After this busy week, watching the sunset on the beautiful Pungo Ferry Landing Park with my family really put things in perspective. The past few months have been a difficult time for our community, but this has also provided an opportunity to notice the serene beauty of the place where we call home. City Council made some important decisions this week; we unanimously passed the FY 20-21 budget that featured no tax or fee increases and included tax relief for residents in need and small businesses. Council also passed an ordinance to expand outdoor seating for restaurants for Phase I reopenings.
As the City of Virginia Beach enters Phase I reopenings, many aspects remain unchanged; as of now, beaches are restricted to exercise and fishing only, entertainment and public amusement facilities remain closed, fitness and exercise facilities remain closed (outdoor fitness classes allowed), gatherings limited to 10 people, schools and overnight summer camps remain closed, and teleworking and wearing face coverings are strongly encouraged. However, as we begin Phase I reopening, we are trying to regain some of our normal activities by lessening restrictions while still reinforcing healthy guidelines like social distancing. Restaurants are being allowed to provide service in outdoor seating areas at 50% capacity. Non-essential retail businesses can open with 50% capacity, personal grooming businesses can open (by appointment only), private campgrounds can open, and overnight use of state parks will be introduced in phases/overtime.
We approved temporary changes to the City Code to provide restaurants with options to expand outdoor seating during Phase 1 Reopening. Restaurants are allowed to create outdoor seating adjacent to or in close proximity of the restaurant so long as the restaurant complies with the Governor’s Executive Orders 61 and 62 and the rules promulgated by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. A City permit is required only if the restaurant seeks to use City property, such as sidewalks or other areas, for outdoor dining.
In addition to these items directly related to the impacts of COVID-19, the City budget was also adopted to mitigate the financial burdens that have been imposed on our community.
I said several times throughout the budget adoption process that now more than ever, we need to be strategic, and the budget must be a living, breathing document flexible enough to support our city with excellent services but is also lean enough to reflect the hard budgetary decisions residents are making with their own households. These are challenging times for our community, and crafting this budget was also a challenge.
With the effects of COVID-19, the message I’ve heard from residents and small businesses was loud and clear: absolutely no tax or fee increase. Part of our fiduciary responsibility was adapting to the forecasted loss in revenue while still budgeting priorities. The COVID-19 Revenue Shortfall Stabilization reserve fund will be an excellent tool at our disposal to provide budgetary flexibility that we can utilize to fund various CIP projects based on monthly financial updates. Having the ability to offset revenue shortfalls further down the line is a very sensible step forward.
While crafting a budget often comes with some compromise, I do believe that this plan has a lot of merits. I am proud that we found cost offsets to eliminate the proposed 3.5 cent ERU fee increase and funded a tax relief plan for residents in need and small businesses. I am also pleased that we prioritized funding public safety workforce development, phase-in of moving supervisors to their pay range mid-point, the Disparity Study recommendations, and Hillard-Heintze security recommendations. Another highlight is that I believe we are making the most substantial financial commitment to stormwater improvements across the city in this budget than any year since I’ve been a part of this process. I am grateful that we were able to restore more than $7.7 million to fund our schools, which were hit hard with their projected shortfall. I think this really mitigates their financial impact and supports them in providing the children of Virginia Beach with a quality education.
We owe plenty of thanks to all of our constituents who contacted us and provided us a better direction to amend and adopt this budget. It was revised and went through reconciliation several times. Especially given these unprecedented fiscal challenges, I am appreciative that we as a City Council were able to reconcile our perspectives and fund a budget with no tax or fee increases that still provides tax relief, addresses some major priorities, and keeps our city going strong.
You can also review more details about the adopted budget here.