ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke City Council approved next year’s budget, despite requests from the pubic to delay the vote, hold a public hearing and defund the police department.
During the emotional meeting, members heard from citizens like Tatiana Durant.
“We do not want to dismantle the entire police department overnight, but in the interest of meeting the needs of our communities, black and non-black," said Durant. "We demand divestment from the police department and investment in more vital institutions.”
Council members also each addressed the public about their grief and anger regarding enduring racism across the country.
City leaders ultimately said that delaying the vote isn’t an option because it would delay all public services, not just police. Amending the budget is possible, but would be complicated.
The FY21 budget is nearly $1.4 million short compared to last year’s budget due to economic losses from COVID-19.
Education is still the biggest piece of the budget: $82,788,981 million will go to Roanoke City Public Schools and maintain funding levels for Early Childhood Learning programs through Libraries.
The next highest budget allocation is for community safety at $71,450,118, which includes money for police body-worn camera support, police high visibility safety vests and the Gun Violence Task Force.
Council agreed that they need to find ways to get the community more involved.
“We have to, as leaders, look at what we can do to disrupt the current system and just talking about it is not an option," said Councilwoman Michelle Davis.
Ideas included holding town halls, sending out a trust survey, starting new public safety departments that are run by unarmed citizens, or finding ways to be more transparent.
“I think it’s critical that we have honest and deep conversations now and in the months to come," said Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, “To understand what it means to be safe, to feel safe.”