Newport News’ $1.1B budget proposal includes 5% salary increase; council to explore tax rate cuts

Newport News City Manager Cynthia Rohlf has proposed keeping the city’s real estate tax rates the same in this year’s budget. However, some city council members want the city to consider lowering the rates.

Rohlf and budget director Lisa Cipriano presented the city’s proposed operating budget Tuesday for the upcoming fiscal year, with a spending plan of $1.1 billion — up $58.7 million from last year’s operating budget of $1.05 billion. This does not include the city’s capital improvement plan, which is adopted separately.

The budget plan would allow the city to give its employees a 5% salary increase, at a cost of approximately $8.1 million. It would also allow for the hire of 27 new positions across multiple departments at a cost of $1.2 million. The salary increase would apply to all full-time employees employed before March 1, 2023.

“As you well know, it’s an extremely competitive job market out there. We have lots of hard-to-fill jobs,” Cipriano told the Daily Press. “And we still want to be as attractive as possible as an employer of choice. Certainly on the peninsula, if not in the region.”


Rohlf said her primary objective in developing the budget was “to enhance the lives of people” and that when she met with department heads to build the budget, they had to demonstrate how their requests would enhance the lives of residents.

About $280.5 million of the budget is dedicated to salaries and fringe benefits for city employees and $119.6 million will go toward support for schools. The proposal also calls for $47.7 million of the general fund to go toward debt service and $163.1 million to go towards other costs, such as contractual services, utilities, vehicle fuel, and vehicle and IT replacements. The school fund, waterworks fund, user fees, and other special revenue funds make up the rest of the operating budget.

Seven of the new positions recommended for funding are part of an attempt to expand the city’s Parents as Teachers Program, an evidence-based home visiting service. The expansion involves an additional team of seven positions for the Department of Human Services to serve at least 80 new families with children experiencing behavioral challenges, emotional disturbances, and children who have not had a preschool experience prior to entering kindergarten.

A budget adjustment of $271,797 will addresses critical funding for the daily operations of policing, which includes upgrades and maintenance of the department’s information systems, communication software and equipment, and maintenance and support of body worn cameras, tasers, and other specialized gear. To assist with retention and recruitment, an additional $250,000 is included for increasing stipends for the midnight shift and training.

The proposal also would fully fund the school division’s requested budget , which is up $24 million from this year. The school budget will give teachers raises ranging from 7 to 10% and adds dozens of security officer positions.

The school division wanted about $1.5 million for safety items, such as additional radios, security cameras, alarms and additional metal detectors. Since the budget for the new fiscal year doesn’t go into effect until July 1 and it may take time for the school division to secure the needed equipment, Rohlf recommended amending the current fiscal year’s budget to give the schools the $1.5 million for safety items.


Cipriano said when developing the budget and what to spend, the city looks not only at this year, but three years forward. She noted the city is still in a “very weird post-pandemic economic environment” that “changes all the time.” As a result, she said the city is experiencing a lot of one-time increases in revenue because of the pandemic that it doesn’t expect to have in the future — such as spikes in real estate and personal property assessments.

Rohlf has recommended keeping the real estate tax rate at $1.20 per $100 of assessed value. While the rate would remain the same, the city expects rising assessments to result in an additional $27 million in revenue this year.

Rohlf’s budget proposal also means residents would see an increase in their personal property taxes. Last year, assessments for vehicles went up 33%. To ease the burden on residents, the City Council voted to tax residents at 75% of the assessed value of a vehicle. So at the city’s personal property tax rate of $4.50 per $100 of assessed value, a car valued at $20,000 owed $675 in taxes instead of $900.

Since assessments are beginning to come down, Rohlf recommended keeping the personal property tax rate at $4.50 but reverting back to taxing vehicles at 100% of their assessed value. The city estimates this would result in an average 5% increase in the dollar amount people owe in taxes on automobiles and trucks and would generate an additional $3.2 million in revenue.

While Mayor Phillip Jones said he appreciated the work that went into developing the budget, he said he would like to consider options to lower the tax rates. He said one possibility is to lower the real estate tax rate by two cents to $1.18 per $100 of assessed value. Another option he suggested was reducing the real estate tax rate to $1.19 and also using an assessment ratio to tax vehicles at 80 or 90% of their assessed value instead of taxing them at their full market value.

“I think $1.20 is too high. I think $1.18 or $1.19 is more appropriate,” Jones said.

In Hampton Roads, the cities with the highest real estate tax rates are Portsmouth at $1.30 per $100 of assessed value and Norfolk at $1.25. Virginia Beach touts the lowest rate at 99 cents per $100 of assessed value. In neighboring Hampton, the rate is $1.18 and the City Council is discussing cuts.

Councilwoman Pat Woodbury said she was “very supportive” of Jones’s proposal.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough,” Woodbury said. “This is our people’s money. And they need a break. I mean, I really support what you’re saying, because we’re not doing anything to give them something back.”

Rohlf noted that her budget proposal was balanced and there would have to be some cuts from the proposal if the city decided to lower the real estate tax rate. Each penny in the real estate tax generates about $2.1 million in revenue.

Rohlf said she and Cipriano could come back to the council with the options Jones requested and would explain what would have to change or be cut from the budget if the council moved forward with a lower rate.

The council scheduled two public hearings for the budget. One hearing will be held at 7 p.m. April 11 at City Hall. The other will be held at 7 p.m. April 13 at the Denbigh Community Center.

The council will adopt the budget in May. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Josh Janney,


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