Councilwoman hopes proposed changes to City Charter find support

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/30/2023, 6 p.m.
Under proposed changes to the City Charter or constitution, City Council would gain new authority over housing subsidies and real ...
Ms. Lynch

Under proposed changes to the City Charter or constitution, City Council would gain new authority over housing subsidies and real estate tax relief to residents with low to moderate incomes, in addition to setting its own compensation and modifying zoning.

Fifth District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch hopes to gain unanimous support from her eight colleagues at the Monday, Dec. 11, council meeting for the changes she has negotiated with Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration. If passed by the council, the package would be sent to the General Assembly for approval in the upcoming 2024 session.

Many of the changes follow recommendations that a council-created Richmond City Charter Review Commission submitted Aug. 2 after a year of study.

As the most significant package of charter changes proposed since the 2004 creation of a mayor elected citywide, the amendments do not address the current relationship between the council and the mayor ahead of the 2024 elections for the governing body and chief executive.

The biggest proposed change could well be the tax and housing initiatives that the charter review commission did not address.

The proposed Section 2.09 amendment would allow the city to defer property taxes and tax increases for qualifying low or moderate income property owners, using the definition of such individuals established by the Virginia Housing Development Authority, now known as Virginia Housing.

Such a program could allow the taxes to accumulate over time to be paid off from proceeds after the property is sold.

In addition, the proposed charter change would authorize the city to create a program that could help such qualifying individuals buy a home or receive rental subsidies. The city also could use state or federal funds to advance such initiatives.

The charter amendment also would declare the creation of programs that could provide funds directly to individuals for housing to be “in the furtherance of a public interest” to get around state constitutional restraints.

On the salary front, the proposed change would allow the council to free itself from using the salary set by the General Assembly. The review commission recommended higher pay both for the council and mayor.

If approved by the council and the legislature, the charter change would allow the council to set the compensation its members would receive for attending council and committee meetings and undertaking other council business and also to provide for higher pay for the council president and vice president.

Council already has the authority to set the pay of the mayor.

Ms. Lynch said no decisions have been made on the total pay council members would receive. Currently, state law limits pay for council members to $25,000 a year, with the council president receiving $2,000 more or $27,000.

She forecast that the council would consider bringing its pay closer to the compensation that members of the governing bodies or boards of supervisors receive in neighboring counties.

Chesterfield currently pays elected supervisors $41,000 a year, with a $5,000 supplement for the board’s chair, while Henrico pays its supervisors almost $60,000 a year, with a nearly $9,000 supplement for the board’s chair.

The proposed charter change also would eliminate a provision that requires seven members of council to vote for a zoning change if at least 20% of the residents submit an opposition petition.

The proposed changes would allow a majority of the council to approve such zoning changes.

Another big proposed change would allow the mayor to submit a budget plan for the next fiscal year on May 1 instead of in March.

Ms. Lynch said that the goal is to create a more collaborative government when it comes to budget making.

She said that changing the date would allow the council to have two to three months to work with the administration on budget proposals that individual members or the full council want included before the spending plan “would be baked.”

Ms. Lynch noted that currently council members submit their proposals by Oct. 1 and rarely have more than a week or two to lobby the administration.

And she noted the council rarely makes substantial changes to the mayor’s published budget proposal once it is released in March to outline spending plans for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.