Throughout the process of crafting Chesterfield’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget, county administration refused to settle for either making necessary investments in core public services or providing meaningful tax relief to households and businesses.
The budget that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at a work session tomorrow afternoon accomplishes both objectives.
“The overarching theme of Chesterfield’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget is the power of ‘and,’” said Matt Harris, deputy county administrator for finance and administration, during a budget briefing for local media Tuesday morning.
“We’re absolutely investing in the bedrock of this community, which is schools, public safety and infrastructure. This budget also delivers a diverse, comprehensive package of tax relief to both our residential and commercial customers,” he added. “We don’t believe you have to choose one or the other.”
The proposed FY24 budget totals $1.94 billion, an increase of 9.4% from the current fiscal year.
Education accounts for 50.4% of the total budget. The base transfer from the county’s general fund to Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) increases by $20 million, an all-time high and $3 million more than projected in the School Board’s approved budget.
By allocating an additional $5 million in one-time funds, Chesterfield has addressed half of the projected funding gap in the school system’s budget.
“The schools budget is a partnership with the state,” Harris said. “The state is still engaged in its own budget process and we’re very hopeful additional dollars will come out of that process. We’re calling on our state partners to meet us in the middle.”
Local funding will accommodate a 7% pay raise for current teachers called for in the School Board’s approved budget. CCPS also plans to raise the starting salary for new teachers by nearly $3,000, from $49,481 to $52,421.
Likewise, the proposed FY2024 budget increases starting salaries for public safety (police, fire and sheriff) by 10% and provides a promised 2.25% step increase to current employees on July 1. Existing personnel also receive a 10% pay raise effective Jan. 1, 2024.
Such investments in compensation for teachers and first responders are part of a multiyear process to alleviate acute pay compression, reward veteran employees for their loyalty, experience and institutional knowledge, and keep their salaries in a market competitive position.
Two years ago, Chesterfield implemented new pay plans that positioned the school system and public safety agencies to lead the Richmond region’s large counties on all but a handful of early steps on their respective 30-year pay scales, bolstering their efforts to recruit and retain a high-quality workforce.
“Now the goal for us is to make sure we stay at the top of the market,” Harris said. “We really are in the driver’s seat for pay when it comes to those most important job categories: folks who are in the classroom teaching kids every day and first responders.”
With Chesterfield’s unemployment rate at 2.6% as of December 2022, the lowest among its regional peers, and average weekly wages in the county having increased by 26.6% since 2016, the local government is having to compete harder than ever for top talent.
Other planned investments in the workforce include implementing Phase II of a new pay plan for non-sworn county government employees and raising the minimum hourly wage to $16. All eligible employees also will receive a 3.5% merit increase next January.
Chesterfield’s proposed budget commences work on a slate of capital projects that were overwhelmingly approved by voters in last November’s bond referendum: replacing the Enon Library, facility upgrades at River City Sportsplex and parks development.
It also includes $153 million in local funding for construction of Phase I of the Powhite Parkway Extension, from its current terminus to Woolridge Road. Design work for the initial segment of the project is already under way.
There are 36 new positions to achieve Chesterfield Fire and EMS’ minimum staffing goal, new Child Safety Officer positions for teaching the Success Through Education and Proactive Policing (STEPP) program, and an increase in Police Service Aides and plans for additional positions in the police department’s traffic and enforcement unit.
More than 63 cents out of every dollar in the proposed FY2024 budget is allocated to education and public safety, the top two priorities consistently identified in citizen surveys.
Meanwhile, it is balanced against a comprehensive tax relief package totaling nearly $37 million.
County homeowners and businesses will receive a 5% rebate on real estate tax bills due in early June. Combined with an already advertised 1-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate, the effective rate for this year will be 89 cents per $100 of assessed value – generating an average savings of about $125.
Even as personal property assessments are projected to fall by double digits this year, Chesterfield is maintaining the relief threshold at 50%. Taken together, that will result in significant tax savings on the thousands of vehicles that are registered in the county.
Chesterfield has increased by 8.7% the income brackets for its 2023 real estate tax relief program for the elderly and disabled, ensuring no seniors become ineligible because of the recent cost-of-living increase in their monthly Social Security benefits.
The county also is raising the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) gross receipts threshold from $400,000 to $500,000, which will result in approximately 86% of local businesses being exempt from the tax.
“It’s hard to pick any one of these tax relief items and impact all of our residents and businesses,” Harris said. “It requires a very diverse approach to make sure we’re being attentive and empathetic to the pressures that everyone is facing.”