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Smart planning carried Roanoke out of the recession.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Unlike many localities suffering through yet another bleak and dreary budget season, Roanoke has much to celebrate.
It’s $260 million budget proposed for fiscal year 2014 returns spending to the level in the city’s fiscal year 2009 budget — the last rosy projection before the Great Recession robbed $28 million of revenue from the city’s treasury.
Today’s outlook, if not rosy, is at least peachy. Employees gain a 2 percent pay raise. City schools benefit from $1.7 million more in local revenue. Surplus funds continue to grow. The pension fund is healthy, and retirees will see a cost-of-living raise. Most indicative of the budget’s health, though, is that new investments in children, street paving, sidewalk replacement, storm water projects, technology and parks improvements are included — all pinched when times were tough.
All this without any serious person suggesting the need to increase taxes. So how, when all others are still hurting, has Roanoke managed to fare so well? Credit belongs not to simple belt-tightening, but to two proactive measures:
1. City council adopted tough, sound fiscal policies and did not deviate; raised taxes when needed for education, and continued to invest in capital projects that would position Roanoke well post-recession.
2. City Manager Chris Morrill initiated a budgeting-for-outcomes process that defines Roanoke’s priorities, ranks them and then funds what the city can afford, and nothing more.
This year, more can be afforded. To lift a line from the Jack Gilbert poem, “The Abnormal Is Not Courage,” that Morrill excerpts in his budget letter: “Steady and clear. It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.”
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