Uncertainty About Deficit Grows

blogimage.jpgThere is a growing discrepancy between the figures that are being thrown around at Richmond City Council meetings regarding the operating deficit.  The city will confront this issue head on when it comes time to pass its new budget this year – sometime in the next month.

At previous Richmond City Council meetings Lindsay repeatedly stated that the city is staring down the barrel of a $7 million dollar deficit.  Last night, with Lindsay out of town and Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus filling in for him, the figures that some council members cited seemed staggering by comparison.

Councilmembers Nat Bates and Corky Boozé both pointed to numbers compiled by a local investigative journalist that put the debt total closer to $20 million.  That figure is nearly three times the original figure.

While all the members of the Council agreed that many of their questions about the budget can wait for the return of Lindsay from vacation, Boozé did direct a couple of general question to Magnus about the varying figures.  At one point Boozé asked Magnus if the City Manager’s office could confirm or refute the reports that the deficit figure is indeed closer to the newly publicized $20 million figure.  Magnus indicated that he could not point to any specific set of figures, but said that the City Manager and his office are concerned that the new number might be accurate.

The revelation that the city may be in much more dire straits than originally suspected drew an array of varied comments from the different members of the Council.  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin indicated that her discussions with Lindsay about the budget numbers made her confident that the deficit is quite a bit smaller than $20 million, but she was still not clear how much larger than $7 million dollars it might eventually turn out to be.

Bates and Boozé reiterated that the fluctuations in the reported amounts cause them a great deal of concern.  These concerns led the Council to approve the resolution put forward by Boozé that the Council hold a special meeting on June 18in order to review the new fiscal budget line-by-line and item-by-item to better understand and coordinate any proposed shortfall solutions and management suggestions that come with the document after it is presented in early June.

On the bright side, despite continued tensions between several of the council members, the Council actually finished all of their agenda items for the evening ahead of schedule and the meeting was adjourned by 10:27 pm.  Unfortunately, with matters like a deficit that could fall anywhere in the range of $7 to $20 million dollars, the prospect of prompt and efficient council meetings over the next couple of weeks does not look good.

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