The Richmond City Council faced public backlash on the proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year in the first of two scheduled public hearings on April 11.
Concerned Richmonders spoke at the meeting about the lack of funding allocated to combating global warming in Richmond’s 2023 budget — an $836 million plan that was proposed last month.
Among those that spoke was 3rd District resident Richard Sebastian.
“I am the father of a 12-year-old,” Sebastian said, “and I am gravely concerned about the effects of climate change on his future.”
According to data from the Virginia heat study, temperatures are significantly higher in neighborhoods where there is little natural canopy, causing people in lower socioeconomic groups to experience a disproportionate number of heatwaves in the summer, Sebastian said. The 2023 budget, as it stands, does not reflect the climate emergency, he said.
Sheri Shannon, the co-founder of Southside ReLeaf, spoke about the health issues that climate change has caused people living in the Southside of Richmond-- an area that is lacking green space and canopy. The life expectancy is up to 20 years shorter than in more affluent parts of the city, and Richmond has the third-highest rate of asthma-related deaths in the country, Shannon said.
“We are asking you to please invest in people, and work to end environmental racism,” Shannon said.
Some citizens who spoke at the meeting cited the budget’s departure in strategy from the Richmond 300 Plan. The Richmond 300 Plan Master Plan, passed in December 2020, outlines the goals and strategies for the city over the next 20 years.
According to the master plan, Richmond intends to increase greening in the city and reduce air pollution, which includes [shifting] the City’s vehicle fleet to modes of transportation that are zero-emission, such as electric vehicles.” The 2023 fiscal budget allocates $54.5 million to buy new vehicles for fire, police patrol vehicles and refuse trucks for waste services, but does not indicate if they will be electric vehicles.
In response to the public comments, Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, 2nd District, promised that the City Council would make more progress on the budget.
“We don’t have a choice not to [amend the budget], honestly,” Jordan said. “I have some amendments in the queue that will get us moving along with the comments we have heard tonight that are not contradictory to the other goals we have.”
In addition to concerns about climate change, a small group of citizens spoke during the budget hearing in support of the proposal to add a Park Ranger Pilot Program out of concern for the number of unleashed dogs in parks. Representatives from the Richmond Fire Department and the Richmond Ambulance Authority also shared their support for a proposal to increase the salaries of first responders. A number of Richmonders applauded the budget's plan to allocate $15 million to Richmond Public Schools.
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The second budget hearing is scheduled for May 2.
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