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Budget Crunching: City Council Contemplates Outsourcing, Anti-poverty Efforts and More

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City Council continued its slog through city department needs and the mayor’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year on Monday.

Council members heard from the departments of justice services, social services, parks and recreation, libraries and the office of community wealth building. Here are some takeaways:

• Councilman Parker Agelasto questioned the private, for-profit prison operators that have overseen the day reporting center for three years now, wondering if it was time to contemplate bringing it in-house. “The numbers aren’t what we thought they would be,” said the director of justice services, Rufus Fleming.

• Councilman Mike Jones used the presentation by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities to suggest that some of the $4 million going to non-departmental line items be reconsidered. These are mostly to nonprofits, some of them fulfilling roles and programming formerly met by city departments. “There has to be a better process,” he said. “How can I say who’s worthy, who’s not worthy when I haven’t looked at anyone’s rationale for funding? Take care of parks and rec before you give funding to someone else.”

• Agelasto wondered about the city’s penchant for building such things as the Southside Community Center without a plan to staff it in the long run. “The process is backward,” he said to Deborah Morton, the interim director of parks and recreation.

• From the Department of Social Services presentation: 84,567 residents in Richmond received SNAP, TANF and Medicaid benefits in FY2016. The former two are more commonly referred to as food stamps and welfare. Richmond’s population is around 214,000. As the department of social services director was presenting, news broke that Virginia would have to repay the federal government $7.1 million for manipulating error rates for eligibility for the SNAP food stamps program. It’s unclear what, if any, impact that would have on Richmond beneficiaries.

• Social Services Director Shunda Giles, in response to a question from Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille, said that they were exploring alternatives to the current cold-weather shelter, which is plagued by reports of substandard conditions.

• Agelasto had some tough questions for the director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, Reggie Gordon, about the increasing scope and goals of his department. “We need to see some results in fiscal year ’18,” he said, noting the robust staff numbers in the department, which Mayor Levar Stoney has reorganized.

• Councilman Chris Hilbert has an amendment in the works to increase the Richmond Public Library’s budget, which has decreased every year for the past few years. This was news to Scott Firestine, the director of the libraries, but he welcomed it. “There’s no fat in our budget,” he said, noting that August will see the completed renovations of the West End library. This means the library’s 72 full-time employees will be spread out to eight per library, and hours and services may need to decrease under the current proposed budget.

Amendments to the mayor’s proposed budget must be submitted by noon on Tuesday, April 11, with the first presentation of those amendments on April 17.

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