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March 19, 2012

City Council holds public hearing on FY13 budget

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, March 19, 2012

Only a half dozen Charlottesville residents appeared Monday at a public hearing on the city’s budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

“It is unfortunate that more citizens do not participate,” said Colette Hall, a resident of north downtown. “As you consider each item, the general fund, the capital improvement budget, remember that someone else has provided that money.”

The City Council is reviewing a $146.2 million budget for fiscal year 2013, a 2 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget. The total includes $16.37 million for capital improvements.

The city’s tax rate has been set at 95 cents per $100 assessed property value since fiscal year 2008, when it was lowered from 99 cents.

“As a result of the new assessment numbers, 98 percent of residential property owners will see no change a decrease in taxes,” City Manager Maurice Jones said. “We are not proposing a tax increase or a reduction in services.”

There was some discussion of whether to raise the tax rate, even though the city has advertised the stable rate and thus cannot increase it this year.

“Now that I’m not running for office, I don’t have any problem asking for you to increase the tax rate,” said Brandon Collins, an independent who sought a place on the council in November. He said the additional money would be best spent on increasing social services.

Councilor Kristin Szakos pointed out that the Charlottesville’s rates are lower when compared to other similar cities in Virginia. She said declining revenue from the state might have to be made up somewhere else.

“It’s good to understand that our property tax rates are very low for the kinds of services we offer,” Szakos said. “I see a potential time when I would be interested in talking about raising them back up.”

At a work session last week, council discussed whether to increase the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour.

“Currently we have 52 employees who are making less than $13 an hour, and of those, only three are making less than $12,” Jones said, adding that more information on the topic will be forthcoming at a future budget session.

Two speakers spoke to ask for the council to restore $7,354 in funding for the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Another asked for $9,463 in funding to be restored to Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle.

“This is not the year to be cutting the budget,” said Jean Kollar, president of the LVCA. “We’re moving to the Jefferson City School Center and this is a chance for us to reach out to a new constituency.”

Collins also called for more spending on Charlottesville Area Transit.

“Everyone who campaigned for City Council last year mentioned public transportation and said they would increase frequency,” Collins said. “I would like to remind you to keep that in mind.”

Collins applauded the council for spending additional funds in the current budget to add some service on Sundays and holidays, but said more routes needed the service. He also said the system needs a transit hub at Barracks Road.

The public will have several more opportunities to comment on the budget and the tax rate.

There will be a more informal budget forum Wednesday night at CitySpace.

On Thursday, the council will have a work session on the capital budget, and another work session for nonprofits is set for March 29.

The council will have its first reading of the tax rate and the budget at its meeting on April 2. It plans to adopt the tax rate on April 10 at a special meeting.

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