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Roanoke budget prioritizes employee pay
Roanoke leaders provided the first glimpse this week of the city’s next annual spending plan, totaling $355 million.
The budget reflects an increase over last year by $30.6 million, largely thanks to higher property values and increased consumer spending. The city has not raised taxes.
City Manager Bob Cowell, who presented the draft budget before City Council Monday, described the proposal as a “historic investment in schools” and a “continued commitment to public safety” by boosting pay for police officers, firefighters and other city employees.
Nearly $9 million in new funding — for a total of $101 million — will go toward Roanoke City Public Schools, which has long received a set 40 percent of local money.
The bulk of new spending will go toward staff pay bumps. Here are some top-line figures about where Roanoke plans to spend more of its new money next fiscal year, which starts July 1:
- $9.7 million in staff pay increases. That includes $2.18 million to complete the city’s multiyear effort to boost base pay and provide bonuses to public safety employees, covering the police, fire, EMS and sheriff offices; $3.83 million for staff in emergency dispatch, solid waste and social services; and $2.63 million for other employees.
- Six full-time firefighter/paramedics staffing a new ambulance at a station in Northeast Roanoke ($673,000).
- Making permanent a youth and gang violence prevention coordinator, previously funded by a grant and currently held by Chris Roberts ($87,000).
- Adding a new assistant city manager position, with funding for training and development. The job will come online in July and be held by Sam Roman ($166,622).
- Adding a position in the urban forestry department to ensure the health of new trees and extra funding for contracted mowing services ($108,243).
- Increased pay for Valley Metro bus drivers and other employees because of a new union contract ($389,568).
- $5.3 million for 64 miles of street paving, as well as ramps and crosswalk striping. Another $2.9 million will go toward repairing 13 miles of sidewalks.
- Funding for a new Eureka Park Recreation Center, Washington Park Pool replacement, new skate park at Wasena Park and renovation of the parks and recreation department new headquarters in the former Richardson-Wayland plant ($16.9 million, which includes $13 million in federal pandemic money).
Residents can weigh in on the city’s proposed budget at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 27 in City Council chambers at the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building (215 Church Ave. SW, Roanoke). City Council is expected to discuss the budget again May 1 and adopt it May 8.
McCadden Park dedication planned
Roanoke will unveil a sign for the newly named Estelle H. McCadden Park at 11 a.m. Friday, April 28, the city announced.
The dedication coincides with McCadden’s birthday. The longtime neighborhood advocate died last year at age 95.
Roanoke City Council in January formally renamed Kennedy Park after McCadden, who co-founded the Melrose-Rugby Neighborhood Forum in the early 1990s as a way for residents to address problems plaguing the neighborhood.
McCadden, who in 2000 founded the Virginia Statewide Neighborhood Conference, often used her bully pulpit to advocate for the historically neglected Melrose-Rugby neighborhood.
Starting this summer, the city will begin a master planning process for McCadden Park to hear residents’ ideas on potential improvements, according to the city.
The April 28 ceremony will take place at 1616 19th St. NW.
School board incumbents make case for reappointment
School board incumbents Eli Jamison and Natasha Saunders told members of Roanoke City Council on Monday why they should be reappointed to new three-year terms.
City Council interviewed three other candidates — Jacqueline Moon, Auraliz Quintana and Christopher Link — earlier this month.
Roanoke is among a handful of Virginia localities where school board members are appointed rather than directly elected. Council is expected to make its decision on May 1.
Jamison, an associate professor of practice at Virginia Tech’s business college, serves as school board chair and was first appointed in 2017, according to the school district website. Saunders was appointed in 2020 and currently works as a senior education consultant at Carilion Clinic, according to her LinkedIn page.
Asked about a major challenge facing schools, Jamison cited learning loss from pandemic-era school closures, growth in the student population and building institutional knowledge on the school board.
In response to the same question, Saunders said more community engagement, “allowing our students to understand that we’re here for them” is an opportunity for growth.
Both incumbents mentioned decision-making during the pandemic when asked to describe how they have worked through conflict.
“I lived on Pepcid for a year,” Jamison said with a laugh, referring to the heartburn medicine. “I tried to remind myself we all wanted the same thing. And [we know not] every school board in this country has that fortunate circumstance. … Everybody on this board that you all have cultivated wants what's best for children.”
Saunders said she was “for lack of better terminology, baptized by fire” when coming on the school board in July 2020.
“That was a trying, trying first year as a school board member,” she said. “I think I dealt with that well by, one, putting what I thought was best to the back burner. You know, not pretending to be the expert in that or even leading with my feelings. … That was a big challenge for me to make sure I put my feelings to the side and actually did the research.”
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