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A broader perspective on city government
Sunday, February 10, 2013
The city of Roanoke is on solid financial footing. As we make difficult decisions regarding core responsibilities of government and delivering high-quality services to our residents and businesses, city council and city administration always do so with an eye toward living within our financial means.
Information regarding city government in the media is often brief and covers the most controversial issues. I understand and appreciate that news stories are often designed to focus on topics of interest to the audience; however, this often produces a void relating to less interesting topics such as reformation of the city’s pension plan or reprioritization of capital expenditures on infrastructure.
But rest assured; despite not hearing a great deal about these topics, council devotes tremendous time and energy to addressing core issues such as these, often with as much vigorous debate and discussion as those more controversial issues that do receive news coverage. But you should expect this discussion from your elected officials regardless of the topic or likelihood of coverage.
Finding opportunities during challenging times takes a dedicated and talented city workforce. Over the last several years, outstanding city staff have continued to deliver services at levels that are highly regarded in public surveys — all with approximately $25 million less per year and a workforce 10 percent smaller than five years ago. Management continues to find innovative solutions to difficult challenges, with laser focus on our financial health and with the expectation that government is responsive to taxpayers.
We have made tough but necessary decisions to better prepare the city for the future, with the likelihood of less revenue from Richmond and a constant re-evaluation of whether tax dollars are being spent in the most effective ways. Over the last several years, council and the administration have, among other things:
n Implemented policies creating savings accounts to stabilize the city’s AA+ and AA bond ratings — the AA+ reaffirmed the week before last — through a fully funded $25 million stabilization account, the initial stages of funding of a risk management reserve, and was followed by the funding of a true “rainy day” fund.
n Strengthened the city’s already strong pension fund, which is better funded than the Virginia Retirement System by around 20 percent, and will be even more so in the future.
n Reduced and re-prioritized the capital spending plan and refocused it on infrastructure improvements like roads, bridges, sidewalks, storm water and more — all key to future economic development and the safety and livability of our community.
n Implemented the two-year, 2-cent meals tax increase that provided the Roanoke City Public Schools with nearly $9.5 million and allowed breathing room at a time when revenues from Richmond declined significantly. RCPS has done outstanding work to increase educational outcomes while reducing the budget significantly and has wisely put away many millions of dollars for the future. Additionally, council revised the funding formula for schools so that 40 cents of every $1 in local tax revenue goes to RCPS — a clear sign that education is our top priority.
n In partnership with Roanoke County, the city is currently working on a joint 911 operational center, a joint police training facility, already has a joint regional fire and EMS training facility (with Salem) and continues to work to address our many common storm water challenges.
These are a few of the important achievements we have made over the last several years. Are Roanoke City Council and city government perfect? Certainly not. But there are far more good things happening in your government than the few controversial issues you may have heard about.
In the short- and long-term future, we must continue to focus on improving the core infrastructure of the city — it is a public safety issue as well as an economic development one.
We need the continued leadership of the public/private partnership trying to build an open-access fiber network in the region, which is key to future business growth and retention.
We must continue to make targeted investments in education and economic development (our schools, libraries, Elmwood Park, Countryside and greenways).
We must continue to be responsive to taxpayers and be partners with businesses.
We need livable neighborhoods that are safe and create a sense of community. And we need to work closely with our partner governments in the Roanoke and New River valleys, as well as Virginia Tech — our successes or failures are undeniably linked.
You can have confidence that your city leaders, administration and staff are working hard, often quietly, to provide taxpayers with a responsible, efficient government and a more prosperous future for our community.
Weather JournalStorms affect parts of SW Va