RICHMOND — Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series profiling candidates in the Nov. 6 election for Richmond City Commission.
Incumbent Donna Baird, who is nearing the end of her first term on the Richmond City Commission, said the city’s governing body has had “a busy year.”
“We worked together to balance the budget,” she said. “We have the city running more efficiently. We are operating in the black with $4 million in reserve. We have paid off and consolidated debts. We have not laid off any employees. Employee morale is up. Employees are not concerned about their jobs.”
However, her work as a commissioner is by no means finished, she said.
“We will have to build on what we have started,” Baird said.
Being that the city now has a surplus, that does not necessarily mean that more money should go back into departments that were financially cut in the past.
“The Parks and Recreation and Buildings and Grounds were split into two separate departments,” she said. “The budget was also split. I would not anticipate a budget change. We feel it is adequate for both departments.”
A big issue drawing much controversy throughout the county is what has been dubbed “The Fairness Ordinance,” which if passed, would ban discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) people in housing, employment and public accommodations.
“I don’t believe there should be a separate ordinance for the Fairness Act,” Baird said. “I believe everyone is protected by the constitution. I would like to see more advertising by the Human Rights Commission to notify everyone where they are located and how to reach them.”
The city’s storm water problem also has been the center of many discussions.
“We are aware of the storm water problem,” she said. “We are working to fix it. We will have to borrow for repairs. Right now, we are looking at $4 million for Water Street alone. We have to work within our revenue.”
Another point of controversy this year was rezoning of property at the corner of Barnes Mill Road and Lancaster to allow construction of a privately owned student housing complex.
“I believe we made the right decision,” she said. “It was the hardest decision I've had to make. It was a decision for the future of the city.”
Revitalizing Richmond’s downtown area is a topic that is seems to be on every commissioner’s mind.
“We are employing a downtown coordinator,” Baird said. “This person will visit businesses on a routine basis. They will have the opportunity to meet with other business people. The downtown coordinator will be a contract employee, with an expense account and city vehicle. We believe this is a necessary position. We need to take care of the businesses we have downtown and encourage new business.”
Allowing local restaurants to sell alcohol past 9 p.m. on Sundays is something Baird does not favor.
“This was an agreement made with businesses several years ago,” she said. “The only complaints we have received are from patrons of and the owner of one establishment. We have no plans to change this agreement.”