Sent to City Council Members & City Manager on April 7, 2017
An article I wrote which was published in the Radford News Journal on February 24, 2016, identified several budget recommendations. Since no action was taken on any of the recommendations, I offer them up again with the hope the City leaders will see the wisdom in some of these ideas this year.
A dedicated source of funding is needed to support ongoing Cultural/Recreational opportunities for the future growth of Radford’s city park system. The recommendation was made to cap the amount of revenue that goes directly into the General Fund from the Meal Tax at $1M, from the Cigarette tax at $60K and the lodging tax at $18K. Did you see an extension of the Riverway Park trail occurring in 2016? Do you think you will see any extension in 2017?
Again I think the cigarette tax should be raised from $.15 cent per pack to $.30 per pack. The main reason for this increase is an attempt to reduce smoking among our youth. If you were really concerned about the health of our youth, you would change the tax to $.75 per pack which is the rate charged in Northern Virginia. The cigarette tax is $.30 in Blacksburg and $.40 in the Town of Christiansburg. If your only concern is a potential loss in cigarette revenue going to Pulaski County (Fairlawn), think of the much larger revenue Radford will be receiving from sales taxes at Rural King. Would you rather put the health of our youth above the reason of being labeled as the council that raised taxes? I don’t know how you could say that with a straight face and at the same time think about increasing the cities debt by $2M dollars or the purchasing of a new fire truck which could cost the city around $500K.
Another source of revenue ($20K) could come from eliminating the 2% discount the seller retains from the Meal Tax collection. You can refer to my BLOG article “Four problems with the city’s meal tax” or the January 27, 2016 Radford News Journal for the details.
Eliminate the $5K yearly supplement for the Commissioner of Revenue.
In my article published May 18, 2016, I wrote when revenue slows, cost must be reduced. Radford should be putting a freeze on hiring and not replacing retiring employees with a goal of reducing city staff by 3% to 5%. This recommendation was also in my article of July 13, 2016, stating the need for a hiring freeze for City workers to offset some of the lost revenue from closed businesses.
NO MORE POOL AGREEMENTS WITH THE CHRISTIANSBURG AQUATIC CENTER (CAC). There have been three 6-month agreements costing Radford taxpayers over ($18K). This ongoing expenditure is all because “Mayor Brown said council wanted residents to have the opportunity extended to Radford University faculty, staff and students.” That rationale doesn’t justify why the city is paying the entrance fees for a small minority of its residents.
For my BLOG reader’s information, I sent, via email, a letter dated August 12, 2016 (letter posted to the bottom of this article) to All City Council Members, City Manager, and Economic Development Director that had all of the 13 Radford News Journals I had written since December 2015 attached. The letter was in reference to the Economic Development Work Session, August 24, 2016.
This year’s budget process should include a 5% overall reduction in the number of city employees and a hiring freeze. You are not going to believe this. Last year’s budget included a full time employee INCREASE from 222 to 226. Per the budget reports, the city headcount has increased from 211 in 2012 to 226 in 2017. This doesn’t make any sense to me.
Here is another brain teaser for you. Why would you hire a Fire Chief who lives approximately 50 miles (Meadows of Dan I have been told) from the Fire Station, drives a city vehicle and more than likely uses city gas. Just think of the miles being put on this city vehicle per year, maintenance costs and how quickly a replacement vehicle will need to be purchased. Per the budget report, the number of full time fire department employees has increased from 11 in 2013 to 13 in 2017 while the number of responses has only increased from 1017 to 1062 in the same time frame. The 2016 Fire Department budget was $942,769 for 2016 (auto $29,746) and is $873,479 for 2017 (auto $28,666). Let’s don’t forget about the future $882,987 ladder fire truck replacement which RU is contributing $300K.
I have also been told that the Director of Recreation and Parks lives in Stuart, Va.
How many other department heads reside outside Radford city limits and/or drive city vehicles? What other perks are being funded by city tax revenue? .My recommendation would be for the city to replace the current Fire Chief with one of the existing Captains that resides within the city limits.
I have been told there appears to be an exception in the law that would allow cities to require residency for department heads based on their interpretation of what was read. The Code of Virginia law referenced was Title 15.2-1505.
Does the city really need a full time dog and cat Animal Control officer (Budget 2016 – $136,321, – 1 full time, 2 part time, 2017 – $135,751 – 1 full time, 3 part time). Is there a regional animal shelter? If not, don’t you think it would be less expensive for all regional localities to have a central location? Other options need to be examined.
The city doesn’t need an Economic Development Director (Dept. Budget – 2016 – 87,620, 2017 -$88,205, auto $700/$745), nor a Tourism Director (Dept. Budget – 2016 – $98,381, 2017 – $101,734, auto $197/$210). You do know the city provides some funding for the Chamber of Commerce (Budget – 2016 – $12,000, 2017 – $15,000) and Glencoe (Budget – 2016 – $55,818, 2017 – $39,683). The 2017 budget for these four economic and tourism functions amounts to $244,622. That’s a great deal of wasted dollars for such little results. Radford is not a tourist mecca nor is it a shopping destination. Two more downtown businesses are closing. With the threat of Hepatitis-C, look for closure of a tattoo parlor or two.
I think all city positions (including schools and Superintendent’s staff) should be on the table for review at budget time. I also think budget time should be a year round process with periodic reviews. No one likes surprises when it comes to funding. A department that goes over budget is a department that is poorly managed.
Surely the city could reduce some of its expenses by moving the City Market to the city owned property at Wadsworth and Rock Road. The City Market on Main is not a draw for other merchants.
Per the city Manager September 6, 2016, the City leases two lots from Norfolk Southern and one from Price Baker LLC for parking and special events on East Main. At that time he was going to look up the lease details. I am not familiar as to the lease details but I do know leasing, in general, is not a practice a city should be pursuing without examining all other options. Conversely, a city should not be selling property that they own. If the city property isn’t in plan for use in 1-3 years, a short term leasing agreement would be advisable as it would be providing revenue during that time period. I know of two properties that the city is attempting to sell and should take them off the market right now. If you have been around Radford any length of time, you can see all the poor decisions that the councils have made by selling city property. Maybe, the city would not have to be consolidating their various service departments into the former Wades grocery store if they hadn’t sold other properties that could be of use today. I haven’t seen nor heard what the expense is for this consolidation.
The Radford Transit system’s partnership with Radford University needs to be examined in detail. Per the Budget Fiscal Year 2017, Radford contributes $129,358 to the Transit System Fund. The budget for this Fund was $125,021 in 2016 and the proposed budget for 2017 is $180,787. Radford contracts with New River Valley Community Services to operate the public transit system, Radford Transit. Radford has another transit expenditure and that is for the Radford Transit Operating funds. The Radford Transit application for operating funds for fiscal year 2018 is for $1,464,169. The total for the two funds is $1,644,956. If you figure on 100 residents (not students) riding per day, 5 days a week that would cost the city $63.27 per rider. I think other options should be explored.
August 12, 2016
To: All City Council Members, City Manager, and Economic Development Director
Ref: Economic Development Work Session, August 24, 2016
Attached are 13 Radford News Journal articles that I have written in the past 8 months. They contain numerous ideas and recommendations that have fallen on the deaf ears of our City Council. All of these recommendations, if implemented, would improve Radford’s potential for economic development and improve the overall quality of life for its citizens.
If the goal of this work session is to explore ways to turn Radford into “the business heart of the NRV”, I’m afraid this goal is unattainable.
My ideas are attainable in a short period of time. The City Council needs to enact ordinance changes and the City Manager needs to formulate plans to address the city-wide problems mentioned in the articles.
In my opinion, the work session should focus on short term goals that are realistic and obtainable. An example would be to focus on the zoning ordinances along East/west Main Street, Tyler Avenue and Rock Road. These are the main business corridors in Radford and they should have the highest zoning classification and tax assessment in the city. In addition, the ordinance should restrict non-profits from these locations.
We all wish you success in this endeavor and look forward to seeing changes implemented instead of more rhetoric with no results.
James D. (Tuck) Bird
Note: Attachments will be sent in 3 separate emails