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October 07, 2008

City Council adopts legislative strategy for 2009 General Assembly

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The next session of the Virginia General Assembly is in three months, and the Charlottesville City Council has adopted its legislative strategy. In addition for asking for permission to create a Regional Transit Authority, Council is also asking for permission for the City to tax property owners to pay for the placing of utility lines underground, as well as the ability for the City to make loans to property owners to pay for clean energy improvements.

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The Council took up the legislative strategies in two parts during their meeting on October 6, 2008. First, they heard from David Blount, the Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). Blount is coordinating the region’s efforts to secure various legislative goals, which include the following regional priorities:

  • The Planning District localities urge the governor and legislature to honor their funding obligations to services provided in cities and counties by their local government partners, and to resist shifting fiscal responsibility for these programs to localities.
  • The Planning District localities encourage the state to provide local governments with additional tools to manage growth, without preempting or circumventing of existing authorities.
  • The Planning District localities urge the state to establish separate, dedicated and permanent state revenue streams for our transportation infrastructure. The state also should not shift road maintenance and construction responsibilities to localities.
  • The Planning District’s member localities urge the state to be partners in containing costs of the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) and to better balance CSA responsibility between state and local government.

Blount said the TJPDC is requesting that the General Assembly not restrict the system of cash proffers that allow localities to charge developers for a portion of the construction of infrastructure. Last year, Senate Bill 768 would have repealed that authority in exchange for impact fees that would be capped at $7,500 per unit. In Albemarle County, the expectation for a cash proffer for a single family detached home is currently $17,800 per unit (adjusted annually for inflation). There is no set number in the City of Charlottesville. 

The TJPDC is also calling for a solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis, as well as the ability for Albemarle County and Charlottesville to establish “governance and funding mechanisms” for a Regional Transit Authority. The legislative program also calls for funding for improvements on rural portions of Route 29, increased funding for VDOT’s revenue-sharing agreement, as well as funding to pay for the TransDominionExpress.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro asked Blount if “governance and funding mechanism” meant that both would have to be in place for the RTA to go forward. Blount said that two separate pieces of legislation will be crafted to address each of those two items. Councilor Satyendra Huja suggested changing the TJPDC’s legislative program to create a separate sentence addressing each point to reflect that fact, which Blount agreed to do. 

Blount said he would also help support the City with its legislative goals, which are much more specific. They were introduced by City Attorney Craig Brown, who listed the requests. Here are the ones that relate to land use and transportation.

  • Request to designate Rivanna River from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to former Woolen Mills Dam as a state scenic river
  • Request for authority to impose of taxes or assessments for certain local improvements on abutting property owners. The proposed amendment would allow the costs of undergrounding utilities to be assessed against the property owner, either through an agreement with the property owner or by a two-thirds vote of City Council.
  • Request for enabling legislation to create regional transit authority as well as the authority to impose an additional 1% sales tax to funding local and regional transit and transportation improvements. Actual legislation to be crafted by RTA working group and approved by Council on November 3
  • Request to give Charlottesville the power to “make loans to homeowners to finance the initial acquisition and installation costs of certain clean energy improvements”. These loans would be repaid through extra payments added to the property tax bill. City Sustainable Committee to develop legislation with review by Council in November.

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City Attorney Craig Brown

Norris asked why Attorney Brown was calling for a 1% sales tax, opposed to a 1-cent sales tax. Attorney Brown said City Council minutes show they discussed a 1% sales tax, but that he would make the change.  Huja wanted the request to specifically mention other funding options if the General Assembly does not grant the sales tax option. Attorney Brown said those details are in the legislative package.

Councilor David Brown wanted an example of how the City might have used the power to assess additional property taxes for “certain local improvements.” Huja responded that City already used that power in the Corner district “many years back, about 15 years back.” Brown asked why the City lost the authority. Attorney Brown said the new legislation would specifically address undergrounding utilities, whereas the existing power allows the City to assess abutting property owners for sidewalks, curb and gutters, utility lines. Norris said he supported getting the authority to impose such an assessment, but said he was not sure if he would vote for it.

“My concern is that if the City were to agree to underground some utilities without the consent of adjacent property owners… and that’s a very expensive proposition, to hit them with a bill, without consent even though there are benefits to them, it gives me pause,” Norris said. Councilor Holly Edwards said she was concerned as well.

City Manager Gary O’Connell said the authority would help move projects forward by allowing property owners to amortize their contribution over time through the tax assessment.

Sean Tubbs

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