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Posted on June 7, 2021 at 4:01 PM by Melinda Mayo
Ninety-degree days, open gates at City pools, concerts in Dr. Pepper Park at The Bridges, and the first-ever Carilion Clinic’s IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge triathlon—must be summer in Roanoke!
Not Your Normal Summer
Thankfully, this summer is shaping up to look a lot more like summers of the past with festivals, concerts, races, etc. But we must also remember it is still not like any summer of the past. COVID remains a threat in our community. As of the preparation of this post, vaccine rates hovered somewhere just above 55% for adults in Roanoke and less than 40% for the entire population of Roanoke—good, but not good enough. Most public health officials agree, we need to have something like at least 80% of our population vaccinated to truly rid our community of COVID and its impacts. Let’s keep encouraging folks to get vaccinated. The normalcy of our future depends upon it!
Some Are Still Struggling
Also, many of our hotels and restaurants (and those who typically work there) continue to struggle—crowds at events are still light, conferences will not be returning to Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in great number for some time still, and many remain cautious about venturing out into gatherings and groups of people. Also, many of our arts and cultural institutions continue to struggle, with venues still open to limited capacities, shortened seasons, or awaiting the return of touring acts and entertainers.
Better Than Last Year
Thankfully, many can safely visit the pool, take that family vacation, and dine in one of our restaurants. More events are on their way and more people are getting out into downtown, Grandin Village, South Roanoke, Williamson Road, etc. Life is returning to the City—summer is here!
Let’s do all we can to make it a safe and great summer, and take all the steps necessary so we can enjoy the normal activities of the fall ahead. Can anyone say football?!
-- Bob Cowell
Posted on June 1, 2021 at 5:08 PM by Melinda Mayo
This Monday we commemorated Memorial Day, a day set aside since at least 1868 to honor and mourn military personnel who have died in the performance of their duties.
More than 1.3 million U.S. military members have died in combat or service-related action associated with the nearly 80 wars or significant military operations the United States has engaged in between 1775 and 2020. An additional 1.5 million were wounded in these same conflicts. The Civil War remains the most deadly conflict in U.S. history accounting for nearly half of all deaths associated with U.S. military actions. World War II was the next deadliest conflict involving the United States, with more than 400,000 military members killed in combat.
Eight Militiamen were killed in April of 1775 in the first day of fighting at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, becoming some of the first U.S. military casualties. The first U.S. soldier to die in the Civil War is believed to be Daniel Hough an Irish immigrant serving at Fort Sumter. His death was accidental, caused by a cannon that went off prematurely during a salute to the flag after the Battle of Fort Sumter. On May 22, 1861, Thornsberry Bailey Brown became the first Union soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. Thomas Francis Enright is believed to be the first American serviceman to die in World War I, along with Cpl. James Bethel Gresham of Evansville, Indiana and Pvt. Merle Hay of Glidden, Iowa. The first American to die in World War II is considered to be Capt. Robert Moffat, an aeronautical meteorologist, killed during a German bombardment in Norway. Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick, a 19-year-old infantryman from Skin Fork, West Virginia, is believed to be the first American killed in the Korean War. Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, a U.S. Army officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Vietnam, is recognized as the first U.S. military casualty in the Vietnam conflict.
The Most Recent
Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 7,047 service members have died in support of overseas operations, including deaths by hostile forces, accidents, illness, and suicide. Since last Memorial Day, 18 additional deaths of U.S military personnel related to combat have occurred, five took place in Kuwait and five were the result of a helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps the most recent fatality is associated with a 55-year-old Army Reservist from Richmond, Staff Sgt. Christopher Pantos, who died on April 26 in Kuwait.
For each of these and the many who have fallen in service to country – we honor and mourn.
Posted on May 24, 2021 at 2:25 PM by Melinda Mayo
Last week I provided and overview of the process used to develop the budget proposal submitted to City Council. With this week’s post, I will share a bit about what is in the proposed budget.
Priorities and Outcomes
Before we delve into the details of the budget, it is important to remember that we base the budget upon the priorities established by the Council through their Strategic Plan, and for the purposes achieving the associated outcomes. Both of these may be viewed in greater detail at this link.
Services and People
The vast majority of tax revenue collected is spent on paying the people who deliver the services. Most of what we do is deliver essential services such as education, public safety, street maintenance, trash collection and disposal, etc. Delivery of these services is only possible through the contributions of police officers, E-911 telecommunicators, firefighters and paramedics, teachers, sanitation workers, equipment operators, laborers, etc. Additionally, there is a whole cadre of folks needed to help support these individuals in their efforts. Accountants, attorneys, administrators, clerks, technicians, and others are necessary for the process to work.
More than 50% of the revenues received are spent on education and community safety, $159 million in total. Human Services, with more than $40 million in expenses, is next in priority. Spending on education is largely based upon a negotiated formula that results in approximately 40% of the City’s local tax revenues going to fund Roanoke City Public Schools, which makes up the remainder of its budget through state and federal resources. The rest of the education priority funds educational programs in City libraries and the City’s Youth Services Program.
Community Safety includes expenditures on law enforcement, jail operations, fire and emergency medical services, E-911, emergency management, and traffic safety. Expenditures in this area are supplemented to a limited degree by state and federal funding. Human Services expenditures address social services and juvenile justice, and are heavily dependent upon state funding resources.
Partnerships and Collaboration
The City participates in a number of partnerships and collaborations, many regional in scope, to address a myriad of issues and opportunities ranging from regional tourism to regional economic development and regional transportation planning, to support for mental health services. Organizations such as the Roanoke Health District, Blue Ridge Behavioral Health, and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority are a few examples. Additionally, the City supports partnerships with a variety of arts and culture organizations including Center in the Square, the Roanoke Cultural Endowment, and the Roanoke Arts Commission. Some of this funding is determined by formula and others are amounts set by Council. All total, nearly $10 million or slightly more than 3% of the overall budget expenditures go to support such efforts.
Equipment and Facilities
Service delivery requires equipment and many services require facilities. Most of these expenses are accounted for in the City’s Capital Improvement Program, and many are funded through long-term debt, owing to their expense and length of their expected useful life. The City plans for capital expenditures 10 or more years into the future, programs specific expenditures on a rolling five-year basis, and budgets annually. The City anticipates borrowing $143 million over the next five years: $31.5 million in FY22 for fleet purchases, renovation of the Main Street Bridge, street and sidewalk improvements, park upgrades, new school facilities, and a new fire station. This debt is generally accompanied by expenditures of a few million in cash for other smaller less expensive capital items. Some of the debt is funded by user fees such as curb, gutter, and stormwater, and some is supplemented with state and federal funds, such as the new transit facility.
Enterprises and Entitlements
A few operations of the City are considered “Enterprises” or business-like activities. These operations are intended to be at least partially self-sufficient, relying on user fees and charges. These activities include the Berglund Center, PARK Roanoke, and the stormwater utility. Additionally, as what is referred to as an “entitlement community,” Roanoke annually receives a formula-based direct allocation from the federal government through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to address affordable housing, community development, homelessness, and other challenges confronted by low-income residents in our community. This year’s budget includes an allocation of nearly $3 million toward these efforts.
That is a brief overview of what is in the FY22 budget proposal. You are encouraged to review it in greater detail at this link. Council will conduct a public hearing on May 24 and talk further about the proposal on June 7, with adoption of the budget to follow on June 21.
It takes a lot to run a City of more than 100,000 people—a great number of staff, a lot of equipment and supplies, and quite a bit of money. Hopefully, this and the previous blog post provides some insight into the process and the results of that process.
— Bob Cowell