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Wednesday, July 31, 2013
One of my favorite Roanoke TV ads was the slogan for former Mountain Trust Bank: “As solid and friendly as the mountains of Virginia.” It’s hard to beat that.
The slogan comes to mind now about the city of Roanoke as we witness the controversial bankruptcy of other cities, like Detroit, and the understandable concern of municipal pensioners and taxpayers across the nation.
Let me give an assurance of certainty to the friendly residents of Roanoke of the soundness and stability of the city’s financial position. Roanoke is as “solid and friendly as the mountains of Virginia.”
Our people deserve adherence to Jeffersonian principles of accountability, transparency and fiscal conservatism by a professional and knowledgeable financial and management municipal team. Roanoke has done that, and yet we continue to adequately meet the need to provide quality municipal services to our residents.
No wonder Roanoke is a six-time All America City, having won that prestigious award more often than any other city in America. No wonder we have a nationally accredited police department, fire department, parks department and other better-than-average municipal services.
Likewise, our schools are doing better under the leadership of Virginia’s Superintendent of the Year, Rita Bishop, with a graduation rate that is now near 80 percent. Passenger train service is on schedule to return to The Star City by 2016. We continue to be the No. 1 economic engine for jobs and investment in Western Virginia.
Needless to say, we have our challenges. For instance, we have to be concerned about our residents and businesses that suffered recently from that 200- to 500-year rainstorm. For all the good the city does, we should always be reminded of the biblical command that “Whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”
But, let’s talk money. We can’t keep doing all these great things for Roanoke, nor meet our serious challenges, unless our fiscal house is in order.
Well, our house is in good order. Roanoke’s budget has been balanced, in accordance with state law, every year. We’ve also cut $25 million out of each year’s budget since 2009 because of decreased revenue due to the economic recession.
That’s about $125 million to $150 million aggregate savings, but it also means that same amount was not spent on essential municipal services, improvements in storm water and parks, needed pay raises for teachers, firefighters and police. That’s a considerable hit, but Roanoke city government has managed it well.
Roanoke’s public employees, who have worked hard for years and are truly deserving of their pension security, can be assured of the certainty of the city’s pension system, too.
Our capital improvements are also conservatively funded. That’s why we’ve seen projects under way in Elmwood Park and on the City Market and have future projects like Round Hill School and the passenger train station.
And let us not forget that the city’s bond rating is AA (Standard and Poor’s) and AA+ (Fitch). The city is highly regarded by the rating agencies.
It’s the job of political, administrative and financial leaders of this city to move Roanoke into the future and to have a reasonable and practical balance to our financial situation. This is our obligation and promise to our people. Be assured that local government is meeting that obligation and promise in Roanoke.
The bankruptcy court is right across from City Hall. Other cities might be headed in that direction, but Roanoke, “as solid and friendly as the mountains of Virginia,” won’t be headed across that street.