pandemic and resulting economic recession, Richmond City Council passed a $774 million budget for FY2022 that includes pay raises for employees.

The budget first presented by Mayor Levar Stoney in March was lean. While it maintained funding for the city’s essential services and departments, it was $18 million lighter than last year. Budget officials said that was due to declining meals, admissions and lodging tax revenues.

“The ongoing pandemic has decimated the finances of cities and states alike, and the City of Richmond is no exception,” Stoney said at the time. “To be sure, this is a Pandemic-era Budget, and city tax revenue projections are still significantly short of what we projected at this time last year.”

But during budget negotiations, City Council members identified budget cuts and $3.4 million in new revenue from rising property values. That allowed them to provide some start-up funding for a proposed civilian review board for police misconduct and salary increases for public defenders.

In total, City Council set aside $204,000 for the civilian review board. A task force working to establish the board is expected to make recommendations to city council later this month, with an actual review board set to come online sometime next year. 

City Council also approved a budget amendment that would give the Richmond Public Defender’s Office nearly $600,000 to supplement the state-funded salaries of its employees. The city’s public defenders, who represent people who can’t afford a lawyer, have lobbied city officials for years to move toward pay equity with prosecutors.

Councilmember Stephanie Lynch, who was one of the sponsors of the amendment, said it was difficult for City Council to justify prosecutors, who receive salary supplements from the city, earning almost double the salary of public defenders.

“We created that disparity, not because of their [different] duties,” Lynch said. “We created it because of the argument that we would have safer communities -- and I put that in air quotes -- by having more competitive salaries and higher-paid prosecutors in the prosecutor's office.”

Public defenders aren’t the only employees who will see a pay raise in the FY2022 budget, which starts July 1.

Stoney’s original budget proposal would have funded the next wave of salary increases for city employees following a plan put together after a 2019 pay equity study. That study found that some Richmond employees were being paid below the market average for their positions. 

Under the Stoney administration’s proposal, employees closer to the market average would get a modest pay raise, while employees farther below average pay would get raises up to $14,000. City Council scrapped that plan, approving an alternative proposal from 4th District Councilmember Kristen Larson to provide a 3.25% raise for all city workers.

Larson said the city is currently in a hiring freeze, with 600 vacant positions expected to go unfilled. She said the Stoney administration’s plan would have only impacted about a third of the city's workforce, which wouldn’t maximize retention. 

“I think it’s fair to roll it out and give everybody something to show them that we appreciate them,” she said. “We know that, competitively, we are behind as a jurisdiction and we need to raise wages up.”

Larson said she heard from some city department heads that giving some employees a raise but not others could create more problems than it solves.

Perhaps most importantly for residents, the budget approved by Richmond City Council does not include any tax increases. The city’s property tax rate will remain $1.20 per $100 of assessed value. 

Rates for utilities like water and gas will increase by about 3%, however. According to city officials, that equates to an average monthly bill increase of $5.27 for customers.