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Richmond police tighten belts …

Street Talk

Police Prepare for Painful Belt-TighteningMaymont Garden Show Slowing Before GrowingT-D Reporters Boycott AwardsRiver House Attracts Cruise, Spielberg

Police Prepare for Painful Belt-Tightening

If the Richmond Police Department ends up with its current proposed budget of $50.4 million, it will have to ax many of its celebrated initiatives.

Among those coming to a screeching halt in the proposed belt-tightening: revitalization programs like Blitz to Bloom; extra patrols for the Canal Walk and Shockoe Bottom; special surveillance of drug hot spots; and many other ancillary services that the mayor, the city manager and City Council love to boast about.

In addition, some of the programs being cut are the very ones many city residents cite as the reason they feel safe in their neighborhoods.

"There's simply a finite amount of money," says David Meadows, budget manager for the Richmond Police Department. And with a set budget of $50.4 million, Meadows says, some things have to give.

"What we're essentially saying is we're going to become a different police department," he says.

Ironically, in one sense that "different" police department is likely to look very much the same. One component of Meadows' fiscal austerity plan is to halt hiring. That means the number of full-time employees — officers and support staff — on the department's payroll will remain at 780. About 80 vacancies could go unfilled.

This year's budget is nothing short of an "administrative nightmare," Meadows acknowledges. And yet it's precisely the kind of situation Meadows says he's confident he can fix.

The seemingly indefatigable Meadows left his job in corporate finance to tackle the police budget, a job many would say is impossible.

Interestingly, the two-year budget, which is administered by the City Finance Office and will go into effect this July, is an exact replica of the budget the police have had for the past two years — a budget that last year was overspent by nearly $2.5 million.

But now the department is under orders from City Hall to stick to its budget. No overruns, no budget hikes.

So the current proposed budget of $50.4 million allows for absolutely no spending increases. But costs quickly add up. A few line items: staff personnel ($42.5 million); fleet of police cars ($3.6 million); utilities ($250,000); phones ($700,00); the contract with the company that writes parking tickets ($1.2 million); guns, ammunition, uniforms and bulletproof vests ($750,000).

Once everything is tallied up, that leaves Meadows with $1 million for everything from copier paper to community events.

It's a complicated issue — one Meadows appears to know admirably well, considering it's his nascent year with the department.

"You won't see a difference in core services like patrol and regular investigations," Meadows says. "Where you will see a difference is in the little niceties."

Still, Meadows says there's a good chance he could get more money before City Council votes to finalize the city budget late in April or the first part of May.

Brandon Walters

Maymont Garden Show Slowing Before Growing

Just how does Maymont's garden show grow?

Like anything else organic: by occasional pruning.

After 12 years at the Richmond Centre, the acclaimed Maymont Flower & Garden Show has swelled far beyond the center's capacity. And next year it must cut back.

Considering the challenges of this year's recent exhibit — parking, construction, the circus and snow — organizers of the event are breathing a sigh of relief as they count attendance. Despite the chaos, the show still attracted nearly 30,000 visitors in four days, down only 1,800 from a year ago.

"The last few years have been kind of a holding pattern for us," says Maymont spokeswoman Kate Peeples. Understandably, the current convention-center construction — which promises to triple the space of the current exhibition hall — is a happy prospect for the organizers.

But what about next year when construction of the site will force the show out of its old spot?

It's precisely the question Maymont's team of planners already has tackled.

In 2002 the exhibit will be a kind of "garden-show light," Peeples says.

A move to the new grand ballroom at Broad and Marshall streets, which should be ready by then, will present its own set of challenges. But the biggest restriction, says Peeples, will be the show's new elevation. The grand ballroom is located on the second the floor of the building.

Some of the elaborate — and large — landscape exhibits simply won't work. "There's no way to get a 30-foot tree up an elevator," says Peeples with a laugh. Instead, many of the show's entries like window-box and tabletop displays will show just how inventive garden enthusiasts can get with limited space. Think of a European-style grower's exchange.

With three times the space available once the convention center is completed, the 2003 event is likely to attract all kinds of new talent, says Peeples, including top-notch speakers, more vendors and other association shows.

"It's grown for 12 years, and it's time to shake it up," she says. And the 2003 show will be the result, Peeples promises: "It'll be an explosion."


T-D Reporters Boycott Awards

It wasn't for a lack of winners, but the banquet tables assigned to the Richmond Times-Dispatch were light on reporters and photographers at the Virginia Press Association's annual awards ceremony earlier this month.

As a gesture of newsroom solidarity, many of the newspaper's award-winning journalists skipped the event in Norfolk, leaving a heavy delegation of managers and executives to pick up the awards.

Since July, the union representing newsroom employees, the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association, has been in contentious contract negotiations with Times-Dispatch management.

The union's decision to boycott the VPA banquet on March 3 was "a show of protest against the company's unfair treatment of employees," explained a circulated letter that was sealed in a red envelope and emblazoned with the words "News Flash!"

"I thought it was a clever idea," says Michael Paul Williams, a Times-Dispatch columnist and reporter who was elected president of the union in February. "It managed to get the information out there, which is all we wanted to do."

The message certainly reached a wide audience of industry colleagues. About 775 journalists representing newspapers throughout the state attended the banquet.

Among the union's complaints is that Media General, which owns the Times-Dispatch, discourages union activity, offers only half-percent wage and merit-pay increases and wants the right to require employees to "submit to mental and physical evaluations by doctors it chooses, whenever it chooses."

Frank A. McDonald Jr., vice president of human resources for Media General's publishing division, says the company is not commenting on the contract discussions. But Media General isn't rolling over — the company has appealed a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that backed the union's charge of unfair labor practices.

Since the banquet, though, there seem to have been few developments. "Not a whole lot has happened," Williams says.

Jason Roop

River House Attracts Cruise, Spielberg

Dr. William R. Mauck never considered the aerial appeal of his family's river house until he got a call from 20th Century Fox.

"I couldn't believe my father built the house in 1930, and in 2001 I've got people from Hollywood calling me to say, 'We flew over it in a helicopter and were wondering if we could use it in a movie,'" Mauck, who lives in Richmond, says amusedly.

But Fox's sky scouts apparently detected a prize in the secluded dwelling. And for this movie, privacy is key.

It's not just any film. The anticipated blockbuster is an $80 million science-fiction thriller called "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise and co-produced by Fox and Steven Spielberg's studio, Dreamworks.

The movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who wrote the stories that were turned into the movies "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." In it, Cruise will play John Anderton, the head of a futuristic police agency called Pre-Crime that aims to catch perpetrators before they break the law.

Mauck confirms that plans are in the works for the movie's production team to arrive in Gloucester County early this summer. The house will appear in the film's flashback scenes. For several weeks the crew is scheduled to ply its trade by removing furniture and building sets. Filming with Cruise, Samantha Morton ("Sweet and Lowdown") and Ian McKellen ("X-Men") will follow and is expected to take at least four days.

But even Mauck is shy on details and politely confesses: "I'm in the dark."

"It's still tentative," says the movie's location manager, Peggy Pridemore, from her home in Vienna, Va. "We say that because movies change a lot, and we don't like to get people's hopes up and then have it all fall flat."

Mauck is lovely and cared-for river house near the Ware Neck peninsula already has lived up to its promise. Even without Hollywood's indulgence, it has provided more than 70 years of respite for the Mauck family. "We spent our summers there," says the retired orthopedic surgeon. Today, he owns the home with his brother, Dr. Page Mauck, a cardiologist in Richmond.

To Mauck, the idea of celebrities like Cruise taking over the place seems a bit bewildering. But he says the prospect excites his kids and grandchildren.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing for the property," he says with a chuckle. What's more, he adds: "If we ever go to see the movie we might recognize. Then again, we might not."


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