Twenty-eight people, most requesting funding, spoke at a public hearing on the Unified Government budget on Thursday night. But only the 29th request of the night received approval.
In a special addition to the meeting, Police Chief Rick Armstrong asked for and received approval to submit a grant application to fund eight new community police officer positions under a federal COPS grant.
If approved for the grant, the UG would receive $1 million in federal funding, and the UG would be required to spend an additional $1.3 million.
At the end of three years, the federal funding would run out, and the UG is expected to retain each of the officer positions for at least another year, according to UG information.
Chief Armstrong explained to the commission that he was making the request now, instead of during the budget approval process period, because the deadline to apply for the grant is before May 23. He added there is no guarantee that the UG will be approved for the grant.
Commissioner Hal Walker pointed out that the commission’s top priority was to reduce taxes, and that it would be spending more than $1 million over the next four years for the program. He asked if the UG would receive any additional revenue toward the end of the grant period, and Administrator Dennis Hays said the UG is forecasting to have more dollars coming in from the sales tax revenue bonds being paid off in late 2016 and 2017.
Commissioner Brian McKiernan said toward the end of the four-year program, the UG Commission could assess the program and evaluate if it could sustain these eight positions. According to Police Department information about the grant program, the eight positions would bring the Police Department to 389 officers. If the numbers could not be sustained, the department could reduce its total numbers of officers through attrition, according to the Police Department document.
The commissioners voted 7-1 to approve the grant application, with Commissioner Gayle Townsend voting no.
Earlier in the evening, the UG Commission heard from 28 people commenting on the UG budget. The requests included helping to build a northeast area grocery store; economic development, especially in the Fairfax Industrial District; helping to fund housing that helps low-income residents; restoring the NBR funding; building a retail center at Indian Springs Shopping Center; increased economic development services; more recreational activities for youth in the northeast area; more sidewalks, walking and bike trails; funds for a minority and small business program; funds for a program that would work with former inmates and keep them out of jail; funding for community mental health; improving the community’s parks; adding bus lines and extending bus service; and building a new YMCA in the northeast area.
The requests for money heard earlier in the evening are part of the budget process. The public hearing on the UG budget was the opening of the budget meetings, which will continue through the summer, ending with a budget adoption on Aug. 1. At 5 p.m. July 15, the city administrator will present the proposed budget. Another public hearing for citizens to speak will be at 5 p.m. July 29.