Wilder's Savings Plan Doesn't Add Up 

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Mayor L. Douglas Wilder continues to insist that moving Richmond Public Schools out of City Hall will save the city more than $1 million.

That already dodgy math is even more undercut by an aborted forced move of schools offices that Harry Black, Wilder's acting chief administrative officer, estimates will cost as much as $500,000.

So where are the proposed savings? Wilder has dodged the issue, ignoring City Council requests to account for the promised savings.

That's because the savings don't actually exist, says Wilder's former chief policy adviser, Paul Goldman, who developed the plan to which Wilder occasionally refers.

"It's going to cost money," Goldman says. "That's what's so damaging, ultimately. I know; I was involved with the thing. There isn't a million[-dollar] savings in the next 12 months. What they've done is cost the city money. It's just a question of how much."

In addition to the some $500,000-estimated cost of the aborted move, there's the approximately $550,000 a year Black promised to pay a private property owner to lease 3600 W. Broad St. as the new home for Richmond Public Schools.

There's also the difficult-to-compute cost of lost work hours that will be absorbed into the schools' budget as central office staff recover from the weekend disruption.

Then there's the cost to eventually move the school system's offices, should Wilder eventually prevail in forcing them from City Hall. That would amount to at least another $350,000, according to Tom Sheeran, chief financial officer of Richmond Public Schools. He sought bids in August from the same moving companies that Black eventually employed.

Add it all up, and in the first year, Wilder's cost-saving plan to evict Richmond Schools from City Hall will cost at least $1.4 million. That's about $1.4 million more than what it would cost for the School Board to remain at City Hall.

Wilder says he'll make up the difference by moving other city agencies into the space occupied by schools, floors 12-17. He says he's saving about $1 million in rent to house those agencies in privately owned buildings.

But like Goldman, a high-level city official familiar with the city's budget process also casts doubt on that plan. The official quickly subtracts a number of agencies from the suggested savings balance sheet:

  • Wilder closed the city's Public Safety building, forcing a variety of city agencies to move, including courts, and public safety and fire department administrative functions. They all moved to 6th Street Marketplace, a city-owned building.

  • The Department of Public Utilities is housed at 700 Theater Row, which is owned by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, a semiprivate city agency funded by city dollars.

    Only once has Wilder nearly addressed the particulars of his proposed savings, in a sworn deposition he gave in December 2005. It was part of a lawsuit against the city brought by parents charging that city schools and government had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The question of moving city schools out of City Hall came up.

    "How much is [it] going to save?" the parents' attorney asked.

    "They're paying $500,000 a year for rent," Wilder says. "We're paying about $600 million for rent. For us to stop renting and for them -- for us to put them into a facility that we own means that we save a million-plus dollars a year."

    That math doesn't make sense either, suggests the city official, who says $600 million far exceeds what the city pays in rent for all of its facilities over a number of years. In the previous lease arrangement, schools would pay $500,000 a year to rent the floors at City Hall. In other words, the school system pays the city rent, but that rent money comes from the city's general fund. Net savings: zero.

    So where is Wilder's plan for saving $1 million? Nobody knows, and Goldman ominously suggests full disclosure could be damaging.

    "They're not going to save the million — it's not going to happen," Goldman says. "The reason he didn't put [the savings plan] out there is he didn't have it. I know the numbers."



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