Fiscal Year wrap-up: Henrico progress not hindered by pandemic problems

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Henrico County Government released their annual report for the county’s 2019/20 fiscal year this week. And in a year that was widely reactionary due to the coronavirus pandemic, the report still includes various successes towards the county’s goals for education, public safety, economic development and a continued decrease in major crimes.

“While COVID-19 will continue to test us, Henrico is well-positioned for success because our foundation is strong. Our core principles have always centered around public safety, prudent fiscal management and service to the community,” Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said in the report in his message to the community.

Henrico County is broken up into five magisterial districts — Tuckahoe, Varina, Three Chopt, Fairfield and Brookland. Each district is run by one supervisor that meets twice per month to discuss current county objectives within each district.

BUDGET

In response to the economic shutdown, the Henrico Board of Supervisors slashed nearly $100 million in planned expenses from their initial budget of $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2020-2021 without any layoffs or furloughs.

Henrico’s budget also finished last fiscal fear with a $25.9 million surplus.

In the general fund for FY20-21, education topped the budget at $509.9 million, totaling 56.7% of the finances. This is compared to education expenses of $514 million the previous year.

Those education costs were highlighted when the Henrico County Board of Supervisors approved development plans for the new construction of J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools in June 2019, as well as expanding Holladay Elementary School — doubling its size. Construction on the schools began that fall and each new school is expected to cost roughly $80 million.

The public safety budget totaled $196.6 million, up $3.6 million from the previous year.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Henrico’s crime rate has remained at ~25 major crimes per 1,000 residents for the previous three years. This has remained constant as the population of the county has increased 1.2% (+4,000 residents) to ~343,000 in the span of a year, according to the annual report.

While major crimes continue to decline, an increase in infractions and misdemeanors from previous years has also occurred.

Henrico Police Lieutenant Matthew Pecka attributes an increase in larcenies to drivers not locking their vehicle doors after exiting, and leaving expensive valuables in plain sight.

Henrico Emergency Management also provided threat assessment training to police officers and first responders to teach appropriate responses to public safety threats, such as an active shooter or mass casualty incidents. The county has also provided workplace safety training evaluations in over 100 facilities to better prepare county employees to protect themselves if an emergency event were to occur.

An increase in the county’s Police Division diversity has also occurred, with a total of 52% of recruits being minorities based on race, ethnicity or gender for this past fiscal year.

This new diversity also includes the addition of the first African-American Chief of Police in Eric English and Henrico Sheriff Alisa Gregory.

Overall calls for emergency services for were down 11% this year. For instance, police calls decreased from 162,000 to 139,000, and fire calls decreased from 10,000 to 8,000.

One factor contributing to the decrease in service calls could be the coronavirus pandemic as significantly fewer people were driving on the roads due to the statewide stay-at-home order.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

The county also took steps to help business and residents that were struggling during the coronavirus pandemic during the past fiscal year.

The creation of Nourish Henrico, which was a short-term program that purchased meals from locally-owned restaurants to feed first responders and frontline workers, was established to give back to those risking their lives to help others

And with the county operating under Phase One guidelines set by Governor Ralph Northam, Henrico County helped to expedite opening outdoor seating for businesses that needed assistance. Some businesses established temporary dining areas with a tent or other structure that was allowed under Phase One guidelines and the county waived permit fees associated with outdoor dining.

Mitchell Trak, the General Manager of The Grapevine, said they immediately took the help they could get when we spoke with him earlier this year.

“All aspects of the county really have been helpful trying to expedite things and help small business reopen in any way possible,” Trak said.

Henrico County volunteers distributed nearly 50,000 care kits with personal protective equipment to help residents protect themselves in late August.

JOBS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Henrico County currently stands in second place behind Fairfax County for most jobs among Virginia localities.

According to the Henrico Economic Development Authority, 3,574 new or retained jobs were announced in addition to $16.2 million in capital investment during fiscal year 2019-2020.

HEDA also announced 14 projects that represent businesses new to the county as well as expansions to existing companies to provide new jobs, promote new business growth and increase further capital investments.

“In Henrico, everything we do – whether we are fighting a pandemic or expanding access to pickleball – is intentional and designed to make us stronger, push us forward and bring us together. We truly are one community, one Henrico. We welcome your input and engagement, and hope you join us on our journey,” said Vithoulkas in the report.

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