Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mayor Comments on Nation-Wide Health Rankings, Blue Ribbon Commission Need Underscored

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation today released the first ever nation-wide County Health Rankings. These rankings show how cities and counties within Virginia compare on many factors that influence health and provide a snapshot of residents' health in each locality. Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement in response to the issued report:

"I appreciate the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in raising awareness about the multiple influences on health. It is good news that Richmond ranks well compared to other Virginia localities in terms of covering the uninsured and providing access to primary care physicians. However, our successes at ensuring access to health care services are being countered by the social and economic factors that add daily stress to the mental and physical health of residents.

"Richmond ranks 128 out of 132 localities in terms of life expectancy and 107 in terms of feeling mentally and physically healthy. These telling rankings underscore that we must do more to improve health outcomes in Richmond. The need to promote an improved quality of life is precisely the reason that I announced a Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Policy just last month. Policy guidance and strategies have to be employed to address some of our poor health outcomes and to bring about the needed change in social factors that impact those outcomes.

"Today's report is a wake-up call and confirmation that we are on the right track in charting our course of action. We cannot minimize the fact that 40 percent of the overall ranking in health factors is based on our high school graduation rate, unemployment rate, children in poverty, income inequality, crime and insufficient support systems for fragile families. These issues outside the primary health care system must be addressed as we seek to ensure the overall health of our community. Through the health commission, we will work with local providers and advocates to help build a system of care that protects citizens from health risks and promotes healthy behaviors such as reducing smoking, fighting obesity and limiting risk behaviors including risky sexual behavior among our young people."


Thursday, February 11, 2010

City Leaders Speak Out On Local Composite Index

Mayor Dwight C. Jones, City Council President Kathy Graziano, School Board Chair Kim Bridges, and School Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon

Regarding the Recent Proposal to "Unfreeze" the Local Composite Index of Ability to Pay for Education

City officials announced their disappointment in a recently proposed change to the introduced State budget involving the local composite index. The introduced State budget included a "freeze" on the local composite index, which is the measure of how much a locality can afford to pay for K-12 education. This freeze was extremely important to the city of Richmond, and most localities in the Richmond region.

"The proposal to 'unfreeze' the local composite index hits us at a most unfortunate time. We are in the process of assessing the first round of reductions to our schools, in the range of $13.7 million, from the introduced State budget. We are also balancing other potential cuts to our locality - another $7.8 million in cuts to police and sheriff's operations. We are looking at the potential losses to our own generated revenues.

"And now this proposed change presents the potential for another $11 million in budget cuts directly to our public schools system," said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. "It's unrealistic for anyone to think that we can afford to cut this much money from schools. If we had to replace cuts to public education alone, potentially totaling some $25 million so far, we would need to raise the real estate tax 12 and one-half cents. That is something we cannot do to our residents."

For the city of Richmond, the calculation of the Local Composite Index has been a point of contention for many years. The formula measures the ability of a locality to pay for education, but it does not take into account the needs of other students, nor does it take into account the other demands for services in the jurisdiction (like health, social services, law enforcement, road maintenance, etc.). While the measure has been flawed for decades, the newest revision is especially problematic, as it judges Richmond to be the most affluent jurisdiction in the area.

"This funding formula is fundamentally flawed and needs to be changed," said School Board Chair Kim Bridges. "The needs of the school system for our gifted students, general education, and specialty students are great. In addition to the 'normal' demands of school systems, we must provide adequate, appropriate services for about 800 students with limited English proficiency, almost 4,600 special education students, and the routine needs of 15,146 students who are eligible for the federal free lunch program. We are an urban school division with the strengths and problems that come with that character. We implore the legislature to help our children."

One our of four Richmond residents lives in poverty, more than 70% of Richmond Public Schools students are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program, and the poverty rate is expected to continue to increase due to the economic climate and high unemployment rates. "Any thinking person with even the most marginal information would know that Richmond is not the most affluent jurisdiction in the area. This clearly demonstrates the inherent problems with the composite index," said Mayor Jones.

The school system has been working diligently on a major effort to attract more students to City schools. "We firmly believe that we should have one of the premier systems in the region, if not the state," said School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon. "We have the talent, we have the positive attitude, and we have the community resources with our wonderful civic involvement and our institutions of higher education."

"I simply do not know of a good way to deal with a cut that represents $482 for every child in our school system. That is a loss of almost $10,000 for a classroom of 20 students. We are in the process of streamlining our administrative "overhead", but this additional $11 million in cuts will be very difficult, if not impossible, to handle. We simply cannot accept the level of cuts that are proposed. This isn't just a money issue, this is an issue of adequate education for our city's children," said School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon.

"Richmond City Council and I have been working hand-in-hand with the School System to save money by consolidating services and streamlining administrative costs," said Mayor Jones. "That is well underway, but the problem at hand is not a 'schools' problem; it is a community problem and it is a problem for our students."

City Council President Kathy Graziano said, "We all know there is a budget problem. We are seeing it in terms of local revenues, and in terms of state funding for police, jails, and social services and any number of service areas. However, education is a different type of service, and we have to talk about it differently. I do not see how the state can leave us holding the bag to pay for our schools, especially considering the level of need we have in this city. We are hopeful that the General Assembly can develop a strategy to help us with this critical problem."

"This is a matter that we will need the entire community's help with," said Mayor Jones. We invite Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover also to work with us toward an equitable solution for our region."


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mayor Comments on Stormwater Utility Fee

Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement following a Richmond City Council meeting where several citizen comments were received in opposition to the stormwater utility fee being charged to churches:

"While we all want a cleaner waterfront and to improve our water quality, I fully understand the concerns being expressed by this group of impacted citizens. The federally and state mandated requirements for stormwater are essentially unfunded mandates that localities have to contend with. Meeting the regulatory requirements and mandates was thoroughly discussed before Richmond City Council voted to enact this fee. Also, on average, most churches are paying about $435 per parcel."

"Non-compliance is not an option as many jurisdictions have already been cited and fined for not taking proper care of their infrastructure. We also should not attempt to meet the mandates on the backs of the single family residential tax payer. If we used the real estate tax system to raise funds needed to address the deficiencies of the stormwater system, the real estate tax rate would have to increase significantly. Among the effects would be that single family residents, on average, would see their contributions related to stormwater double. The stormwater utility fee was viewed as the most equitable way to respond to the mandate, and it still appears that is the case. Nevertheless, I remain open to hearing concerns."


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mayor and CAO Provide Update on City Snow Removal, Preparations Being Made for More Winter Weather

Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the city's Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall held a news conference today to discuss the city's response to snow removal. Citing that all priority one and priority two roads are clear and passable, Jones noted that secondary and residential road work is continuing and that the city is working with contractors who are utilizing the solid waste routes as guidance for the order that clearing is taking place.

Jones noted that the reduction in the city's fleet, which took place in 2004-2005, has had unintended consequences on the city's response time, now that the city has faced the highest snow totals since 1999-2000. The previous fleet reduction resulted in the sale of 17 dump trucks and 19 four-wheel drive pick-up trucks. Those vehicles, a significant asset to the snow removal program, were not replaced. As a result, the response time per route increased from 45 minutes to a minimum of 90 minutes.

"The reduced fleet, as well as personnel cutbacks, along with freezing cold temperatures, has impacted the city's response time to the recent winter storm," said Mayor Jones. "What is clear to me is that it is imperative that we equip the city with the vehicles, machinery and supplies that are needed to perform the necessary functions and provide timely and efficient service to the residents of the city of Richmond."

The Chief Administrative Officer laid out a number of steps the city is taking:

  • Snow removal crews will begin plowing at a 2" accumulation, instead of the current 3" accumulation.
  • The Administration will institute a policy of clearing all priority one and priority two roads within 48 hours.
  • The purchase of 4 highway plows; 12 tailgate spreaders; 4 dual edge reversible plows (barrel trucks) has been authorized.
  • A complete inventory of all city drivers will be conducted to determine the needs and qualifications for equipment operation.
  • City inspectors will be provided with four-wheel drive pick-up trucks capable of maintaining a plow and spreader for snow removal. The city will cease purchasing sedans for inspectors, as they are not feasible for alternate use in inclement weather.
  • Enter into agreements with existing city contractors and others who possess heavy equipment to augment city snow removal forces.
  • Purchase plows and spreaders to be placed on loan to new or existing city contractors to facilitate snow removal.
  • Make sure the pending new fleet of 23 solid waste trucks can be fitted with plows to complement the snow removal effort.
  • Cross train equipment operators in the departments of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities and Public Utilities to augment snow removal forces.
"The city has faced significant challenges during this latest period of snow removal. The planned changes in our removal plan, as well as the purchase of necessary equipment will better position Public Works crews during future snow events," said Marshall.