PETERSBURG, Va (WRIC) — The financial crisis in Petersburg is spurring action at the state capitol.
Lawmakers are hoping Governor Terry McAuliffe signs legislation intended to flag and assist localities with financial problems.
Senator Rosalyn Dance, a Democratic senator for District 16 that includes Petersburg, is one of three lawmakers on pushing SJ 278 created to help struggling cities like Petersburg, which is trying to dig itself out of $18 million of debt.
“The trigger came as a result of the problems where Petersburg found themselves not able to meet payroll, pay their bills, and having to lay off staff,” Senator Dance told 8News Reporter Nakell Williams. “The city eventually reached out to the state, as they should. The state was able to assist not in the sense to bail us out financially, but to help us balance the scales to get to zero and to find out where the problems are.”
Dance says about 53 percent of localities in the Commonwealth are showing a reduction in their economic status, including Emporia and Buena Vista, which she says are in worse financial condition than the City of Petersburg.
She says the revelation was a clear indication that help is needed. If approved, the measure will create a commission of 15 people.
“They will look at benchmarking tools, fiscal stress monitoring systems and financial assessment models that we could use,” Dance explained. “They will assess the barriers to localities as far as their ability to tax.They will also look at what the state might be doing for cities and not doing for counties or vice versa.”
“Take the car tax, for instance,” Dance continued. “There was a governor who said no more car tax. We found that we lost about $2B that could have been used for other things, because over time that is what the loss equated to.”
Dance says only requiring localities to submit audits appears to be insufficient in helping the state recognize when cities and towns need help.
“It seems someone dropped the ball as far as immediately locking in and saying, ‘we need to do something,'” Dance said.
8News spoke with Janet Fisher-Callis, who works at the Glenna Jean Factory Outlet in Petersburg. She says she wants to see business come back to her town and is in support of new legislation to help localities in distress.
“I do hope the governor signs it because proactive is better than reactive,” Fisher-Callis said.
And she’s not alone. The owner of Dixie Restaurant, Charlie Rawlings, agrees.
“I think if it is something that can help the state flag it quicker, then great,” Rawlings said. “Why the city does not know it is in trouble when it is in trouble is my question.”
If approved, Dance said the plan will take about two years to complete and will cost no more than $26,640 a year.
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.