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July 01, 2010

Supervisors amend budget process to cope with downturn

DailyProgress
By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 1, 2010

20100630-Foley
Deputy County Executive Tom Foley
Facing an uncertain economic future, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has directed staff to further involve the School Board in the budget process and to explore new methods of funding capital projects. Those were the top two priorities identified by supervisors at a meeting held yesterday to develop a strategic plan to guide budget decisions over the next two years.

“We’re going to be living with the reality of reduced services levels and reduced resources,” said Tom Foley, the deputy county executive. “It’s a whole new future going forward.”

Since 2000, the county’s population has increased by about 12,000 people according to data from the Weldon Cooper Center. In that year, the county brought in about $65 million in property taxes.  That figure had doubled by 2007 due to rising property assessments and population growth.  Since then, that local revenues have been decreasing, as has state and federal .

“The new economy is about redefining government over the long term in a significantly adjusted economic framework,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin. “Even if we do begin to see some stabilizing, and some positive signs, that is not an indicator that things are going back to the way they were.”

In previous years the board has held a planning retreat in the fall to kick off its involvement with the budget.

However, the meeting was moved up to summer because a majority of supervisors have asked to be involved with the next budget from the beginning.

All six supervisors agreed that the process by which schools are funded was the highest priority for study by county staff in the coming year. Over sixty percent of the county general revenues are transferred to the school division.

“We need to have a better understanding of where the money is spent and offer [the School Board] suggestions for change,” said Supervisor Duane Snow.

To try to build that understanding, both boards will hold at least four joint meetings during the budget process, beginning with a joint retreat in August.  A second meeting in October will cover how the school division builds its budget.

Another effect of the downturn in county revenues has been decreased funding for the capital improvement program. In 2008, the county spent $42.4 million on capital projects for both schools and general government. It expects to spend about $8.1 million in the current fiscal year.

“We’re down to just a maintenance level of funding,” Foley said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he wants to consider setting a target amount to set aside each year, and to suggest ways in which money could be reallocated towards priority projects. Supervisor Ken Boyd suggested that staff investigate if money could be saved by expanding the service life of county-owned vehicles to lengthen time between replacements.

20100630-Dorrier-dots
Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier places dots to indicate his priorities for the strategic plan
Another area singled out by the Board for discussion was the future of Albemarle County’s participation in the Jefferson Madison Regional Library system. Several supervisors said they would like to alter the 1991 agreement that governs how the system is funded.  Under the terms of the agreement, the county and city jointly fund the two branches in Charlottesville as well as Northside Library in Albemarle County.

“I’m fundamentally opposed to us paying 60% of the costs for the downtown Charlottesville library,” said Snow.

Staff will prepare a list of options for the Board to consider before a joint meeting with the JMRL Board of Trustees.  One option could involve a cost estimate for how much it would cost the county to operate an independent library system.

The board was also given details of how next year’s budget will be developed. A majority of supervisors have requested it be put together using zero-based budgeting principles. Beginning this year, the board will have the opportunity to review detailed line items for the budgets of at least two departments.

Supervisors also decided that economic development would not be specifically addressed in their strategic plan because that issue is being handled through the separate action plan that will come before them on July 14.

May 07, 2010

Mallek calls for improved communication on Board of Supervisors

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 7, 2010

Ann Mallek, the chairwoman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, has requested a pair of changes to board protocol to improve communications between members and staff.  During Wednesday’s board meeting, Mallek said she felt excluded from recent conversations about economic development planning.

“To improve the process for policy changes, to build trust in our citizens that we are working for the county’s benefit and their benefit, we need to improve our own communication within the board,” Mallek said.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100505-BOS-Discussion


Mallek’s request came after she learned about efforts by Supervisor Ken Boyd to help County Executive Robert Tucker develop a draft economic development action plan.  That plan was put on the meeting’s agenda by staff as an action item without Mallek’s involvement. 

Mallek informed Tucker, and the board, that she will begin holding pre-meeting agenda reviews with Tucker, and vice chairman Duane Snow.

She also proposed a board protocol that members inform each other when they meet with staff to discuss changes to policy. She also asked that Tucker inform the chair when such discussions take place with supervisors.

“If I had received a timely e-mail about recent meetings, I would have been able to respond better to citizen questions,” Mallek said. She added that many of the items described in the economic development plan are “excellent.”

Supervisor Rodney Thomas said the ‘ad-hoc committee,’ as it was described by Boyd in a recent interview, of business leaders and staff was set up to give staff ideas on economic development, but not to set policy.

“I don’t think it was done behind anyone’s back,” Thomas said. He said the committee was authorized by the board’s decision in January when it approved an action plan for economic development on a 4-2 vote.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker disagreed. Both he and Mallek voted against the plan.

“If there was an interest in moving that forward, it should have been followed up with a discussion by the board about how to best do that, not the creation of an ad-hoc committee,” Rooker said. He added that this discussion could have taken the form of a ten-minute conversation.

Boyd took responsibility for the lack of communication, but reminded the board that the plan passed in January called for action within six months.

“I don’t think it was inappropriate to start acting immediately on what we were doing,” Boyd said. “I should have possibly let you know what was going on, but it wasn’t by intent.”

The supervisors decided to postpone the discussion of the economic development action plan to their meeting on June 2, 2010.

Tucker said in an interview that he and Board Clerk Ella Hughes would work with Mallek and Snow to schedule the pre-meeting agenda reviews.

“The chairman used to basically run through the agenda with the clerk,” Tucker said. “But it became an issue and the board said [the review] should be handled more through [both] the clerk and the executive.”

Mallek said in an interview today that she was pleased the reviews would begin.

"It will just help us be more current, and help me do whatever homework I need to do,” Mallek said.

February 26, 2010

County Executive unveils Albemarle’s $293.8 million budget for FY2011

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 26, 2010

Albemarle County Executive Bob Tucker has unveiled a budget for FY2011 that is 3.4% less than the current year, and 11.9% less than that for FY2009. The proposed budget of $293.8 million is based on a 74.2 cent tax rate, though lower property assessments translate into a projected $1.9 million reduction in revenue from property taxes.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100225-BOS-Budget

“The budget confronts the difficult realities of reshaping our organization while attempting to establish reasonable expectations for local government services in a time of significantly reduced revenues,” Tucker told the Board at a briefing on Thursday. “Balancing this budget creates very difficult choices that will change the nature of our service levels and funding support in fundamental ways.”

20100225-Budget-Chart1
Revenues from all sources are down. Real estate tax revenues will decrease because property values have declined by 3.18%. Sales tax revenues are down 11.4%, or $1.4 million. There have also been decreases in both state funding and personal property tax.

Tucker has proposed an operating budget of $266.5 million, a capital budget of $8 million, and $18.5 million in revenue sharing funds for the City of Charlottesville. Tucker also suggests an $800,000 shortfall contingency fund in case revenues are lower than expected.

The various cuts continue a restructuring that Tucker says the county has been working towards since the economic downturn began in 2007. With a total of 78 positions either frozen or eliminated since 2007, Albemarle will have as many local government employees as it did in 2002.

Among those 78 positions are 5 police officers. The County has a goal of having 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents, but the actual ratio is closer to 1.2 according to Bryan Elliot, the county’s assistant county executive for community services.

“This action is translating into increased response times for both urban and rural parts of the county to priority-one calls,” Elliot said.

At least one position has been unfrozen. Deputy County Executive Tom Foley said a “business auditor” will be restored in order to track down unpaid taxes. The move is one recommendation from a efficiency study conducted last year by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. Additionally, a building inspector will be reassigned to staff the county’s new land use revalidation program.

Affordable housing initiatives will be reduced with the County saving $190,000 by eliminating its down payment assistance program. A housing counselor position has also been cut, and rental subsidies for the Wood’s Edge apartment complex will be phased out.

However, some expenditures had to be increased due to state mandates and other cost increases, including a $203,450 increase in funding for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Last year, the SPCA argued that both Charlottesville and Albemarle were not paying their fair share to the agency, which is the region’s official animal shelter. The county will also pay an additional $426,000 in employee health and dental benefits.

Other highlights:

  • Funding for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library will be reduced by 5%, but Tucker said the county would not support the closing of branches in Scottsville or Crozet.
  • Zoning complaints that are not directly related to health and safety will receive a lesser priority from county staff.
  • The County will no longer be a member of several organizations, such as the Virginia Municipal League, the Alliance of Innovation and the Virginia Institute for Government. County will continue to be member of economic development agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce and Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development.
  • County will no longer help fund “bulk waste amnesty days” held by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, saving $22,000.
  • Funding for local community development agencies will be reduced between 5% and 10%, including the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, StreamWatch, and the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.
  • The County will no longer pursue environmental complaints but will forward them on to federal and state officials.
  • Efforts to calm traffic in neighborhoods will not be made, as there is no longer a county transportation planner.
  • Funding for ACE program will continue for at least one more year, with a one-time $350,000 transfer from transportation balance in the CIP. No more general revenue funding will be used.
  • Funding for implementing master plans has been eliminated, meaning no further sidewalks or streetscapes for at least the next five years.

Supervisors had little comment after the briefing. Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) called the budget “sobering news.” Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) said he needed to time to reflect before he could make a comment.

Members of the public can weigh in with their thoughts on the proposed budget at a public hearing to be held next Wednesday at 6:00 PM in Lane Auditorium. After that, the Board will hold a series of work sessions to amend Tucker’s proposed budget before its adoption in early April.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 – Briefing on the budget from County Executive Bob Tucker
  • 10:10 – Tucker describes the goals that helped shape the budget
  • 12:15 – Tucker discusses highlights in the budget
  • 14:30 – Tucker addresses 5% funding cut for library
  • 18:30 – Tucker describes how tax rate will affect tax bills, with most resident seeing a decrease
  • 21:15 – Deputy County Executive Tom Foley describes how community development services will be affected
  • 35:35 – Foley directly address discusses service impacts in community development
  • 39:05 – Assistant County Executive Bryan Elliot outlines reductions to community services
  • 45:45 – Elliot discusses how affordable housing initiatives are affected by budget
  • 50:00 – Elliot addresses how parks and spending on cultural events will be affected
  • 53:15 – Elliot describes reduction in funding for Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
  • 56:45 – Tucker wraps up the briefing on the budget
  • 1:02:30 – Tucker outlines next steps in the budget process


 

January 06, 2010

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

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.

Download Download the adopted 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.

December 04, 2009

Albemarle Supervisors defer vote on increased zoning fees

By Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, December 4, 2009

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to defer a decision to increase zoning ordinance fees. The proposal would have increased fees by 30 to 35 percent, fees which have not been adjusted in the past seven years. Several of the Supervisors expressed their hesitations about making a decision at the meeting and felt that more time could help them to better understand the application review process and its associated costs.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091202-BOS-Zoning-Fees

The issue of raising zoning fees has undergone a two year review process and the proposed fee schedule has been through several iterations before it reached the Board on Wednesday. The County’s zoning fees have not undergone a comprehensive review since 1991. In 2002, a fee adjustment was made that implemented a general 25 percent increase, which was considerably lower than the amount required to recover the costs of service.

20091202-JayJay Willard, member of the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association, comments during public hearing
Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) pointed out that the higher costs within the County can be attributed to a higher standard of review and level of public participation.

“The challenge here is Albemarle County has chosen to have a fairly tough standard before we approve development activities and I think it is driven largely by a desire for quality urban development versus haphazard urban development,” said Slutzky. “For that intention to be implemented, it requires a longer checklist with a lot more particularity. There is a cost associated with carrying out good public purpose.”

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) questioned why costs are so high in the County to process applications and felt that more time could be devoted to streamlining the review process and finding efficiencies.

“I’m interested in reducing costs in everything we do in government,” said Boyd. “I’m not sure we’ve taken a real hard look at that.”

Slutzky’s opposition to vote on the fee proposal emerged from a realization, he said, that an increase in fees was not a matter of revenue recovery, but of cost allocation in the community. Under the fee proposal, the costs would be split between the applicant and taxpayers, but Slutzky expressed his skepticism over the degree applicants should be shouldering the burden of costs. Because of the public benefit gained from stricter regulations, he felt it was reasonable to place more of the cost burden on taxpayers rather than developers.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) noted that Slutzky’s decision to oppose the fee proposal was a “significant disservice to the County, to the people in the County, and to people who will ultimately have to bear the costs.”

While there has also been concern that an increase in application fees in the current economic climate would negatively impact business development in the County, Supervisors and County staff maintain that the proposed fees are comparable to other localities in the region.

Under the proposed fees, a residential preliminary site plan would cost $1,200 plus $15 per dwelling unit. In comparison, Charlottesville charges $1,300 plus $20 per dwelling unit, Fluvanna County charges $1,100 and Greene County $1,000.  Today Albemarle charges $1,190 plus $13 per dwelling unit for a site plan.

With the deferral of the proposal to February 1, 2010, newly elected Supervisors Duane Snow and Rodney Thomas will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue and make adjustments to the cost allocation currently being proposed.

Both Supervisors have been critical of any additional burdens being placed on taxpayers and local businesses, but Slutzky cautioned the next Board against “softening up the quality standards for development in the community” in order to reduce costs for the County.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 01:00 – Director of Community Development Mark Graham gives presentation
  • 08:15 – Supervisor Ken Boyd asks whether staff looked at ways to reduce cost
  • 09:34 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker comments on increased public participation
  • 14:00 – Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier comments on speed of applicant review process
  • 15:56 – Supervisor Sally Thomas comments on fee comparison with other localities and public participation
  • 17:32 – Boyd discusses cost recovery
  • 18:17 – Supervisor David Slutzky discusses community engagement in application process
  • 21:05 – Boyd discusses specific charges
  • 21:35 – Graham discusses home occupations
  • 25:11 – Thomas discusses costs of activities
  • 27:00 – Boyd discusses quality assurance
  • 29:30 – Slutzky discusses staff time
  • 32:15 – Rooker discusses fee standards with previous County developments
  • 33:16 – Boyd discusses reducing costs
  • 34:25 – Rooker discusses Development Review Task Force
  • 39:40 – Slutzky opens public hearing period
  • 40:00 – Jay Willard comments
  • 43:30 – Jack Marshall comments
  • 46:57 – Rodney Thomas comments
  • 47:52 – Neil Williamson comments
  • 50:10 – Slutzky closes public comment period
  • 51:10 – Dorrier discusses deferral of vote
  • 51:50 – Rooker discusses costs of previous County developments
  • 54:30 – Supervisor Ann Mallek comments on standards for review
  • 58:20 – Thomas comment on taking action on the issue
  • 59:10 – Slutzky discusses deferring his vote
  • 1:02:20 – Rooker discusses that fees need to be changed
  • 1:06:35 – Thomas discusses the County as an attractive development area
  • 1:08:28 – Mallek discusses comparison with other localities
  • 1:10:28 – Rooker moves to defer the item
  • 1:12:30 – Vote passes unanimously

November 19, 2009

Turnover coming to Albemarle County Planning Commission

DailyProgress

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, November 19, 2009

There will be at least three new members of the Albemarle County Planning Commission when it convenes for the first time in early January.  The changes are a result of the recent local elections and decisions by some commissioners not to seek reappointment.  That could mean big changes in the commission's approach to master planning, zoning regulations, and other key issues.

  20090521-snow-thomas
Rodney Thomas and Duane Snow in May 2009 at the Albemarle County Republican caucus

Each newly elected member of the Board of Supervisors has the option of either nominating a candidate or advertising for applications. Duane Snow, elected in the Samuel Miller district, and Rodney Thomas, elected in the Rio district, have both chosen to advertise planning commission positions to the public. Applications will be accepted on the County’s website through December 16.

The Rio District seat on the commission is currently held by developer Don Franco, who was appointed to a vacancy earlier this year. Franco, a principal with the firm KG Associates has already applied for the position, and says he thinks his experience as a developer qualifies him for continued service as a commissioner.

Thomas, a former Chairman of the Planning Commission, said in an interview that he will keep an open mind as he wades through the applications.

“I would rather someone come in with no agenda,” Thomas said. “I would like someone who knows a lot about the area and has knowledge about planning.” He said he would not rule out reappointing Franco.

Duane Snow will select someone to replace Eric Strucko, who won election to the Samuel Miller seat on the county school board. Snow could not be reached for comment .

The entire Board will also vote on the planning commission’s seventh member, an at-large representative. That seat’s current occupant, Marcia Joseph, has decided not to reapply. Joseph has served three two-year terms and said she wanted to give someone else a chance at representing the entire county.

“What I’m hoping is that the person they select will have the knowledge and history and has been here long enough to understand the workings of the community,” Joseph said.

20070710-Edgerton Outgoing Planning Commissioner Bill Edgerton
Commissioner Bill Edgerton (Jack Jouett) has declined to be reappointed to a third term. Supervisor Dennis Rooker said in an interview that he has a candidate in mind, but is not ready to make the name public. Rooker said he wants to make sure that his choice shares his same planning philosophy.

“With Bill Edgerton, I had that for eight years,” Rooker said. He will talk with his candidate about master planning, transportation and the County’s designated growth areas.

After the last county election in 2007, Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier advertised the Scottsville seat that had been held by William Craddock and selected Linda Porterfield’s name from a stack of applications. She will serve two more years, as will Tom Loach (White Hall) and Cal Morris (Rivanna).

Since being on the Commission, Porterfield has advocated positions that at times were at odds with her colleagues. For instance, she has called for the County to change its rules that limit development at exits off of Interstate 64.

“I’m on the record as wanting to see the county of Albemarle try to attract as much business industry as possible because it helps us with our tax base,” Porterfield said.

Joseph, who in 2007 ran as a Democrat challenging Supervisor Ken Boyd for re-election to the Rivanna seat, said she is not too worried about the upcoming changes in the composition of the commission.

“Whatever your political leanings are, some times [commissioners] rise above that and look at the community as a whole and what’s good for the community,” Joseph said.

Rooker said he hoped that the new commission will be efficient.

“The planning commission can save the Board of Supervisors immense amounts of time if they are doing a thorough job of vetting the planning issues before they get to us,” Rooker said.

Edgerton said he hoped the newcomers would be well acquainted with county issues.

 “I think [we need] somebody who has had some experience in the development arena in Albemarle County, but is also willing to try to figure out how to balance community needs against property rights,” Edgerton said.

November 09, 2009

City and County move energy audit program forward

By Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, November 9, 2009


Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors are one step closer to launching a collaborative initiative called the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP). Both entities passed a memorandum of understanding last week that will allow the City and County to direct grant funds to a non-profit operating company to carry out their goals.

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In June 2009, the City and County won a $500,000 grant from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), whose main purpose was to establish a community-based energy alliance that would coordinate and provide energy-efficiency related services to residential and commercial property owners of all income levels. LEAP would also provide loans to homeowners to assist in covering the cost of energy-saving improvements.

20091103-LEAP
LEAP Concept of Operations (Source: SEEA grant application)
The City and County’s joint proposal to develop LEAP set a goal of a 20-40% efficiency gain in 30-50% of structures within seven years. Because the City and County do not have the legal authority to accept the grant directly, staff has been exploring the legal ramifications and limitations with respect to forming a new non-profit.

With the assistance of outside legal counsel, staff drafted a memorandum of understanding that establishes that SEEA will redirect the grant to a local operating company and that SEEA will agree to perform all due diligence to ensure that the local operating company meets the criteria enumerated in the proposed MOU. City and County staff have involved various stakeholders in the process of developing the LEAP program, including UVA, PVCC, Dominion Power, and SEEA.

The LEAP program is currently comprised of a three-member Board of Directors, which is expected to expand to include other community stakeholders, such as a representative from the state energy office and local elected officials.

LEAP is currently in the process of filing articles of incorporation with the Virginia State Corporation Commission and in the process of filing for tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.

With the approval of the MOU, City and County staff expect to have an operating company selected before the end of November and to launch the program as early as January 2010.

While City Councilors and County Supervisors are enthusiastic about the environmental benefits and job opportunities with the implementation of the LEAP program, the issue of funding was brought into question by Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna).

“This is just another method of creating bigger government that we do all the time,” said Boyd.

However, the Board agreed that the LEAP program will not have any budgetary impact at this time.

“This is not any undertaking to spend any dollars by Albemarle County,” said Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). “That would be a separate decision at a future time if in fact it ever came up.”

“I look forward to supporting the initiative that brings half a million dollars of money into our community to help us facilitate the creation of a program that will result in tremendous economic benefit to a large number of County residents by making it possible for them to reduce their energy cost burdens,” said David Slutzky (Rio).


TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

01:00 – City Council meeting
02:31 – Climate protection programs coordinator Cynthia Adams presents
06:17 – Councilor Satyendra Huja asks how the City and County are involved with the new board agency
08:17 – Councilor David Brown moves approval the memorandum of understanding
08:24 – Board of Supervisors meeting
13:30 – Supervisor Ken Boyd comments that he would like to add a “whereas” to the MOU that it is a non-taxpayer funded organization
14:25 – Supervisor David Slutzky objects to addition
16:00 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker moves approval of the memorandum of understanding
18:20 – Board of Supervisors pass MOU unanimously

October 19, 2009

Cummings criticizes opponent’s proposed budget cuts

By Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, October 19, 2009

Democrat Madison Cummings, a candidate for the open Samuel Miller District seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, held a press conference Monday to address the County’s projected budget shortfalls. Cummings said he was concerned about the proposal to cut 15-20% from the county budget, a recommendation made by one of his opponents last week.

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At last Wednesday’s Senior Statesmen of Virginia candidate forum, Republican Duane Snow said he could “guarantee”  that the County could cut 15-20% from its current budget if it analyzed the entire budget line-by-line. Snow has said zero-based budgeting is his top priority if elected. 

20091019-Cummings-Budget “Those that may not be familiar with the zero based budget, that’s where you go back and look at where  you’re spending the money, why you’re spending the money, and are you getting your money’s worth,” said Snow.  “And if you do that, I will guarantee you that you can come up 15 to 20 % percent savings by taking a hard look at your budget…”

Cummings said he would take a “moderate approach” to addressing future budget decisions, which he said will eliminate the need for “drastic actions such as permanent tax increases” and layoffs.

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat held last Friday, Supervisors and staff discussed the expected local government budget shortfalls (excluding schools) which are projected to range from $2.4 million in FY 2011 to $5.8 million in FY 2015. Cummings said 15-20% cuts would be impossible and that cuts in the range of 1-2% cuts are more realistic.

In a statement given to the media, Cummings said “current projections show shortfalls less than 2%” in the local government budget (excluding schools) during the next five years.  “The deep 15-20% cuts that Mr. Snow guarantees us to be possible would be harmful and unwarranted,” said Cummings.

Cummings said he wants to employ a more moderate approach should he be elected, which includes continuing the current hiring freeze, delaying expenditures which can afford to be delayed, and finding creative ways to manage expenditures such as cross-training employees.

“I’m not willing to step back on the services and the richness of our County in schools, public safety, and all the other issues the Board of Supervisors have to address,” said Cummings.

October 15, 2009

Supervisors get strategic plan update heading into annual retreat

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.

October 08, 2009

Rio Supervisor candidates focus on jobs and economic development

DailyProgress
Visit our Election Watch 2009 resources
By Connie Chang
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, October 8, 2009

In the race for the Rio District seat on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, candidate Rodney S. Thomas and Supervisor David L. Slutzky are both promising to make the County more business friendly.

At a Tuesday candidate forum, the audience challenged the candidates to address how they would handle community growth and the current economic conditions facing the County.

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20091006-EARL-forum Candidates David Slutzky (D-Rio) and Rodney Thomas (R-Rio)

Both candidates emphasized the importance of improving the relationship the County has with its businesses and neither said they would support a real estate property tax rate increase in next year’s budget.

Slutzky, the incumbent Democrat, spoke of his experience in trying to change the County staff’s attitudes towards economic growth and development.

“We have a serious culture problem in Albemarle County, in the staff…An awful lot of people in the County, particularly in the planning department are not supporters of business, they’re not committed to economic growth and development,” said Slutzky. 

"In the next four years, I’m going to be more assertive with respect to the culture of the County and I’m hopeful other Board members will join me.”

Thomas, the Republican challenger, has emphasized fiscal conservatism throughout his campaign.  He referred to his experience as a businessman and the importance of employing a zero-based budget. “Albemarle County residents cannot afford another tax increase,” said Thomas. “If anything’s not working, take it out. We need to save some money in Albemarle County.”
Candidates also discussed plans for creating and retaining jobs in the County. Slutzky noted the desire to bring “green jobs” and referenced his encouragement of staff to create the winning proposal for a $500,000 energy-retrofit program grant. According to Slutzky, if this program is successful, it has the potential to create as many as 3,000 jobs in the community.

Both candidates discussed the need to increase the commercial tax base to generate new sources of revenue and help fund infrastructure in the community.  Thomas emphasized the need to reach out to the business sector and to look beyond the University of Virginia for new jobs.

“I would hope we could advertise Albemarle County as ‘open for business’ rather than trying not to have new businesses come to Charlottesville,” said Thomas. He also spoke of the importance of providing County children with a good education to fill jobs the County has to offer.

“It’s about being mindful of the need to balance the residential growth with commercial growth,” said Slutzky. “We might as well experience [growth] in the most balanced and cost-effective way.”

The candidates also addressed the level of service the County will be able to provide during difficult economic times.

“There has to be ways to cut costs and make Albemarle County government more affordable,” said Thomas. “I would like to keep the taxes low. We will have to come up with some very good ideas to raise the money in order to put [new proposals] in.”

Slutzky warned the audience about the long term consequences of maintaining the current tax rate in the face of increasing state and federal mandates. 

“If we maintain our tax rate for ten years running…you are going to see continued erosion in services,” said Slutzky.  “The reality is we’re not going to be able to increase our tax rate for the foreseeable future, so please be prepared to adjust to some of those reductions in services.”

In his closing statement, Slutzky emphasized his leadership skills and his ability to investigate issues in-depth. “It’s imperative that we be able to work towards a vibrant economy locally,” Slutzky said. “I will ultimately vote the way I feel my voters would like me to vote if they understood all of the facts.”

Thomas reemphasized his commitment to helping develop a “more comprehensive economic development plan” and protecting the property rights of Albemarle residents.

The Earlysville Area Residents' League hosted the candidate forum which was attended by about 45 people and moderated by WINA’s Jay James.  The election will be held on November 3, 2009.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

00:52 - Opening statement by David L. Slutzky
04:28 - Opening statement by Rodney S. Thomas
06:50 - Question 1: Do you think Albemarle County is a business-friendly community?
07:25 - Thomas responds to question 1
08:42 - Slutzky responds to question 1
10:48 - Question 2: You have both served in local government. How would each of you grade yourselves from a constituent service standpoint?
11:15 - Slutzky responds to question 2
13:53 - Thomas responds to question 2
15:28 - Question 3: What is your philosophy on property tax rate and the budget? How would you approach that process?
16:05 - Thomas responds to question 3
17:40 - Slutzky responds to question 3
20:50 - Question 4: What is your plan for keeping and creating jobs in Albemarle County?
21:05 - Slutzky responds to question 4
23:30 - Thomas respond to question 4
25:20 - Question 5: What are your thoughts on the community water supply plan?
25:40 - Slutzky responds to question 5
28:59 - Thomas responds to question 5
30:55 - Question 6: Please name some ways that growth can pay for itself
31:10 - Thomas responds to question 6
32:20 - Slutzky responds to question 6
35:22 - Question 7: Why do you feel the County should take our property rights by asking us to give up our development rights to keep our land use taxes?
35:36 - Slutzky responds to question 7
39:07 - Thomas responds to question 7
41:50 - Question 8: If taxes remain the same or lowered, will Albemarle County still be able to continue its level of service?
42:12 - Thomas responds to question 8
43:02 - Slutzky responds to question 8
46:44 - Thomas asks Slutzky how he brought NGIC to Charlottesville?
47:04 - Slutzky responds
51:10 - Slutzky asks Thomas how he proposes to fund unfunded mandates without raising taxes?
52:17 - Thomas responds
53:55 - Slutzky closing statement
57:46 - Thomas closing statement