Richmond struggles to close budget shortfall

- The city of Richmond says it is struggling to find ways to close a major budget shortfall.

That means cuts could be coming to every city department, including public safety. "It's about between 7 and 8 million dollars on a 140 million dollar budget," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

He says the city has had budget problems for years. "We've cut our workforce by 30% in the last seven years."

The police department had a meeting with the finance department on Thursday afternoon to look for ways to trim $1.4 million.

That could include eliminating some newer technology, such as license plate readers. "Our hope is to not have to reduce personnel. I mean I'm hoping it won't come to that," says new Police Chief Allwyn Brown.

In fact, Brown says much of the savings might come from hiring five new officers with grant money. "Closing the gap on staffing means we don't have to do the sort of mandatory overtime to meet minimum staffing levels, which can be pretty expensive."

The fire department will have to trim about $1 million from a $28.5 million budget. "We're making cuts across the budget," says Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard. But he says rotating closures of fire stations, which have happened there in the past, are not on the table. "Some administrative functions have been taken away. We don't look at filling those anytime soon. We recently had a fire marshal retire. I've assumed those functions."

Mayor Butt adds new revenue could include fees on all the city's marijuana operations, a higher real estate transfer fee, and a new litter tax that would focus on cigarette refuse like San Francisco's. "So they put a 40 cents per pack tax on cigarettes. But now, it's a tax now so you have to go to the ballot for it, so we're looking at that."

The deficit is for fiscal year 2017 which starts this summer. But it's not a one-time shortfall, meaning that any cuts or new revenues may have to be permanent.
 

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