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December 02, 2008

City Planners seek more involvement in budget proposals for Capital Improvement Program

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The Charlottesville Planning Commission took their first look at the proposed budget for the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Fiscal Years 2010-2014 during a work session on November 25, 2008. Leslie Beauregard, Director of Budget and Performance Management, presented the draft proposal to the Planning Commission. ”The word of the day is bare-bones,” said Beauregard. “We are truly looking at some economic downturns.”

In the absence of budget adjustments, City staff are anticipating an operational shortfall of $1.4 million as they start drafting the FY2010 budget, the capital budget is being examined for cost saving opportunities.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20081125-CIPpodcast

Proposed cuts made to FY2010 – 2014 CIP budget include:

  • Budget for new sidewalks cut from $300,000 to $0 (then to $250,000 in FY2011)
  • West Main Streetscape cut from $350,000 to $0 (then back in FY2011)
  • Forest Hills and Rives Park renovations deferred
  • Neighborhood CIP funds cut from $125,000 to $0
  • Sidewalk repair reduced by a third
  • City-wide traffic improvements reduced from $250,000 to $150,000
  • Trails and Greenways Development reduced by a fourth
  • Rejection of new funding for park land acquisition


The Commissioners paid close attention to a few of the budget items cut for next year. Other commissioners were also curious about some transportation budget proposals. Sidewalk repairs were reduced and new sidewalks were cut entirely for 2010. Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said the sidewalk budget is being cut because the funds currently granted to sidewalks are not being used, leaving a balance of almost $800,000 in the account. Commissioner Mike Farruggio wondered why sidewalk money was not being spent, given that Charlottesville residents have been “clamoring for” sidewalks. The funds to begin engineering and design studies for the City’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway have remained intact.

20081124-PC1
  Commissioner Bill Emory speaks about the budget proposals

Commissioner Bill Emory, who was the only commissioner to sit on the budget development committee, said he was particularly chagrined to see $1,000,000 requested for new parkland acquisitions cut. He praised the budget office for their careful methodology in deciding which projects to admit into the budget, but felt that the same rigorous evaluation criteria was not applied by staff to the decision of what to cut. Other commissioners agreed that some of the decisions seemed arbitrary. Commissioner Emory also suggested that City consider issuing more bonds during a time of economic stress. The City is legally allowed to incur $482 million in debt but currently has a debt load of only $67 million. He cited Warren Buffett’s advice to move forward in a time when costs are lowered: “When other people get fearful, it’s time for us to get greedy.”

However, the bulk of the work session revolved around the role of the commission in the CIP process in general, more so than the content of the current budget proposal. Last year the Planning Commission had sent a memo to City Council along with the CIP proposals to add some suggestions of their own, including specifically the acquisition of parkland. Commissioner Cheri Lewis said it was unclear how much weight these recommendations were given toward the writing of the final budget.

Commission Chairman Jason Pearson asked, “officially, who is presenting the CIP to Council?” State code specifies that the Planning Commission is the body responsible for presenting the CIP proposals to Council with help from the City staff. However, for the past several years, the Planning Commission has listened to the budget proposal from the City Manager and simply added some recommendations. Several Commissioners expressed an interest in adopting a more assertive role, rather than merely “rubber stamping” the document.

While in general agreement with this shift, Commissioners Michael Osteen and Genevieve Keller felt the time to make major changes to this year’s budget proposal had already passed. The budget office had put “hundreds of hours” into these decisions, and altering them in the last minute would be counter-productive. Beauregard was not even sure if the Planning Commission could feasibly change the CIP proposals at this point anyway. Commissioner Pearson suggested a way forward could be to express to Council their concerns that their input is not taken seriously and their desire to be more actively engaged in the future.

This discussion will be picked back up again during a public hearing scheduled for December 9, 2008.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

1:20 - Leslie Beauregard explains the tight budget
4:50 - Ryan Davidson presents basics on CIP
12:20 - Commissioner Dan Rosensweig asks about role of Planning Commission
14:40 - Chairman Pearson gives opinion of Commissions role
16:00 - Discussion over whether last year's recommendations were taken seriously
18:20 - Commissioner Keller asks where comprehensive plan fits in
20:00 - Discussion on ranking criteria for budget inclusion
27:10 - The details of budget expenditures
36:00 - Commissioner Emory concerned that cuts were not well-conceived
71:00 - Pearson reiterates the Planning Commission submits the CIP to Council
43:00 - Explanations for specific cuts
54:00 - Rosensweig asks about not fund McIntyre Road extended (no answer yet)
57:35 - Revisiting last year's recommendations
1:00:00 - More on Planning Commission role
1:07:30 - Emory questions fiscally conservative City Manager
1:10:20 - Commissioners Osteen and Keller say that involvement should have happened earlier
1:21:10 - Bearegard addresses possibilities of change at this point
1:22:30 - Commission Farruggio pushes for more Planning Commission involvement
1:24:50 - Deciding how to approach Council with recommendations
1:36:50 - Preparation for public meeting in December

Daniel Nairn

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