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October 15, 2009

Supervisors get strategic plan update heading into annual retreat

Reader comments (1) By Tarpley Ashworth
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 15, 2009

At their annual retreat this Friday, members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will meet with County staff to grapple with the challenge of creating a balanced 5-year financial plan. Supervisors will be asked to weigh in on possible service level reductions and financial assumptions revenue sources such as the real estate property tax rate. The County’s strategic plan, which is revised every four years, is a collection of long-term goals meant to direct County staff in their daily operations. The strategic plan is also expected to guide the Board’s recommendations  and it includes five central objectives:

  • Enhance quality of life
  • Protect natural resources
  • Develop infrastructure
  • Manage growth and development
  • Funding the future

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Lori Allshouse, the County’s Manager of Strategic Planning and Performance, briefed the Board of Supervisors at their meeting on Wednesday, October 7th on how well the County has met the goals outlined in the FY 2007-2010 Strategic Plan.

Overall, she said the County completed several important objectives, including increasing collaboration with the school system and developing a comprehensive funding strategy. But significant challenges remain, such as rising unemployment and meeting transportation needs in the wake of budget cuts from state agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Regarding collaboration with the school system, Allshouse cited the County’s recent receipt of a $6 million Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant which required a strong relationship between schools and County staff to qualify. She also said that the Board’s adoption of its first five-year financial plan last year satisfied the goal of creating a joint future funding plan.

Allshouse identified several objectives that were nearly complete as well. The County’s focus on affordable housing in recent years has yielded some benefits such as receiving a $700,000 grant for improvements to Crozet Meadows, a housing development in Crozet intended for low-income elderly residents, and increased enrollment in the Homebuyer Education Program.

The goal of adopting master plans for all five designated growth areas is well underway, too. Two master plans are complete (Pantops and Crozet), two are scheduled to be adopted this fiscal year (Village of Rivanna and Places29) and one is scheduled for completion by FY 2012 (Southern Urban Area).

Strategic plan image
Source: Albemarle County
According to Allshouse, other issues are proving more difficult, but she estimates that these goals will also eventually be met. Only 23% of local streams meet Virginia’s aquatic life standards (in line with the state average).  The County has met 87% of its goal for conservation easements. Currently, 77,899 acres of County land, or 17%, is under easement and the County has received approximately 20 applications for easements that it has not yet processed.

The County has struggled to meet its public safety goals. The construction of the Ivy and Pantops fire stations has been delayed by funding and site location issues. Albemarle County is 18 police officers short of its target for 1.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens. Additionally, officers respond to Priority 1 emergencies in five minutes or less only 57% of the time, while the goal is 85%. Priority 1 emergency calls are classified as those where life and safety are suspected to be threatened. In rural areas, officers are responding to all calls in an average of 13 minutes when the goal is 10 minutes.

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) explained these metrics by pointing out that these slower than hoped for response times were a direct product of the acknowledged officer shortage. “Obviously there is a correlation between the reduction in number of officers and the opportunity to respond in a timely fashion,” he said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) raised the issue that Priority 1 emergencies included responses to home alarms, and since many of these responses were false alarms, it skewed the data to make response times seem worse than they actually were.

“Police response to private emergency alarm systems going off is one of the biggest government subsidies to private business in the world,” said Rooker. “The amount of money spent on police departments doing this is immense.”

County Executive Bob Tucker said that there had been discussions in the past about instituting a false alarm penalty, and that such a proposal could  come before the Board later this year if they chose to reconsider the issue

The most significant challenges, however, loom for transportation and the job market. Allshouse reported that even though transportation had seen some bright spots in the region, such as a 9% increase in ridership for JAUNT and the 18% increase in ridership for the Charlottesville Transit Service, the 74% budget cut from VDOT towards Albemarle County projects since 2004 remains a substantial hindrance to transportation improvements within the County. 

Steve Allshouse, the County’s Coordinator of Research and Analysis, presented an economic climate summary to the Board as well. He reported that the County experienced a net loss of 487 jobs between 2007 and 2008 and that the unemployment rate increased from 3.4% to 4.9% between August 2008 and August 2009. This compares to 6.5% and 9.6% unemployment in Virginia and the United States respectively, but Allshouse warned that this gap between Albemarle County and the state and national averages was lessening during the current recession. He also reported that the County’s taxable sales declined between 2007 and 2008 as well.

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said that unemployment statistics, by their methodology, does not count those unemployed who have given up searching for jobs. Slutzky added that unemployment didn’t adequately measure the under-employed rate either.

Friday’s Retreat to discuss changes for the FY 2010-14 Strategic Plan will be held at the Virginia Department of Forestry in the UVA Fontaine Research Park from 9:00 am-to 3:00 pm.

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