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Danville, VA Local Government News and Announcements

Posted on: March 29, 2019

Proposed budget keeps focus on future

Photo of Council Chambers

City Manager Ken Larking on Thursday night submitted to City Council a proposed budget that invests additional money in public schools, crime reduction and public safety initiatives, and projects designed to grow Danville.

As proposed, Danville Public Schools would receive an increase of $2.3 million or 11.2 percent. New crime and public safety initiatives total $1.5 million, and $2.1 million would be dedicated for economic development grants and incentives.

To pay for the increase in school funding, Larking is recommending an eight-cent increase in the real estate tax rate from 80 cents per $100 valuation to 88 cents. With the increase, Danville’s rate would remain among the lowest for cities in the state. The current rate is 26 cents below the state average.

In addition to the real estate tax, Larking is proposing the implementation of a 30-cent per pack tax on cigarettes and a 10-cent increase in the personal property rate.

The cigarette tax is projected to generate $500,000 annually when fully implemented. It would be used to provide a $280,000 increase – from $80,000 to $360,000 – for the Danville Life Saving Crew, with any additional revenue directed to public schools.

A 10-cent personal property tax would provide a dedicated revenue source for economic development grants and incentives. For the past several years, reserve funds have been used to pay for much of the program.

Budget process

The proposed budget is a working draft for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. City Council began reviewing the budget after it was submitted last night and will meet during April in a series of work sessions.

Public hearings will be held in May and June.

Final adoption must take place no later than June 30. The final budget will serve as a framework for city operations from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

School funding

An increase of $2.3 million or 11.2 percent would push local funding for school operations to $22.6 million. The recommended budget also includes $2 million in bond proceeds to be used by the school system to pay for capital expenses like roof and HVAC equipment replacements and other building repairs. 

Larking said he has three primary reasons for recommending the tax increase for schools.

“Danville needs to grow its population if it is ever going to be truly successful in economic development and that won’t happen if our public school system continues to struggle,” Larking said. “This will impact the quality of the workforce coming out of schools and moving to the area that is necessary to attract business.”

He also said Danville significantly lags behind in per-pupil spending as compared to peer cities.

“The long-term lack of sufficient funding for schools has impacted their ability to achieve success. It is reasonable for DPS (Danville Public Schools) to expect to receive the same resources our peer city school systems receive. Our kids are just as deserving.”

Larking said the additional funding would maintain the highly competitive teacher pay plan implemented in the public school system that has led to nearly every classroom led by a licensed professional educator.

“Parents don’t want their kids taught by long-term substitutes who often lack the training to prepare students for their future,” he said.

The third reason for the additional funding is to build a school system that attracts middle-class families.

“The best way to increase demand for housing is to give middle-class families a reason to move here and their children a reason to stay here when they start their own families,” Larking said. “If we gain a reputation as a community committed to investing in education by building an outstanding school system, housing demand (and values) will go up.”

Crime reduction and public safety initiatives

The City has taken several steps to reduce crime. Those steps include:

  • Establishment of an office of youth services and gang violence prevention staffed by a coordinator.
  • Increased focus on community policing through neighborhood walks, coffee with a cop, additional presence in schools, among other activities.
  • Enhancement of retirement benefits, including a higher multiplier and a reduction in the retirement age, to help attract and retain police officers and firefighters.

Violent crime rates have plummeted year to date, with commercial robberies down 89 percent, residential robberies down 57 percent, and aggravated assaults down 70 percent.

Property crime rates also have fallen, with burglaries down 38 percent, motor vehicle theft down 20 percent, theft from motor vehicles down 16 percent, and all other larcenies down 42 percent.

The city manager’s recommended budget for the next fiscal year includes money to pay for additional initiatives:

  • Continued expansion of the closed circuit television system.
  • Upgrades and replacement of TASER and body-worn cameras.
  • Supplements in the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to compensate for additional workload related to reviewing body-worn camera footage.

In addition to crime reduction, the proposed budget sets aside additional funds for public safety initiatives:

  • A $280,000 increase in the contribution to the Danville Life Saving Crew, which would be paid for with the implementation of the cigarette tax.
  • Renovations to the Northside EMS Station, which will be paid for with bond proceeds.
  • The hiring of an additional animal control officer.
  • $700,000 for fire apparatus and equipment replacement.

Growing Danville

In the last five years, the City has taken bold action to attract businesses and industry to the community and region. This includes investing in industrial recruitment, retention and expansion through incentives, and workforce development.

It also includes efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and a focus on the award-winning River District, which has made Danville attractive to residents, businesses, and visitors.  

The grants and incentives provided have led to 637 new full-time positions and 79 part-time positions and $130 million in committed capital investment.

In the latest figures available, Danville’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. Five years ago, the rate was 8.4 percent for that same period; and nine years ago, 14.1. Not only that, the figure of 4.4 percent is the lowest for that time of the year in 18 years.

In order to build upon this success, the proposed budget includes:

  • $1.35 million for River District projects.
  • $100,000 for international recruitment of industrial prospects.
  • $400,000 to continue the City’s comprehensive blight removal program.
  • $195,530 for park improvements.
  • $50,000 for gateway corridor improvements.

Other proposed budget highlights

The total proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $282.8 million for operations, capital and debt service, which includes all funds minus inter-fund transfers. This total is $6.86 million or 2.4 percent less than the current budget of $289.8 million.

For utilities, there is a projected natural gas rate decrease of 4 percent. The average residential gas customer will see a 4.7 percent decrease in their bill.

In addition, there is a 20-cent per cubic foot sewer rate decrease that is offset by a water rate increase of the same amount, which, when combined, would have zero impact on utility bills for customers who have both water and sewer service – the vast majority of customers.

No increases are proposed in base electric rates for residential and commercial customers.

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