BRISTOL, Va. — The Virginia comptroller’s office no longer considers Bristol among the state’s most fiscally distressed localities, according to a new report.
In 2017, the comptroller’s office first identified a number of Virginia localities as being in fiscal distress and ranked Bristol as the most distressed. The ranking was primarily due to the city’s high level of debt — especially $50 million related to developing The Falls — and issues with its solid waste landfill in a city with low average household incomes.
Since that time, city leaders and the state took steps to address some of the city’s financial challenges, and a new June 2019 report shows those steps are working. Bristol received improved marks in calculating 12 ratios used to determine financial position and fiscal strength and was among the majority of communities classified as no additional follow-up or review needed.
“Obviously, this is exactly what we’ve been working for since August 2017, when we found out we were considered the most fiscally distressed locality in the commonwealth,” City Manager Randy Eads said Friday. “The first step of our goal was to get off that list, which we’ve now done. The second step of the goal is to continue to make changes to move up the ranks in regards to how they rank each locality. Ultimately, we would like our ranking to mirror some of the most fiscally responsible localities throughout the commonwealth.”
Over the past two years, the city has developed a number of policies to limit borrowing and spending, set up reserve accounts, increase its available cash on hand and stop having to borrow short-term tax anticipation notes to pay its bills between semi-annual real estate tax collections.
The comptroller’s office has revised its evaluation methods since 2017 and developed a series of ratios to determine the financial strength of each city and county.
Eads said he just got the report Friday afternoon and hadn’t had time to review those details.
The state funded an in-depth study of the landfill and garbage collection rates that was presented to City Council in January. The council recently took the first recommendation from that study and significantly increased its monthly collection rate while seeking ways to reduce expenses and improve efficiencies.
Fixing The Falls, the retail development at Interstate 81’s Exit 5, is another challenge, Eads said.
“The answer for The Falls is quite simple. We have to develop The Falls, which means recruiting retailers and businesses to move into The Falls. In today’s retail market, that’s easier said than done,” the city manager said.
While Bristol is off the list, the report identifies other localities, including the Southwest Virginia towns of Big Stone Gap, Marion, Richlands and Tazewell, the city of Norton and Russell County, as among 14 statewide that need further review and to engage in further discussions with state officials.