Newport News City Manager Cindy Rohlf speaks at a previous joint meeting with the School Board and City Council. Rohlf presented a proposed fiscal year 2020 budget that keeps funding for schools level, not meeting the School Board’s request. (Rob Ostermaier / Daily Press)
Newport News City Manager Cindy Rohlf presented a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes an average 2 percent raise for city employees, adds public safety jobs and keeps funding for the school division level to the current budget — not meeting the school division’s request.
Rohlf’s proposal also keeps the real estate tax rate the same. The general fund budget proposal, which would go into effect July 1, totals about $497.6 million, an increase of about $10.7 million or 2.2 percent from the current budget.
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The higher increase is largely driven by an anticipated increased real estate assessment across the city. A little under half of property owners are expected to see a higher assessment, according to Lisa Cipriano, the city’s budget director.
At Tueday’s work session, Rohlf presented her proposal to the City Council and a packed room that included representatives of the school division and advocates for full funding of the school division’s funding request.
Last week, the School Board approved Superintendent George Parker’s budget, which totaled about $315.6 million and requested about $113 million from the city. Rohlf proposed providing $110.9 million, the same as the current budget. Rohlf and Cipriano pointed out that total doesn’t include about $2 million for new furniture at the new transportation center and $6.3 million for capital projects. They also highlighted the state has upped its funding for schools, providing $16 million over the last two years.
Mary Vause, a Newport News teacher and executive member of the Newport News Education Association, said she was “floored” to see level funding. She pointed out higher revenues and said that should reflect a higher allocation to the schools. Vause said the NNEA planned to rally its members to support the School Board-approved request and would invite City Council members to meet individually to talk about the budget.
Parker applauded the extra state funding, but said that that would not offset level funding from the city.
“However, I think that that should not supplant the obligation of the locality to continue to move us ahead as an education organization,” Parker said. “So if the motivation is to keep us in the same place, and just let the state allow us to provide the funding to move us ahead, I would dare say that I don’t think our state legislators had that intent when they passed a budget. We have needs that we need to continue to address.”
Overall, the city will have one fewer employee under the proposed budget — there would be 12 new jobs and 13 positions eliminated. Most of the new jobs will be in public safety, including three new police officers, an assistant fire chief and two new Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Jobs in the public works department’s inmate work program will be eliminated and the Sheriff’s Office will take over those duties, Cipriano said.
Rohlf said public safety was one of three major improvements she hoped to make through the budget, along with community renewal and revitalization and individual wealth building.
To support renewal and revitalization, the budget includes funding for a neighborhood clinic in Marshall-Ridley’s Choice Neighborhood area, the new Four Oaks Day Service Center, the mental health court established last year and repairs to fire stations.
For wealth-building, Rohlf highlighted funding for workforce development sites in the Southeast Community and a new job dedicated to finding and writing grants.
The proposal also increases starting pay of city employees and the amount the highest-earning employees can earn, an effort to make city jobs more viable among Hampton Roads localities. The city does not have a pay step system, but Rohlf said the average merit raises will be about 2 percent across all employees.
Residents would see one higher service rate under the proposal — a higher stormwater fee that will total about $3 per year.
The City Council will host public hearings on the proposal April 9 at City Hall and April 11 at the Denbigh Community Center. To review the budget, go to nnva.gov/175/City-Operating-Budget.
Daily Press reporter Jane Hammond contributed to this story.