City Council Approves Fiscal Year 2021 Budget
The June 11 City Council meeting included a host of business items. The first action of the meeting was to recognize Councilman Zhang and Mayor Freiling for their service to the community during their tenure on the Council. The Council then turned its attention to the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which was approved unanimously.
The budget includes full funding for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools from the City’s General Fund and offset reduction in state sales tax proceeds by providing $287,029 in CARES Act proceeds and $189,462 in surplus district operating funds to the division for Fiscal Year 2021 expenses.
The Council also elected not to include a cigarette tax increase this year, but staff will review that option again in the next fiscal year. The resulting $51,845,148 budget for six operating funds includes some minor increases in re-inspection fees and the expected assessed value of real property increase of three percent.
Amidst calls across the nation to defund local police departments, the Police Chief spoke to Council on what makes our Police Department unique. "Our officers have long sought to build relationships with our neighbors in the City," Dunn said. "That’s the heart of how we police: to serve our neighbors. Our Neighborhood Resource Officers stand as resources to residents every day. Just this week, we received an emergency call from a boy who said he was being harassed on the phone. We dispatched an officer who reassured the boy everything was going to be just fine and showed him how to block harassing phone numbers. That’s the level of care, reassurance and problem solving our officers aim to bring to every one of our neighbors on every call."
As we consider service disparities, we look at how funding can be increased to services for those in greatest need. The goal is to be proactive with interventions and services rather than reactive. Human Services Director Wendy Evans said "the increased resources provided by the City in its budget will allow our staff to expand our capacity to respond to the ever-growing service needs of City of Williamsburg residents." The adopted budget grows the Human Services staff by two and a half.
Chief Dunn also addressed the issue of police brutality and the disparity of policing based on race. He offered insight into the policies in place within our Police Department that are aimed at preventing systemic racism. Police officers are routinely trained in appropriate use of force and how to de-escalate using communication skills to minimize force, as well as trainings for fair and impartial policing, implicit bias and how to be better stewards to the community. Further, the department has long banned the use of chokeholds, required body worn and in car cameras, and every incident where an officer uses any amount of force is documented and reviewed by the entire chain of command. Chief Dunn acknowledged that racism cannot be legislated out of practice, and inherent bias is something that requires diligent training, systems of accountability, and awareness to address. Despite being a high performing agency, improvements are always on the horizon and encouraged the community to continue engaging the Department to help reform be meaningful.
The Council also extended the provisions for outdoor dining along Prince George Street until restaurants are allowed to operate at 100% indoor capacity or July 31, whichever comes first. Also related to COVID-19 mitigation, the Council again approved using the Williamsburg Fire Station as a polling place for the June 23 primary election. Other Council actions included approval of an easement for Dominion Power to complete undergrounding of utility lines along Airport Road, and approval of the 4th quarter FY20 budget amendment allocating grant revenues. They conducted a closed session to review vacancies on Boards and Commissions (apply here) and provide an evaluation of the City Manager’s performance.
Earlier in the week of June 7, the Council directed staff to plan for a public meeting to discuss the removal of a Confederate monument in Bicentennial Park on City owned land. The monument was erected in 1908 and paid for with public donations. The Council directed City Attorney Christina Shelton to place advertisements in the newspaper of record to hold a public meeting for the discussion on July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Stryker Center.