What does $2900, per person, per year, buy? Enough to pay six months on the average auto loan. Enough to buy a trip for two to Disney World. Enough to pay almost four months of the average household bill for food eaten at home and out. Enough to buy a year’s worth of gasoline for the average vehicle. Two thousand and nine hundred dollars per person is also enough to pay for police, fire, and ambulance services. Enough to pay the City’s share to send children to school. Enough to pay to have streets to drive on, storm drains to take away rainwater, parks to play in, greenways to walk on, and libraries stocked with books and resources.
The City of Roanoke budget, which is currently in development, is projected to be about $290 million, which translates roughly to $2,900 for each person living in Roanoke. That $290 million is used to fund public safety, schools, parks, libraries, streets, and a myriad of other governmental operations and functions that we all depend on each and every day.
Over the next couple of weeks, my blog entries will focus on how we develop the budget each year and what that process means for the public services you expect. The first post will focus on a broad overview of the budget: where the revenue comes from and how the budget development process works. The second post will focus more on how we plan for and use the capital budget – that is the part of the budget that accounts for the buildings, bridges, and vehicles built and purchased over the years.
Where does the money come from?
Revenue needed to provide the services that we all depend on comes from you – from each of us, as taxpayers. This revenue comes primarily in taxes. In Virginia, these tax revenue streams typically include taxes on real estate, on the conduct of business, and on purchases. Taxes on real estate account for 30% of the total annual budget for the City. Sales tax accounts for another 7%. The remainder of the revenue comes from revenue generated by business activities and from the State of Virginia, which is passed on to the locality. In Roanoke, 68% of the total budget is funded by money generated locally by community members who live here, conduct business here, or visit Roanoke.
How is the money spent?
The public services required to support a City of 100,000 people are extensive and providing those services requires substantial sums of money each year. There are over 1,600 employees who work to provide local governmental (excluding school) services. The largest expenditure in the City of Roanoke is the provision of education: the City provides $80 million annually to Roanoke City Public Schools to cover the City’s share of operational costs.
The second largest expenditure in the City of Roanoke is $69 million for public safety, which includes fire, police, EMS, E-911, etc. These two items, education and public safety, on their own, represent more than 50% of the total budget expenditures annually. The remainder of services provided by the City include expenditures in the areas of human services, infrastructure, and livability.
How is the budget developed?
Each year, City Council affirms its priorities during an annual retreat. For the past several years, the Council has deemed education and public safety to be the City’s top priorities for budget expenditures, followed in order by expenditures related to livability, human services, and infrastructure. Based on these priorities, each City department identifies the expenses – personnel, equipment, supplies, programs, etc. – that they believe best address the community’s expectations. In Roanoke this process is referred to as Budgeting for Outcomes (BFO). After a series of preliminary work sessions with City Council, the City Manager presents a proposed budget for public hearing and further discussion. This process typically begins with the retreat in September and concludes with the budget adoption in May.
How can I learn more and get involved?
The annual budget is one of the most important items that City Council works on and this process is of vital importance to the community. There are numerous opportunities for you to learn more about City budgets and the budget development process. Past budgets can be found on the City’s website. Beginning in the Spring of each year, the Council uses a portion of its first meeting each month to discuss an element of the budget development process. The public is invited to attend these work sessions and watch the Council’s discussion. You may also watch these work sessions live on Facebook or on RVTV. On April 16, the proposed budget will be presented to Council with a public hearing that will occur on April 26.
Again, the community is encouraged to review the proposed budget, which will be available on the City’s website, and to attend or tune in to the public hearing. Finally, you should always feel welcome to ask any questions or express concerns to me or anyone of your Council members.
So, that’s the beginning of the discussion of what $2,900 per person, per year, buys here in Roanoke. My next post will focus on a specific piece of the budget – the capital improvements program – in more detail. This program is how we build new city amenities, such as parks, libraries, streets, fire stations, and more.
- - - Bob Cowell