Eight years ago, the city of Richmond faced the prospect of bankruptcy as it nearly ran out of cash to pay its bills.
Thanks to new management, the city has started climbing up from the bottom of the hole. But it's still far from reaching daylight and could easily slip back to the bottom without quick corrective action.
That's why we are disturbed by the lack of concern among the 11 candidates, including two incumbents, running for three seats on the City Council. As we talked with the 10 we were able to reach, none understood the seriousness of the situation.
Some proposed job training programs without recognizing the amount already spent on such assistance. Some seemed to feel that the city could wave a magical wand and businesses would suddenly start rushing in.
Richmond does indeed have a lot to offer businesses looking to relocate. But even the most successful recruitment effort won't put a dent in this fiscal plight.
The city has $539 million of debt due to underfunding of its employee pension and retiree health programs. That's roughly 71/2 times what the city spends on base salary for its employees in a year. Put another way, it's equal to about $5,200 for every resident of the city.
Think of that as the credit card balance. Right now, the city isn't even making its minimum payment and so the balance continues to grow, leaving future generations to pay off debts from the past. It's irresponsible and morally wrong.
Making even those minimum payments would leave the city general fund budget short $9 million next fiscal year and nearly $17 million in 2016-17. Clearly, much more belt-tightening must begin quickly.
So which candidates are best equipped to do that? Since none grasps the seriousness of the situation, we are left to choose based on whom we feel would best educate themselves, smartly analyze the complex finances, and stand up to shortsighted special interests.
Incumbent Tom Butt and former Councilman Gary Bell have demonstrated independent and critical thinking during their tenures on the council. They both went through the fiscal crisis of nearly a decade ago and should be well-grounded to attack the next difficult challenge.
For the third seat, we support Jael Myrick, a field director for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner who brings experience and youth. While only 27, he has been politically active most of his adult life. He appreciates the need to bridge political factions that divide the city and the council and, significantly, to balance delivering city services with fiscal stability.
It's a balance that all seven council members must respect as they move forward. The current path leads off a cliff. We don't want to go there.