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November 22, 2011

City council endorses legislative package

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Charlottesville City Council has voted to officially oppose a bill that would transfer a portion of the city’s school funding to Albemarle County via a shift in the localities’ revenue sharing agreement. 

“The county School Board has asked the Board of Supervisors to put forth legislation to change the [composite index] so that money comes out of our school budget and goes into their school budget,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos. 

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, has agreed to sponsor an amendment to the state’s composite index to factor in Albemarle County’s annual revenue sharing payment to the city. That would result in a transfer of more than $2 million to the county. 

“I would like us to take a position against that,” Szakos added. 

Her request came during a discussion early Tuesday morning of the city’s legislative package in advance of the 2012 session of the General Assembly. 

Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities in Virginia request legislation every year to grant them enabling authority for specific powers. The requests originate from city staff, area nonprofits and local boards and commissions. 

The city’s bike and pedestrian committee has made a request that the city be given authority to pass an ordinance to improve safety for cyclists.

“They have asked that we ask for ‘anti-dooring’ legislation so that when [a driver] opens a door on a parked car [they] will look to make sure that a bicycle isn’t coming,” said deputy city attorney Richard Harris. 

The city’s legislative package also includes a request from the Jefferson Area Board for Aging to ask for enabling authority to require “universal design” features to allow homes to be more livable for senior citizens. 

“This is putting accessible features into new homes such as wheelchair ramps, grab-handles, items that make it so you can actually age in place,” Harris said. 

City Councilor David Brown expressed concern that homebuilders in the area had not been consulted about the request. However, neighborhood development services director Jim Tolbert said their input would eventually be required. 

“To get [this legislation] realistically passed, this would have to go to them and get their blessing to make it work,” Tolbert said. 

Another request is for legislation that would allow localities to ban the storage of indoor furniture outdoors. 

“We get many complaints, particularly in the university area,” Harris said. “Health risks are certainly possible there [with] rodents, infestations, molds.”

Not everyone on the council was not convinced that legislation was necessary. 

“Isn’t this more of an aesthetic issue than a health and safety issue?” asked Mayor Dave Norris. 

“We get this complaint an awful lot in the university area from the neighborhoods, and this is an attempt to respond to that,” Tolbert said. “It’s basically upholstered sofas that are the problem.” 

Councilor Holly Edwards said she thought the ordinance would be too subjective.

“The concern is how will it be implemented consistently,” Edwards said. 

The council agreed to support the request, but only if covered porches are exempted. 

Council also endorsed the legislative package of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission

The top priority for the TJPDC is a position against any movement to devolve responsibility for maintaining secondary roads to counties. 

David Blount, the TJPDC’s legislative liaison, said such a move would likely affect cities as well. 

“Any time you start talking about dividing up the pie differently, there’s the potential for a concern,” Blount said. 

A report written this summer for the Commonwealth Transportation Board suggested several possibilities for how devolution would occur. The Virginia Department of Transportation has been transferring money from construction to pay for maintenance. 

“While such a plan might buoy the state’s transportation budget, it will only shift the burden of paying for these necessary transportation costs to homeowners’ real estate tax bills, and the political liability for unpopular tax increases to local elected officials,” wrote Blount in the TJPDC’s official statement on the issue. 

Harris and Blount will now work to convince area legislators to introduce specific bills for next year’s General Assembly session. 

“It may turn out that another locality’s delegate or senator has sponsored legislation identical or similar to one that we have proposed,” Harris said. “In that case, our representative may just lend his support to that piece, rather than sponsor ours.”

 

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