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Budget Approved; Mayor Unhappy With Staff Change

rss-bowers_headshotAfter months of belt tightening, public hearings and work sessions, Roanoke City Council approved a 7 million budget Monday for fiscal year 2009-2010. The total represents a 2.8% decrease from the current budget. With a decline in tax revenues related to economic conditions, the city was forced to cut some services, but found the money during a final work session last week to open and run the city’s two public pools, Fallon Park and Washington Park, for the summer.

A series of ordinances and amendments were passed before putting the budget in place. Councilman Court Rosen was the single “no” vote on the first amendment, most likely an objection to not allocating more money for the city’s public school system. He did not comment before the vote.

“This has been a very grueling and daunting several months,” said Mayor David Bowers before the votes authorizing the budget were taken.

Bowers also said council was involved months earlier in the budgeting process this time – before City Manager Darlene Burcham put her final numbers together and passed it on for review.

“There was some spirited discussion back and forth,” said Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea, adding that council members always had the best interests of taxpayers at heart.  “Tough decisions,” said Lea, “especially regarding the school system.”

At one point, there was discussion concerning keeping the Fallon Park pool open, but not Washington Park, but funds were eventually located for both.

“I would have had trouble supporting the opening of one pool and not the other,” said Rosen on his Forward/Together blog. “Though public/private partnerships [as discussed for Fallon Park] can be a model for good government, in a city as divided as ours, opening one pool without the other would have sent the wrong signal to our residents.”

The Washington Park pool in northwest city is closer to much of Roanoke’s African-American community.

Rosen was critical that council did not provide the city schools with additional resources “to help boost enrichment in summer school offerings, stave off elimination of teacher’s assistant positions or fill 10 empty elementary teacher positions.

“I believe this is a mistake and, if you recall, made a proposal a few weeks back that would have provided $1.6 million of taxpayer money from the Budget Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to accomplish just this,” Rosen said.

Rosen wrote (at that the city’s school division was ranked second worst in the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Education is the key to fighting poverty in our City and to improving the quality of life for everyone. I’m disappointed that we did not do more …but I know that [the school system] will do the best they can with the resources they do have.”

As part of the budget voting process, city council will cut their pay for the next fiscal year and vehicles with unpaid parking tickets will be subject to “booting” earlier.

Bowers miffed about secretary’s removal:

Roanoke City Mayor David Bowers tells the Star-Sentinel he feels the decision to cut the mayor’s secretary position (as a result of the tightened 2009-2010 budget) was “personal and political.” Bowers said Joyce Johnson, who will be moved elsewhere within the Roanoke City civil service system, was always busy. He wonders why “in a city of 100,00 people,” Clerk of Court Stephanie Moon has her own administrative support staff but the mayor’s office does not.

“I could use two [secretaries],” said Bowers, who will have work farmed out to other city staffers. “This decision is petty, personal, political. I think it’s inconsiderate [to] the mayor, whoever that is.”

Bowers said it was also inconsiderate [to] Joyce Johnson, who he said has been a “devoted” city employee for 12 years, serving under three mayors. She is just short of retirement and must keep working according to Bowers.

Bowers also said it was inconsiderate to the public.

“Joyce is the conduit [to the mayor’s office].”  Borrowing from Casablanca, Bowers said, “I’m shocked… I’m shocked to discover that there is politics going on [in] Roanoke City Hall.” He doesn’t blame his sometime-sparring partner, City Manager Darlene Burcham, for the removal of Johnson. “Disappointed and perplexed,” said the mayor earlier this week. “It’s darn near impossible for me to figure out how the [work] is going to get done.”

Bus drivers called out on sick days:

Roanoke City school bus drivers were summoned to a mandatory meeting on Monday, to address the spike in sick days being taken recently. The absences have led to longer waits at bus stops, and in some cases, students arriving late to school, or late getting home in the afternoons.  A statement released by Roanoke City Public Schools on Monday called it “an unacceptably high level of absenteeism.” Some drivers have commented publicly that they wanted to use up their sick days before the school system privatizes the transportation system this summer.

The RCSP said some drivers were “violating” sick day guidelines in order to use them up. Assistant Superintendent Curt Baker also issued a memo announcing a new “perfect attendance bonus” of $40, for those drivers showing up every week day. Drivers must also produce a note from their doctor or the school division’s employee health office after calling in sick. Baker noted in his memo that the majority of employees are coming to work every day, and “are doing their jobs in a professional manner.”

For those abusing the sick leave policy, Baker said, “such actions are unacceptable and must cease immediately.”

Drivers must call in sick between 5:00 am and 6:00 am and must leave contact information, according to the policy guidelines. A Pennsylvania company will take over the transportation service this summer, and is expected to hire many of the drivers  working for Roanoke City. RCPS will also pay drivers who will see their jobs terminated any sick leave balances owed.

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