Richmond City Council to decide fate of Mayor Stoney's education plan
By Keya Vakil
April 22, 2019

Eighteen million in public school funding is on the line tonight in Richmond, where the City Council will hold a public hearing on Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposed real estate tax increase.

Stoney, who has made revamping Richmond’s Public Schools one of his priorities, proposed a plan last month that would raise the real estate tax by nine cents to $1.29 per $100 of assessed value.

The money would fund the first phase of Superintendent Jason Kamras’ strategic plan and go towards raises for teachers, day-to-day improvements and building maintenance expenses.

While Stoney has the support of Kamras, the majority of the Richmond School Board, and the Richmond Education Association, his plan faces steep opposition from the City Council. Most of the council’s nine members are reluctant to add to property owners’ bills, which have already increased due to rising property values in the city.

Property values rose by an average of 8.3% this year and the average home value increased from $228,000 to $247,000, resulting in a $228 increase in the average tax bill. Stoney’s tax hike would add an additional $222 to the average bill, making it $3,186, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Most council members want to maintain the current property tax rate, which would create a $21 million hole in Stoney’s budget and require the council to either cut spending or raise other taxes.

In response to the council’s opposition, Stoney has signaled that he is open to other ideas, so long as they don’t take away from the spending on education and roads that he pushed.

Prior to the public meeting on Monday evening, the council will discuss five proposed budget amendments, each of which would balance the budget without a real estate tax hike, or with a smaller one than Stoney proposed.

First District Councilman Andreas Addison proposed an amendment that would forego tax increases but cut every city department’s budget by 1.5%, which would save an estimated $7.5 million. Addison’s plan would also remove $3 million for retirement plans, cut vacancy funding for city departments by $4.49 million, and shift $8.1 million from the RPS strategic plan to a special fund, a decision he thinks would promote accountability in how schools use their funding.

Anther plan, from 4th District Councilwoman Kristen Larson, would increase the city’s admissions tax by 3% and create an 80-cent per pack cigarette tax.

Stoney’s plan includes a 50-cent per pack cigarette tax and doesn’t touch the admissions tax, which currently sits at 7% of ticket prices to events. Larson’s plan would also cut $3.5 million for vacant positions, nearly $1 million in funding for the GRTC Transit System, and $900,000 in new money for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. She would also reduce Stoney’s school budget by $2.4 million, leaving around $15 million in new funding for the school system.

The council might also weigh smaller property tax hikes, like the one proposed by 9th District Councilman Michael Jones. Jones, who was the only council member to support Stoney’s plan, has suggested a plan that balance the budget with a rate of $1.25 per $100 of assessed value.

The council’s public hearing on the budget will take place 6 p.m. Monday evening, and funding for the education of nearly 25,000 students hangs in the balance.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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