NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk City Council has approved its more than $1.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year, with no fee or tax rate increases, raises for employees and a large school construction plan.
The vote was unanimous Tuesday night, with little discussion by council members.
A majority of the budget mirrors the one laid out by City Manager Chip Filer back in March. Highlights include a 5% raise for employees and raising the minimum wage to $18 an hour for permanent employees and $15 an hour for temporary employees.
The budget includes $70 million in matching funds for a downtown floodwall project and $450,000 would be used to create the Business Compliance Unit, in order to better enforce rules on nightclubs and short-term rentals
However, last minute changes are also being championed by the city, including a $750 million school construction initiative that’ll take place over the next 10 years. Funds are included to design and construct a new Maury High School and a new Norview Elementary School.
There is also $40 million included to renovate Booker T. Washington High School, part of which will be funded by the sale of the land for the Headwaters Resort and Casino. Annual taxes from the casino each year are expected to continue to fund the initiative.
The budget also fully funds the Norfolk School Board’s approved budget that would increase the starting salary for new teachers from $47,200 to $49,500, offer five possible signing bonuses for new teachers and give an employee recruitment bonus. It would also increase the starting pay for bus drivers from $15.30 an hour to $17.80 along with offering incentive pay.
However, it was changes made to the public safety pay plan Councilman Tommy Smigiel said convinced him to support the budget.
The Norfolk Police Department is hemorrhaging employees. As of April 5, the force had a vacancy rate of 25.5%, with 193 vacant sworn officer positions. As of May 11, there were 239 sworn officer vacancies, according to Kelly Straub, a city spokesperson.
On top of a 5% raise all city employees will receive, the new budget commits $2.3 million for a step increase for all sworn public safety employees with six or more years of tenure and then the creation of a new classification category: Master Police Officer (MPO).
That’ll deliver between 10%-13% raises for 288 of the 537 sworn officers on the force, according to Smigiel.
However, Michael Lynch, president of the Norfolk PBA Chapter, still doesn’t think it will change the overall morale in the department.
“I will get a bump in pay but it doesn’t fix the compression or fix the correct step that I should be in with years of service,” Lynch said. “Just like the other senior officers we … left behind … [City Council] just threw stuff out there in hopes it would keep us quiet but it’s not. To me it is still a really big slap in the face as they don’t care about senior officers and trying to keep them.”
The new budget goes into effect July 1.