HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — Henrico leaders announced their proposed budget for the coming year to a crowd of county employees Tuesday, touting pay increases and tax relief as part of the developing plan.
The announcement took place in a re-purposed Department of Public Works warehouse, the walls of which had been removed to form a makeshift open-air pavilion.
To cheers from the gathered county employees, Deputy county administrator Brandon Hinton said, “The focus of this budget is you, you, our employees.”
The centerpiece of the budget is a proposed 8.2% across-the-board pay increase for county employees, including those in the school division. Hinton said the pay increase was an extension of the county’s fiscally conservative approach to hiring.
“We intentionally have the leanest workforce for the outstanding services that Henrico County provides,” he said. “What that means is we ask you to do more.”
The pay increase works out to about 1.3% once adjusted for inflation, which stood at about 6.9% year-over-year in January.
According to Hinton, this year’s raise is the largest pay increase for county employees since 1991, and will also bring the minimum wage for public employees up to $15 an hour.
Holly Coy, Chief of Staff for Henrico County Public Schools, said the pay raise “will be life-changing for many of our employees, especially support staff.”
In addition to the touted pay increase, the budget proposal also includes a program to provide employees buying their first home a forgivable loan of between $10,000-$20,000.
The other major focus of the county’s presentation was a series of tax relief measures, some aimed at residents and others at big businesses.
One major proposal is a 10-cent reduction in the personal property tax rate, which primarily applies to cars and other vehicles. That new rate would go along with an extension of the two-cent reduction in property taxes passed last year.
“It will save residents and businesses an estimated $3.6 million a year,” said Dan Hayes, a county budget official.
The budget proposal also includes relief aimed at large hospitality companies, with a “holiday” on utility connection fees for the construction or re-development of hotels, an effort to boost tourism in the county. That would effectively mean a generous tax break for developers undertaking such projects over the next year.
County manager John Vithoulkas also emphasized the county’s cooperative budget process, especially when it came to the local school division.
“57 cents out of every budget goes to our school system,” County manager John Vithoulkas said. “This county manager could not ask for a better partner working hand-in-hand to solve issues that our students and our communities have.”
“That isn’t the case in every locality,” said Dr. Amy Cashwell, Henrico superintendent, echoing Vithoulkas’ oblique reference to nearby localities with more contentious relationships between school boards and local leaders.
That might have been a reference to Richmond, where the school board has repeatedly clashed with a number of local leaders. Or it could have been a reference to Chesterfield, where school officials have faced a budget shortfall in part due to low county funding. There, the county plans to spend just 41 cents of every dollar on the school division.
The budget will now go to public and legislative hearings over the next two months, with final approval slated for early May.