Local governments are called upon to do any number of things, often services that others will not or cannot do. City of Roanoke services cover a wide array of needs associated with community safety, quality of life, and health. As we work on the annual budget, I am reminded of the diversity of these services and also am aware that perhaps not many realize all that we are called upon to do. So, this post focuses on a few of the lesser known, yet vital services we provide.
Did you realize that it is the City’s responsibility to handle the bodies of the indigent who pass away in our community and those who have no family claiming the body? Section 32.1 of Virginia State Code requires in cases where a resident of Roanoke passes away and no one claims the body, that local law enforcement take possession of the body and secure cremation services through a funeral home. In other instances, where family members are found but unable to pay the costs of cremation, the City again steps in, this time through our Department of Social Services. In both cases the City is generously assisted by area funeral homes who perform the necessary services for considerably less than typical costs. In the most recent year (2019) the City spent more than $64,000 providing for more than 123 cremations.
Sweeping the Streets
Did you know that it is the City’s responsibility to remove animal carcasses and sweep debris from along its more than 1,200 lane miles of streets? In 2019, the City’s Stormwater Utility removed more than 2,000 tons of debris through its street sweeping operations. That’s 2,000 tons of sediment, bacteria, and trash kept out of our stormwater system and streams. The city spends nearly $1 million annually on streetsweeping operations. Crews clean the downtown streets nightly, major arterial streets monthly, and residential streets about once every three months. You can check out when your street might be on the list for sweeping by following this link. Street sweeping costs are paid through the stormwater fees that each property owner in the City pays.
Did you know that the City of Roanoke provides mental health services? Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare Services actually provides the services on behalf of the region, with Roanoke contributing more than $600,000 annually. This amount only accounts for about 10% of the actual costs of the services provided to residents, with the remainder paid by the Commonwealth. The services provided include crisis assessment and stabilization, developmental disability services, counseling, and therapeutic day services for area youth. Blue Ridge Behavioral Services is one of 40 such service providers throughout Virginia and serves the City of Salem, Roanoke County, Botetourt County, and Craig County, in addition to the City of Roanoke. Last year more than 11,000 Roanoke residents received assistance through Blue Ridge Behavioral Services.
Did you know that the City of Roanoke owns hundreds of pieces of art ranging from large public sculptures such as In Flux in Vic Thomas Park to paintings such as Billy’s Ritz located in the Mayor’s Office? The City’s Public Art Program was established in 2002 and is overseen by the Arts Commission, which was established in 1983. In 2002, the City began setting aside 1% of the cost of certain public projects included in the Capital Improvements Program, under a program known as “Percent for Arts.” These funds are used to commission artists to contribute public art to various city projects, such as Rhapsody in Knowledge, which was recently installed at the Melrose Branch Library, or Freedom, Justice and Compassion located in front of the Oliver W. Hill Justice Center. Much more information about this program, including where you can see the various public art, can be found by following this link.
These are but a few of the services we provide that perhaps residents are less familiar with. Each are significant and either address an otherwise unmet need or improve the quality of life in Roanoke.
-- Bob Cowell