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Roundabout Delay Threatens Funding / City Finances on Steady Course
October 21, 2008
Roundabout Delay Threatens Future Road Funding 

One of Richmond's most dangerous intersections has been held hostage to election-year politics and continued delays put the future of the entire project in jeopardy. The proposed roundabout at the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Rd. has been put on hold for months since Councilman Hilbert introduced an ordinance in July to outlaw its construction.
To complicate matters further, any continued delays could result in a loss of funding and force the abandonment of the project. The project is funded through federal and state monies from safety grants.
APHillInitially, a few complaints were registered when the Councilman proposed the legislation because he claimed that not enough questions were answered. However, two of three neighborhood associations and another involved Councilman whose district borders the intersection have all supported the roundabout.
Numerous studies show that roundabouts reduce accidents, slow traffic, and improve traffic flow. Anyone who has been through that intersection, especially during a busy time of day, already knows that this is a serious public safety issue that needs to be addressed.
This past summer, the City's traffic engineering staff provided information to residents, neighborhood associations, and even Councilman Hilbert himself when he submitted an email for more information.
City engineers submitted two rounds of questions to the Ginter Park Civic Association and then attended a neighborhood meeting and conducted a presentation on the benefits of the roundabout. Mr. Hilbert attended this meeting and asked questions.
Of course, to some, receiving the answers you don't want to hear sometimes translates into not receiving any answers, and thus, the stalling and threatening to outlaw the ordinance still continues.
HIlbert's paper was introduced in July, continued in September, and continued again for another 30 days just last week at a Council committee meeting. There is only one more opportunity this year to pass this ordinance or strike the paper and allow construction to begin. 
Just last week, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced it would soon be looking to eliminate funding of any new projects to help the state deal with an expected $3 billion shortfall.
If this project is cancelled after the money was allocated, the City will be forced to reimburse VDOT for the already completed design work plus an administrative fee and will also risk losing any future monies for any other safety projects in the future anywhere in the City.
So there is much more to this project than securing a few votes. The safety of tens of thousands of drivers who use the intersection everyday and the hundreds of residents in the nearby vicinity are at stake, not to mention the future of federal and state funds for the City.
In July, Mr. Hilbert wrote this on a community blog: "Here's my pledge to you: if and when convinced of the roundabout's merit, the ordinance that would prohibit this roundabout will be withdrawn."
Since that time, our City traffic professionals have answered dozens of questions and attended several community meetings.
No one in the Administration or City traffic engineering has heard any follow-up from Mr. Hilbert.
Will he continue to delay this needed project and risk badly-needed future funding for other road needs in the City?
City Finances on a Steady Course in Uncertain Times
While the nation and the world are severely impacted by the recent turmoil among financial markets, the situation closer to home at City Hall, while under close monitoring, poses no cause for alarm or panic.
The City of Richmond is on solid financial ground and should be able to weather the economic storm without any major disruptions to City services or large-scale layoffs.

You would not know this from the caterwauling of mayoral candidates, however.
We are better prepared than most cities to weather the storm because we have been vigilant in balancing expenditures and revenues, but there is no doubt we will be sailing through heavy seas.

We are working NOW to deal with cutbacks in state revenues and a sluggish economy and we are not waiting until the ship is listing to one side. Our stability is due to solid and consistent financial planning and budgeting during the last four years.  
The City's actions so far include a targeted hiring freeze, capping the rate of spending in City departments, and re-examining large purchase obligations.
Even when I warned City Council in March that times were tight and the City needed to conserve every available dollar, Council cut the real estate tax rate and took away $6 million in annual revenues from the City's coffers. In good economic times, this could be expected. In bad times, it is folly.
The City's financial track record is evidenced in this chart that shows a consistent pattern of spending since 2005. The City's revenues reach their peak in May when real estate tax collections are due. The lowest point comes in the winter months, when the City borrows short-term bonds to meet expenditures.
Our government can further increase efficiency by rooting out waste, corruption and fraud. Much of the systemic abuse that plagued Richmond for decades has been eliminated, but we still address those isolated pockets that represent ongoing challenges for any government or private business.
Budget deficits, however, are not the result of such malfeasance; instead, they are linked to overall economic swings and poor planning. Presently the entire nation, the states, and all localities are in facing a down swing.
The despair of some other cities is pronounced. Chicago recently laid off 1,000 workers and Hartford might lay off up to 20% of its workforce. Fairfax County faces a $430 million deficit, forcing spending cuts of at least 10%. Norfolk faces a $22 million hole, while Portsmouth has a $13 million shortfall.
In Richmond, we will balance out FY2008 by a razor thin margin. FY2009 will be challenging as lower sales tax receipts, lower home assessments, and reduced state aid all combine to pinch the budget.

I remain confident that our continued fiscal responsibility will keep any required adjustments minimal in nature.
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The Mayor talks about the danger of delaying the roundabout and how the City could lose future safety road project funding.
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The Mayor discusses the impact of the economy on the City and how we are better prepared than many localities to endure the current crisis.
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