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January 06, 2010

Supervisors adopt pro-business “action plan”; Call for increased economic development, zero-based budgeting, and reduced property taxes

Reader comments (0) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In one of the first actions of the new year, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has adopted an “action plan” that includes new priorities addressing some of the campaign goals of the Board’s two new members. The statement, prepared by Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna), lists six points, including building next year’s budget based on a tax rate of 74.2 cents, using a zero-based budgeting process, reducing regulations to promote economic development, and making the extension Berkmar Drive a higher transportation priority.

The Board voted 4-2 to adopt the statement, with Supervisors Ann Mallek (White Hall) and Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) voting against.  Boyd, Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville), Rodney Thomas (Rio),and Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) all supported the action plan.

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The six points included the following:

  1. Increase tax revenues through economic development – Economic development is placed as the top fiscal priority for the County. As such, “unnecessary and burdensome regulations” should be reduced. Staff is directed to work with the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development  and the Chamber of Commerce to develop a plan within six months to increase the County’s commercial tax base.
  2. Zero-based budgeting – The County’s 2010-2011 budget should be built “from the ground up” using a zero-based budgeting process while also retaining the current 74.2 cent tax rate.  This reverses the direction given in October by the previous board to base the County’s next budget on a rate of 77.2 cents. The budget priority will be placed on “core government services.” 
  3. Development review process – The Board of Supervisors should revisit all recommendations made by the Development Review Task Force, a body formed in early 2006 to consider process improvements for rezonings and special use permits.
  4. Yancey Mills Business Park and 250 East corridor to Shadwell – A staff report on the inventory of properties zoned for light industrial uses should be expedited. A second report should be developed on the possibility of bringing Yancey Mills and the 250 East Corridor from I-64 to Shadwell Store into the growth area.
  5. Berkmar Drive Extended – Staff should work to develop a public-private partnership to design, fund and construct at least a portion of this proposed road project between the Sam’s Club and Hollymead Town Center.
  6. Sign ordinances – Staff should work with local businesses to develop new ordinances that “do not overly restrict economic vitality of area business.”
Boyd handed out the statement shortly after Mallek was elected chair of the board. He said he wanted the plan to be a “blueprint” to capture what the majority of the board wants to achieve in the coming year.

“We are elected because of the ideas and things we put forward for our constituents during the time of election,” Boyd said. He described his action plan as a way to clearly direct staff to pursue the majority’s policy objectives.

20100106-Rooker Supervisor Dennis Rooker
Rooker said he could not vote for the motion because he needed to discuss the complex concepts further before he could decide whether to support them. On changing the budget assumptions, Rooker said there is not enough information yet on how much revenue the county will be able to generate and how much will come from the state. On Berkmar Drive, he said he would need to know if the road would travel through an expanded growth area vs. its current rural area zoning.

Boyd said Rooker was misinterpreting the action plan and that it was not “approving anything” but rather was intended to provide direction to staff and shape future discussions by the board.

Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) seconded Boyd’s motion to adopt the action plan.

“I think we’ve all rested on our laurels that Albemarle County has a low unemployment rate and therefore we don’t really tackle the issue of jobs,” Dorrier said.

The county’s unemployment rate in November 2009 was 4.6%, the lowest in the region. Rooker pointed out that is the second lowest in the state.

Rooker said the County should take advantage of the Chamber and TJPED, but added that the County could see the unemployment rate dip further thanks to the expansion of the National Ground Intelligence Center, other defense-related jobs and the continued growth of the University of Virginia. He warned that the infrastructure might not be present to accommodate the influx of new people.

“There are going to be a lot of school-aged kids in the area, and additional cars on the road,” said Rooker..
Rooker said attracting businesses like the federal government and the University provided stable employers.  He cautioned that other approaches to economic development might attract businesses that could be more easily lost in a future economic downturn.

Supervisors debate zero-based budgeting

Rooker said he wanted to hear from County Executive Bob Tucker if it were possible to use the zero-based budgeting approach this year, especially given that the budget has been in development since last fall. He also claimed that few localities actually use the practice.

Supervisor Rodney Thomas (Rio) pointed out that Greene County uses zero-based budgeting.

Supervisor Duane Snow (Samuel Miller) said he has been researching zero-based budgeting ever since he began his campaign. He said he felt Rooker was misunderstanding the process.“Basically you go in and say ‘What are our primary needs?’ Then establish those needs and then look to see what you need to fund [them],” Snow said. “And then all the other wants and things you would like to have, they get put on the back-burner until you see if there is any money… I know there are programs and things that we are doing that we don’t need to fund in the economic situation we’re in now.”

Rooker said that was not how he understood zero-based budgeting, and that the process Snow described was how the County was already developing its budgets.

Thomas said he runs his business, a printing company, using zero-based budgeting. He said it means starting with fixed costs and evaluating everything else to see if they should be continued to be funded.

20100106-Mallek New Chair Ann Mallek
“I don’t want anyone to think we haven’t been looking at this line by line all along,” Mallek said. Tucker said the county experimented with zero-based budgeting in the early 90’s, when three departments developed their budget according to that principle. However, that approach was discarded in favor of a modified form of zero-based budgeting.

“We’re going through every program and every service that every department provides,” Tucker said. He added the approach would require the Board to debate every single line item, which could be a tedious process. Tucker also said he would have a hard time restarting the budget process that is 2.5 weeks from going to the press.

“The staff is going to have to develop and write up each one of these programs,” Tucker said. “There’s a lot of writing involved in the budget, so you understand what these programs mean and what the impacts will be.”

Boyd said he understood Tucker’s concern, and he felt that Board input would come during the scheduled budget work sessions. Tucker said he will come back with more information at the Board’s meeting next Wednesday. He added that information on revenues is changing every day with further reductions in state revenues.

Further discussion and comment

On the topic of the development task force review, Rooker said the Board has poured over the recommendations of the task force, and did not implement some of them because they would cost more money. Boyd had originally called for all of the recommendations to be implemented, but agreed to modify the statement to have those brought back before the board for further review.

Mallek said she could not support the action plan because many of its items had either already been implemented or thoroughly discussed by previous boards. She pointed out that the Planning Commission would hear a report on light industrial zoning at its meeting on January 19.

20100106-Hulbert-Long Chamber President Tim Hulbert and Attorney Valerie Long said the Chamber is willing to do its part to promote economic development
Members of the business community were pleased at the adoption of the plan. Representatives of both the Chamber and TJPED indicated their willingness to work with county staff. “Many of the concepts contained within the action plan presented by Ken Boyd are items that the new members of the [board] pursued in their campaign,” said Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. “The approval of the action plan is indicative of a shift in focus for Albemarle County.”

However, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said he did not know why a resolution was necessary to get the Chamber and TJPED to work with the County. Albemarle joined both organizations in 2006. Werner said keeping the rural area should be a key economic objective, claiming that the county’s natural areas are a big draw of why both new residents and businesses choose to locate here.

Werner also said the PEC would oppose any effort to expand the county’s growth area.

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