Thursday, September 16, 2010

City and RPS Host Community Conversation on Educational Alignment for Young Children

~Richmond one of only four cities selected to host such an event~

The city of Richmond, in conjunction with Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education and Families are hosting Richmond's Community Conversation: Educational Alignment for Young Children on Wednesday, September 22, from 2 to 7:30 p.m., at the Richmond Convention Center. Based upon a review of efforts in 11 cities to improve outcomes for young children by third grade, NLC chose Richmond as one of only four municipalities to join with the NLC in planning and hosting local "community conversations" on this topic.

Richmond was chosen for the Educational Alignment for Young Children Initiative after interviews with Dr. Carolyn Graham, deputy chief administrative officer for Human Services, and other city and school officials. The Community Conversation will focus on educational alignment efforts and identify ways that community stakeholders can work together to continue to improve outcomes for young children. The discussion will build on the current efforts of the RPS Preschool Grade Level Alliance and the city’s Early Childhood Development Initiative, and will serve as the first in a series of steps toward articulation of a formal system-wide prekindergarten – kindergarten alignment plan for the city.

According to the National League of Cities, in the long run, a high-quality, well-aligned system for young children that bridges the divide between early childhood programs and K-12 education can help improve outcomes for children, engage and support families, and strengthen the local schools and workforce. In turn, these benefits contribute to the economic and social vibrancy of a city. "Family and individual economic stability is of paramount importance in our anti-poverty strategy for the city of Richmond," said Mayor Jones. "We are developing a strategy that will lead to increased quality early learning opportunities as part of our intentional approach to youth development."

Federal officials with the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services will participate in the meeting to learn more about local efforts and inform federal policy in this area. Event participants include area child care providers, teams from 12 city elementary schools to include parent representation, as well as community organizations that partner with area child care providers and schools.

Richmond's Community Conversation: Educational Alignment for Young Children is being planned by a work group including Richmond Public Schools, city of Richmond, Richmond’s Early Childhood Development Initiative, parents of young children, community child care providers, the Richmond Public Library, Smart Beginnings of Greater Richmond/ United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, Richmond Communities in Schools and other organizations.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mayor Calls for Enhanced Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled

~Proposal submitted to City Council for action~

Mayor Dwight C. Jones is calling for enhanced tax relief for the elderly and disabled for 2011 and beyond. The Mayor's proposal follows state tax relief guidelines, but streamlines the city's current program by simplifying the relief schedule.

The Code of Virginia allows localities to provide real estate tax relief to senior and disabled homeowners who meet certain income and net worth requirements. The city of Richmond has been providing such relief, but the structure under which the city has operated shows that Richmond is below the average of its peers for maximum income and net worth guidelines as well as per person participation.

"By streamlining the current program we can increase the number of participants and provide more relief to some of our most vulnerable residents," said Mayor Jones. "With making a few simple changes, we can provide additional relief to more people without exceeding the current budget."

The Code is very flexible in regards to how each locality may determine the amount of tax relief granted to qualifying applicants. Currently, the city program has over 20 possible scenarios for the administering of the program. The Mayor's proposed changes reduce and streamline the program to four possible scenarios and make the program easier to administer.

"The amount budgeted for tax relief has consistently exceeded the amount of relief provided," Mayor Jones explained. "We are working to make this program easier to understand so that we'll reach more applicants and provide a greater level of relief." Under the proposal, an average participant with income from $20,001 to $30,000, for example, could receive up to $570 in additional relief. In some cases, this could be double the amount of relief previously received. An additional 145 households with an income of less than or equal to $20,000 will receive much needed 100% relief. Many of these households are presently only eligible for 70% relief.

The city administration plans to hold a series of workshops to educate the public about the availability of this relief if the changes are enacted. Mayor Jones indicated that he is working closely with Richmond City Councilman Marty Jewell on this effort who has expressed great support for the proposed changes.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

City of Richmond Receives Several Digital Achievement Awards

The city of Richmond Department of Information Technology (DIT) was recognized for several digital achievements as e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government announced its 2010 Best of the Web and Digital Government Achievement Awards. The Digital Government Achievement Awards recognize outstanding agency and department websites and projects at the application and infrastructure level. The city received awards for the Richmond Public Library (RPL) Debt Setoff System in the Government-to-Government category, Land Use Projects Parcel Mapper in the Government-to-Citizen City Government category, CommonCents – Employee Budget Feedback Process in the Government Internal category, and an honorable mention for the city’s Traffic Accidents and Hazards web page in the Government-to-Citizen category.

“Congratulations to the hardworking employees of the city’s Department of Information Technology for receiving this national recognition,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “DIT is responsible for administering, developing, implementing and supporting complex and critical technological systems for 38 city government agencies, to include police, fire, 911, public utilities, public works, financial operations, payroll, website, and much more. It is a testament to their work ethic of not only fulfilling the status quo, but pushing the envelope in developing new technologies and systems for internal customers as well as the residents of the city of Richmond.”

The RPL Debt Setoff System utilizes provisions within the Virginia Set-Off Debt Collection Program by submitting overdue book fines as well as charges for lost books. City DIT resources work with Richmond Public Library staff to automate the fine process and save staff hours in processing billings for non-returned items. RPL estimates this system will save $47,000 annually in administrative costs, and as of June 1 the recovered amount for 2010 is $17,854.

The Land Use Projects Parcel Mapper contains familiar property information while also providing residents with current land use-related projects throughout the city and combines the use of both consumer mapping (Microsoft's Bing Maps), and the city's new GIS-based approach for managing land use projects.

Mayor Jones’ CommonCents initiative is designed to include employee feedback in addressing the city’s fiscal year 2011 budget shortfalls. Within a two week period, DIT provided a web application to allow employees the opportunity to provide feedback under the CommonCents initiative. The goal of creating efficiencies in government through the CommonCents program resulted in more than $2 million in savings.

The city’s Traffic Accidents and Hazards web page provides advanced traffic mapping capabilities for the entire metro Richmond area. The site permits users to view active incidents within a separate map display window, select a single incident to display, or choose from predefined areas of the City of Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield counties to display all active incidents within the metro Richmond region.

The Center for Digital Government is a national research and advisory institute on information technology policies and best practices in state and local government. The Center is a division of e.Republic, Inc., the nation‘s leading publishing, research, event, and new media company focused on information technology for the state/local government and education sectors.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Mayor Jones Announces $6.7 Million Positive Budget Surplus

~Proposes savings as well as funding for low-income GRTC ridership, household weatherization improvements and neighborhood blight efforts~

Mayor Dwight C. Jones today announced an estimated $6.7 million positive budget surplus for fiscal year 2010. The improved performance is attributed to the city's stepped up collection efforts, which have yielded $3.5 million more than anticipated, as well as tightened expenditure controls which have resulted in savings in overall expenditures for the past fiscal year.

"This Administration stands for well-managed government and we've been working to strengthen the city's financial operations and fiscal controls. Today's announcement reflects our improved controls and operational advances," said Mayor Jones. "As I assembled my finance team, I made a commitment to City Council that you would receive financial information on a more-timely basis. Not only is the information more timely, but it is welcomed news that gives us resources to address some other areas of concern."

Fiscal Year 2010 ended June 30th of this year. In the past, Richmond City Council received year-end budget information in the November time-frame. Mayor Jones plans to submit a paper tonight detailing his plans for the use of funds.

"We'd like to see these funds used primarily in two areas: well-managed government and what I call people-focused initiatives," said Mayor Jones. Expressing continued concern for the pending rate increase from Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), Mayor Jones proposed $500,000 to help capitalize a fund that will subsidize GRTC ridership for the working poor and low-income riders. One million dollars is being proposed for a Neighborhood Blight Remediation program and a Low-income Weatherization Program. Another $1.7 million is being recommended for various capital improvement projects to include street, sidewalks, and bikeways. The mayor also proposed to save $3.75 million -- over half of the surplus. Two million dollars is to be designated for a revenue stabilization fund for unanticipated needs or obligations.

"Most localities agree that you cannot simply rely on state government to continue to meet many of the needs they've met in the past. We must be prepared for unforeseen obligations and this stabilization fund is a smart move for a well-managed government," said Mayor Jones.

The Mayor has asked City Council to approve the proposed expenditures within the next two weeks as the Administration has scheduled its regular visit with bond rating agencies at the end of September. The actions to establish a revenue stabilization fund, to invest in city infrastructure with non-borrowed funds, as well as efforts to reduce poverty are encouraged by the rating agencies and can help the city move toward a Triple A bond rating.

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