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June 10, 2009

Independent candidate Paul Long joins City Council race

20090610-Long By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yesterday evening, Venable resident Paul Long (I) joined the Charlottesville City Council race on the eve of the filing deadline for independent candidates.  Long who will turn sixty in September, has lived in the area for eleven years.  He moved to Charlottesville in February 1998 from the Philadelphia area to assist with medical care for a family member.  Since relocating to Charlottesville, Long has been an employee of the UVa Medical Center where he works in the Transportation Department assisting with patient transportation in and around the hospital.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Long said he was inspired in part by the City Council candidacy of Andrew Williams (I), a twenty-two year old PVCC student and State Farm employee.  “If this young guy can do it, I should do it too,” said Long. 

Long said there were three issues that would be central to his campaign for Charlottesville City Council: decriminalizing drugs; creating the proposed Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and expanding it to surrounding counties; and providing greater revenues to local non-profits working to support homeless residents.

Decriminalizing drugs will be Long’s top priority if elected.  Long said he has eight years experience as an addiction counselor.  “Drug use should be treated as a public health issue, as opposed to a matter for the criminal justice system,” said Long.

Long also says he will bring significant experience in transportation policy to City Council as a result of his fourteen years of work as a citizen involved with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.  In Pennsylvania’s Tinicum Township, Long was appointed by the town as a “citizen watchdog” for the authority’s meetings because of his advocacy for public transportation.

“I am a great believer in the public transportation system,” said Long.  “I think the Regional Transit Authority is a good idea, but surrounding counties should be invited to join as well.”  Long also plans to lobby for increased bus service on Sundays and on holidays.  Long has never learned to drive a vehicle and relies on public transit in Charlottesville.

Facing Long on the ballot in November will be incumbent Councilor, Dave Norris (D), Kristin Szakos (D), and Bob Fenwick (I).  The candidate that helped inspire his campaign, Andrew Williams (I), will also be running as he attempts to win a seat on Council in a write-in campaign. 

Williams learned yesterday evening that he failed to submit enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.  He announced today he will run a write-in campaign seeking one of the two Council seats in the November general election.

May 26, 2009

Local officials agree to keep developing plans for regional transit authority

By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

20090514-RTA-WG On May 14, 2009, the working group overseeing the creation of a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) met to discuss its next steps for the Charlottesville and Albemarle County project to form and fund a new entity expanding public transit options in the community.  Consensus was reached to have staff of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) prepare recommendations on RTA governance issues and to draft a budget to retain a consultant to guide the RTA’s formation and system design.  The resulting project plan will then be brought back to local officials for further consideration.

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Local leaders received both good news and bad news in the 2009 General Assembly session.  While legislators easily granted authority for the creation of an RTA, they withheld permission for local governments to hold a voter referendum on a potential sales tax increase that would fund the cooperative venture.

The RTA initiative began over a year ago when the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council reached consensus in February 2008 to jointly pursue a Regional Transit Authority which would take over and expand the operations of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS).  In August 2008, the RTA Work Group was formed to develop legislative proposals to secure the blessing of the General Assembly in 2009.  The University of Virginia, while a participant in the meetings and a major operator of local bus service, has consistently stated it did not intend to join the RTA.

At the one-hour meeting earlier this month, the general mood of the RTA Work Group was one of disappointment with the General Assembly, a belief that there would be a public backlash against inadequate funding for the state’s transportation needs, and an expressed desire to elect representatives at the state level who would address transportation.  Four of five members of Charlottesville City Council came to the meeting and they were joined by Supervisors Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) and David Slutzky (Rio).

Slutzky started the discussion describing three potential paths for the group’s work:

  1. Take no action (in the absence of a funding mechanism).
  2. Form the RTA to demonstrate serious intent to General Assembly.
  3. Form the RTA and establish a service district to raise funds for transportation and/or transit projects.  A service district is already allowed by the General Assembly.

Slutzky shared his calculations on how much revenue could be raised if a 5 or 10 cent tax was levied on residential and/or commercial property in the City and County.  In one scenario, Slutzky said $4.2 million could be raised annually with a 5 cent tax (per $100 assessed property value) on a service district covering all urban commercial property.  In a second scenario, if urban residential and rural commercial property was included in the district, Slutzky said $8.2 million could be generated annually.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said that half of the counties comparable to Albemarle in Virginia have established service districts to raise local revenues.  Rooker said, however, that he favored letting the “dire funding situation” in Richmond play out before implementing new local taxes.

“Basically the state has no money for construction, no money for anything in transportation…and they are barely meeting the minimum necessary to obtain federal [matching funds],” said Rooker. “I think we need to let what’s happening in Richmond play out a little bit because, I think that given these most recent cuts, there is going to be a big public backlash at some point soon.”

The officials debated whether the community would benefit from an incremental or comprehensive approach to a new public transit system.  They assessed the cost vs. benefits of Charlottesville transitioning control of CTS to the new Authority.  They concluded by asking TJPDC staff to develop a proposal and budget for the RTA’s governance and formation.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:18 -- Call to order by Melissa Barlow, Director of Transportation Programs (TJPDC) and Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio)
  • 03:25 – Slutzky asks David Blount (Legislative Liaison, TJPDC) to provide an update on 2009 General Assembly actions
  • 11:58 -- Slutzky outlines three potential paths for the RTA Work Group’s next steps
  • 13:15 -- Slutzky describes funding options with a service district and shares his calculations on potential revenue
  • 22:20 -- Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) describes current VDOT funding issues and his preference for letting the politics in Richmond play out before raising new local taxes
  • 24:58 -- Slutzky asks group to consider next steps for RTA formation
  • 36:45 – Councilor Satyendra Huja indicates desire to radically restructure public transit but questions why City would want to give up control of Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS)
  • 40:17 -- Slutzky outlines steps required to move forward with RTA
  • 51:06 -- Bill Watterson, CTS, describes current costs of public transit and states the costs will be greater with RTA, for no increase in service, if the RTA takes on the in-kind contributions of about $400,000 provided today by Charlottesville
  • 55:16 -- Slutzky describes next steps to be taken by TJPDC staff to develop a proposal and budget for RTA governance and formation

March 27, 2009

MPO asks transit working group to recommend next steps on RTA

Mpo-wide

At their meeting on March 25, 2009, the MPO Policy Board learned more about a proposed phone survey to determine the public’s attitudes towards transit and decided to reconvene the Regional Transit Authority working group to recommend next steps in the pursuit of a joint transit authority for Charlottesville-Albemarle.

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In their recently completed session, the General Assembly passed legislation to allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to consolidate the governance of the existing Charlottesville Transit System (CTS). However, a second bill to allow City and County residents to vote in a referendum on a sales tax increase to pay for the RTA failed to make it out of the House Finance Committee.

That leaves a big question to be answered. Without new sources of funding, is it worth it for the two communities to form the RTA at this time? Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) had requested the MPO discuss the issue at the March meeting. He suggested reconvening the RTA working group that was created following the joint Board-Council meeting in August 2008 when both bodies decided to pursue the RTA. Before that happens, though, both the Board of Supervisors and the Councilors need to decide for sure if they want to take that step.

20090325-Slutzky
Albemarle County Supervisor and MPO Chairman David Slutzky

“The first thing that group needs to really address is the practicality of creating the [RTA] without a dedicated funding source that is better than what we currently have,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett). He asked that CTS Director be present for those meetings so he could discuss the logistics of transferring CTS assets and employees to the RTA’s control. Rooker also asked for a timeline that showed all of the steps that would need to be taken to form the RTA. Slutzky said that he wanted to use the meeting to discuss the potential of seeking other funding options for the RTA.

The MPO also heard details of a telephone survey that will be conducted in April to gauge how citizens feel about transit and the possibility of increasing service through the RTA. This follows on the heels of an on-board rider survey conducted by the Charlottesville Transit Service in March. Over 3,000 passengers filled out paper questionnaires, and the data will be combined with the results of the telephone survey.

The Richmond-based Southeastern Institute of Research will be coordinating the project. Other initiatives to get public opinion include an effort to reach out to seniors,hourly U.Va employees, and the general public through an online survey. Recommendations collected from the responses will be presented at a public workshop to be held on May 2.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - MPO Meeting convenes, beginning with public comment from Jerry Deily on light rail
  • 02:45 - Public comment from Neil Williamson about the reliability of telephone surveys on transit
  • 05:30 - Public hearing on MPO’s Public Participation Plan
  • 14:00 – Public hearing on Draft FY10 United Planning and Work Program (UPWP)
  • 17:30 – Public hearing comment from Jerry Diely suggesting better way to organize studies to better achieve stimulus funding
  • 21:30 – Approval of minutes from February 2009 meeting
  • 22:30 – Discussion of Regional Transit Authority assessment toolkit
  • 32:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro said the survey was fairly long
  • 36:00 – Supervisor David Slutzky wonders if the phone survey will include a disclaimer that it is being funded by the MPO
  • 39:30 – JAUNT Representative wonders if cycling should be added as a mode of transportation
  • 41:00 – Comments from Southeastern Institute for Research representative Anna McIntosh
  • 44:30 – Discussion of next steps for the Regional Transit Authority
  • 54:30 – Councilor Julian Taliaferro asks MPO to include Jefferson School on its list for possible of getting Transportation Enhancement Act (TEA) funds to pay for historic preservation
  • 59:00 –MPO Program Coordinator Ann Whitham updates MPO on UNJAM 2035
  • 1:00:00 – Public comment from Jerry Deily about how to merge CTS personnel into RTA if it is formed
  • 1:01:00 – Public comment from Jeanne Chase of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association regarding any plans to assist her community with traffic problems

January 27, 2009

Supervisor Slutzky will not challenge Delegate Bell; Focusing on local agenda in 2009

20090126-slutzky-barefoot On January 26, 2009, Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky (D-Rio) appeared on WINA’s Charlottesville Right Now radio program and announced he had decided not to challenge Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) for his seat in the Virginia General Assembly.  Slutzky told host Coy Barefoot that he intended in 2009 to remain focused on the priorities in his work before local government. 

Slutzky did not announce whether he would seek re-election for a second term on the Board of Supervisors.  In an open seat election, Slutzky defeated Gary Grant (R-Rio) in November 2005 after the retirement of David Bowerman from the Rio District seat.  Earlier this month, Slutzky was elected by his colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Board during 2009. His current four-year term on the Board ends on December 31, 2009.  The seats held by Supervisors Sally Thomas (I-Samuel Miller) and Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) are also up for re-election in November 2009.

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“My role on the Board of Supervisors has gotten interesting,” said Slutzky.  “I’ve got a lot of things that we are dealing with that are very important to the community…and [I am] very interested in and engaged in some of these topics, and to take on a major campaign at a time like this…would be very distracting.”

Coy Barefoot asked Slutzky to name the top issues on his local government agenda.  “Right now, front and center is the issue of transportation.  We have serious transportation challenges in Albemarle County and Charlottesville right now,” said Slutzky.  As a Supervisor, Slutzky also serves as Chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and has represented Albemarle on a task force related to the formation of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority.  

20090126-slutzky-barefoot-wide
Slutzky described two bills (HB2158 and HB2161) introduced by Delegate David Toscano (D-57) that would allow the community to form the joint transit entity and, separately, to hold a voter referendum on a local sales tax increase to fund both transit and transportation needs.  Slutzky said that if the local sales tax was raised by a penny the City and County would raise close to $25 million a year which could be applied to the community’s approved list of priority transportation projects.

Supervisor Slutzky identified two other priorities that will get his attention in 2009.  First, efforts to address climate change and reduce the community’s ‘carbon footprint,’ and a proposal to allow for the transfer of development rights in Albemarle County.

Brian Wheeler

January 16, 2009

Supervisors vote 5-1 to support legislation allowing referendum on local tax levy to pay for transportation needs

Wide

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has endorsed legislation that would allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County voters to decide whether to impose up to a 1 cent sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation projects. That follows the Board’s endorsement last November of legislation (HB2158) to create a Regional Transit Authority, which would be funded by the additional revenue. While Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) supported the first resolution, he withheld his support for the funding legislation citing concerns about raising taxes in the current recession.

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The bill by Delegate David Toscano (D-57) (HB2161) has been introduced in the House of Delegates and is currently awaiting action in committee. In August, Toscano told a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council that the bill would only win passage if it had the unanimous support of all of the area’s elected officials. 

Though there was no scheduled public hearing on the resolution, several people spoke out against the idea of any tax increase during the Board’s public comment period early in the meeting. Greg Quinn, a stonemason who lives in Albemarle County, called the idea of a Regional Transit Authority a “socialistic Shangri-la” and that the County had to live within its means. County resident Tom Slonaker said that a sales tax increase would close businesses and contribute to the economic crisis. Keith Drake, Chairman of the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance, said that the County needs to do more to pressure the state to do its part to fund transportation. Drake added that he was concerned about what he saw as a “tax first, then plan how to spend it approach.”

However, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said that he supported the idea of asking voters directly if they wanted the tax increase. Werner was a member of the Transportation Funding Options Working Group, and that the referendum was one of that group’s recommendations.

The Board’s discussion of the legislation to allow for the referendum was the last item on the agenda for the meeting on January 14, 2009. Chairman David Slutzky (Rio) said the item was originally slated to be on the consent agenda until Boyd requested it be pulled for Board discussion. 

Slutzky said he is hopeful that the legislation will pass, and that the County has to do something to address its transportation problems. “We seem to have no choice but to go down this path,” Slutzky said. Otherwise, the County may be forced to raise property taxes in order to fund road and transit projects. Addressing Drake’s concern that this is a tax-first spend-later approach, Slutzky said that projects that would be funded would conform to the County, City and MPO’s transportation priorities.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett), who has been involved in County transportation issues for over 20 years, said the state has “completely abdicated” its role in funding road construction and improvements. He said the County has been funding projects such as the Meadowcreek Parkway with property taxes, but needs another option. 

“What I’m in favor of is allowing the people in our area to at least have an opportunity to express their opinion through the ballot on whether or not they want to find a way to pay for transportation projects other than on the backs of property taxes,” Rooker said. He pointed out that any projects that would receive funding must be part of the long-range transportation plan. 

From the outset of his comments, Supervisor Boyd said he would not support the bill. He said that while he supported referendums, he questioned whether this was the appropriate time to levy a 1 cent tax.
“I’m not in favor of increasing any kind of taxes on our populace right now,” Boyd said. “I am not certain this recession is going to be gone in a year from now, or even two years from now.” 

Boyd said the local transportation tax would further push the General Assembly towards devolution of funding responsibility to cities and counties. He suggested asking the General Assembly to return another cent back to the localities from the state sales tax. Rooker asked how that would be possible when the state is contending with a $2.3 billion deficit.

Slutzky pointed out that 56% of Albemarle County residents said they would support additional taxes to support transportation projects, according to the biennial citizen survey  conducted for the County. Boyd disputed those results and said they had not yet been finalized

Dorrier
Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier

After Boyd called for a vote, Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier (Scottsville) asked to speak. He said that the County had to be ahead of the curve and invest in public transportation. He and Slutzky both asked Boyd to support the legislation in order to send a unified message to Richmond. Boyd declined.

“I’m principled against this so I’m sorry that I can’t,” Boyd said.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Public comment from County resident Greg Quinn against the legislation
  • 2:30 - Public comment from County resident Tom Slonaker against the legislation
  • 4:30 - Public comment from County resident Keith Drake of the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance
  • 7:00 - Public comment from City resident Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
  • 10:00 - Chairman David Slutzky opens Board's discussion by listing reasons he's supporting legislation
  • 19:00 - Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier asks how much money can be raised with a 1-cent sales tax
  • 19:30 - Supervisor Dennis Rooker explains why he is in favor of legislation
  • 26:30 - Dorrier asks questions and is answered by Slutzky and Rooker
  • 28:00 - Dorrier asks if expanding RTA to other counties has been discussed
  • 31:00 - Supervisor Ann Mallek explains her support
  • 32:15 - Supervisor Ken Boyd outlines his reasons for opposing the legislation
  • 35:00 - Rooker questions if Boyd trusts the voters to make a decision, followed by discussion of Western Bypass
  • 43:00 - Supervisor Sally Thomas explains why she supports the legislation
  • 47:15 - Dorrier explains why he supports the legislation
  • 48:30 - Slutzky asks Boyd to support the legislation; Boyd declines
  • 49:40 - County attorney Larry Davis explains that the Board would be able to levy less than 1%
  • 54:15 - Rooker makes motion to move for approval; motion passes 5-1

January 06, 2009

Top-10 Growth & Development Stories of 2008

In my weekly appearance today on WINA AM 1070 on the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot and I will count down Charlottesville Tomorrow's top-10 growth and development stories of 2008.

This is the third year we have counted down the top-10 growth and development stories in Charlottesville-Albemarle.  This wouldn’t be possible without the support of WINA for the Charlottesville Right Now program, host Coy Barefoot for having me on the show each week, Charlottesville Tomorrow’s donors, and the excellent reporting by my colleague Sean Tubbs and our interns and fellows.

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Charlottesville Tomorrow's Top-10 Growth and Development Stories of 2008

  1. Approved 50-year Community Water Supply Plan comes under scrutiny as proposed Ragged Mountain Dam cost estimates rise and citizen group demands look at project alternatives and dredging options. [Review all our water supply news].
  2. Major new housing and retail developments held up by market forces and lack of adequate public infrastructure (e.g. sewer capacity impacting North Pointe and Albemarle Place developments). National economic recession impacts local government budgets, housing market, and new home construction.  New County residential building permits total 360 through September 2008, on track to be the lowest annual total in over a decade.
  3. Supervisor Ann Mallek’s first year representing the White Hall District on the six member Albemarle County Board of Supervisors results in several significant 4-2 votes breaking the 3-3 stalemate that had existed on issues like property taxes and rural area protection strategies.
  4. City and County agree to seek legislation to support formation of Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Transit Authority (CARTA), a jointly run public transit authority that would take over and expand the bus operations of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS). Separate legislation is being recommended by a work group of Supervisors and City Councilors to seek authority to raise funds for transportation projects (including transit operations) via a local sales tax increase, if approved in a voter referendum in each locality.
  5. Meadowcreek Parkway construction contract (for the County’s portion) awarded to Faulconer Construction with work scheduled to begin in early 2009. City Council opts for grade-separated “signalized diamond” interchange for the Parkway’s intersection with the Route 250. The Steering Committee had recommended a design with an overpass above an oval roundabout. City Planning Commission ends their work in 2008 with a recommendation to withdraw funding for City’s portion of project which is scheduled to go to bid in early 2009. 
  6. Albemarle County approves several rural area protection strategies. Three rural area ordinance changes were approved related to holding periods on family sub-divisions, stream buffers, and driveways across steep slopes. A new land use taxation revalidation program is also approved by a unanimous vote of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. 
  7. County continues review of economic development policy update in comprehensive plan and eyes light industrial zoning needs. As part of a lengthy (and frequently delayed) review of the Economic Development chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, Supervisors overturn a Planning Commission decision and opt to continue review of Yancey Mills Business Park, a proposal for a light industrial business park in Crozet near the I-64 and Route 250 interchange. Review of the economic development goals began in November 2007 and is once again on the agenda of the Board of Supervisors for their meeting on January 7, 2009.
  8. Charlottesville City Council holds retreat in Staunton, VACharlottesville Tomorrow attends as only observer from public or media
  9. Albemarle County improves citizen and media access to important planning information by providing Internet access to complete staff reports provided to the County Planning Commission and by releasing the County View web application which allows detailed tracking of planning and building applications. Combined with the County’s GISWEB application and complete access to Board of Supervisor meeting materials and podcasts, the County has an impressive collection of material available online.
  10. Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Pie Day 2008.  No other topic generated as much positive feedback and listener calls as Coy and Brian’s ongoing radio dialogue about homemade pies.

Brian’s predictions for the top stories of 2009

  • 50-year Community Water Supply Plan
  • Results of government efficiency reviews released by City and County.  What changes will be implemented?
  • Local elections will be held for City Council and Board of Supervisors (see Election Watch 2009)
  • General Assembly will block local sales tax increase for transportation funding and continue to shrink VDOT funding allocations to Charlottesville-Albemarle
  • Downtown Mall renovations will be completed.  Will it be under budget and on schedule? Monitor the progress here.
  • Local governments will face budget challenges as recession continues.  Revenue sharing from County to City will increase by $4 million to around $18 million a year.
  • Places29 Master Plan will be unveiled.  Will it be approved?
  • Crozet Master Plan’s first 5-year review gets underway
  • Meadowcreek Parkway construction gets underway. Will a lawsuit stall City’s portion?
  • Community will review of ASAP’s optimal population study findings

The best way to keep track of these and other stories about growth and development is to subscribe to our free weekly e-mail updates.  Thanks for listening, reading, and commenting in 2008!

Brian Wheeler

November 26, 2008

Toscano starts preparing legislation for Charlottesville-Albemarle transit authority and sales tax referendum

20081125-RTA-WG
Delegate David Toscano
(D-57) has started preparing two pieces of legislation which would, if enacted by the General Assembly, enable Charlottesville and Albemarle to form a joint Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and allow each locality to hold a voter referendum on a new local sales tax of up to 1 cent.  If a full cent increase on the sales tax was levied, over $25 million would be raised annually to fund transit and transportation projects in the community. 

Download

 DOWNLOAD the Work Group’s guidance related to legislation for sale tax referendum

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The work group of City Councilors and members of the Board of Supervisors who have been facilitating the creation of the RTA met on November 25, 2008 and received an update on the legislative effort.  Toscano’s draft bills will be reviewed by the work group and presented to City Council and the Board of Supervisors for approval before they are submitted formally to the General Assembly for the 2009 session.

While the work group has initially asked Toscano to prepare legislation calling for a new sales tax, the officials acknowledged that legislators in Richmond may have a preference for some other revenue source.  Alternatively, the General Assembly may not want any local government to be empowered to raise a new tax next year.  In October, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) told the work group that he did not yet have enough information to support what he saw as a “very substantial tax increase,” even if it was only enacted via a successful voter referendum.

The local Chamber of Commerce has said it will also have difficulty supporting a sales tax increase.  Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) updated the work group on his November 13th presentation to the Chamber’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee.  Slutzky said the committee was supportive of the formation of the RTA, but that it preferred for transportation funding to come from the state and that any new revenues be generated from a gas tax.  “What was not so clear was their willingness to embrace up to a penny on the sales tax,” said Slutzky. “They had their strong aversion to that.”

“I think we had an adequate airing of the issues,” said Slutzky.  “I’m sure they fully understand why we ended up with the recommendation of up to a penny on the sales tax.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he thought it was important to emphasize that the legislation seeking funding authority was tied to a referendum.  “When you ask someone, ‘Do you want to increase the sales tax?’ Most businessmen are going to say, ‘No,’ said Rooker.  The community, he said, is seeking “support for the public’s right to determine whether or not they will increase the sales tax.”

Slutzky said the Chamber’s Board of Directors would be reviewing the proposal very soon and that they may have additional feedback.  “It would be wonderful if we were to receive some sort of an endorsement for what we are trying to accomplish from the Chamber,” said Slutzky.

20081125-RTA-WG-Huja
City Councilor Satyendra Huja

A common refrain in the questioning of the RTA project by business leaders, legislators, and community members has been, ‘How much money are you going to raise, what road projects would it support, and how much will be earmarked for public transit?’  City Councilor Satyendra Huja suggested it would be helpful if the “draft priority project list” that accompanies the legislative proposal gave some specificity to the amount of funding for transit.  Under transit improvements, the estimated cost column had noted that it was “To Be Determined (some costs are eligible for federal or state funding).”

Mayor Dave Norris said, in part to respond to Delegate Bell’s concerns, that it might be good to place a range on the estimated transit operational costs.  The work group reached consensus to indicate that transit improvements would be expected to receive between $4 million to $8 million annually for operations.  Capital needs, according to the work group, will be largely covered by other state and federal funds.

Bill Watterson, head of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), told Charlottesville Tomorrow after the meeting that his operating budget today is just under $6 million, but that the local contribution from the City and County totaled about $2.75 million.  The operations of CTS would be taken over by the new RTA.  Thus, if the sales tax was approved by the voters and increased by a full penny, with $4-8 million allocated to transit, that would allow for both increased bus operations and for the remaining $17-21 million to be allocated to other transportation projects each year.

The next meeting of the RTA work group has not been scheduled, but is expected to take place after Delegate Toscano receives draft legislation from the Virginia General Assembly’s Legislative Services staff.  City Council and the Board of Supervisors are expected to endorse a final legislative proposal in December or January.

Brian Wheeler

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:30 -- Call to order by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio), Work Group Chairman
  • 03:52 – David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), updates work group on Delegate David Toscano’s (D-58) work on legislative proposals
  • 06:24 – Blount, Slutzky, and Mayor Dave Norris describe flexibility in approach that may be required when negotiations begin during the General Assembly session.
  • 16:00 – Slutzky reports on presentation to Chamber of Commerce’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee
  • 21:35 – Slutzky opens discussion on the sales tax funding option.  Rooker emphasizes that the sales tax authority would be for up to a penny, but it may not be levied at the full amount.
  • 22:20 – Work group discusses possible breakout of funds raised between transit and transportation projects.  Agrees to specify that public transit improvements would be specified in a range of $4-8 million annually for operations.

November 20, 2008

Council votes to support legislation for local funding options for transit and transportation

Trolley_rta

The Charlottesville City Council has voted to support legislation that would allow the City and Albemarle County to hold a referendum on up to a one-cent sales tax that would pay for a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) as well as other transportation projects. A working group of Supervisors and Councilors are still crafting the legislation in advance of next year’s General Assembly session. They’ll meet on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 to determine how to proceed. 

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Council has already indicated its support for the legislation when it approved the City’s legislative program. Council has also voted to support enabling legislation that would allow the RTA to be formed.  

“What’s before you tonight is a document that has come through the RTA working group that provides a little more detail and outline to that proposed one-cent sales tax increase,” said Craig Brown, Charlottesville’s City Attorney.  Here are the four points covered in the draft legislation, taken verbatim from the motion Council adopted:

  • The City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle would be authorized to levy a local sales tax of up to one cent to be designated and spent solely for the purposes of transit and transportation initiatives.
  • This local sales tax shall be levied only if the tax is approved in a referendum within the City or County in accordance with Virginia Code § 24.2-684 initiated by a resolution of the local governing body.
  • The amount of the local sales tax, not to exceed one cent, would be adopted by ordinance. The transit and transportation initiatives to be funded by the local sales tax would be determined by each locality.
  • The initiatives would be limited to transit costs, including funding for each locality’s share of the cost of a Regional Transit Authority, and transportation projects selected from the region’s Constrained Long Range Plan, the City’s Urban Road Program, or the County’s Secondary Road

Other communities across Virginia had flirted with the idea of pursuing regional authorities as a way of generating local funds for transportation and transit projects. Jurisdictions in the Richmond area have opted not to go forward for this year.  Brown said the prognosis did not look good for Charlottesville-Albemarle’s efforts.

“The prospects for this being passed this year by the General Assembly are not good,” Brown said.
After making a motion to approve the specific legislative request, Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not see any reference to the fall-back options that are available to some other regional authorities under HB3202 (legislation approved in 2007). Attorney  Brown said the request would be submitted to the state Division of Legislative Services to draft the legislation, and that the area’s legislators can be made aware of the fall-back position. 

Sean Tubbs

November 05, 2008

County joins City in endorsing resolution seeking permission to form new transit authority

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David Blount, Legislative Liaison, TJPDC

On November 5, 2008, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for enabling authority from the Virginia General Assembly to create a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in cooperation with the City of Charlottesville.  The resolution was presented to the Board for consideration by David Blount, Legislative Liaison with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.  A similar resolution was approved by City Council earlier this week.  As a result of this action, legislation allowing for the creation of a Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority is expected to be submitted for the 2009 General Assembly session by local legislators.

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A separate resolution, which would seek legislative approval for new local taxing powers to fund transit and transportation, has not yet been considered by City Council or the Board of Supervisors.  A work group of elected officials is continuing to meet with area stakeholders to reach consensus on what funding tools should be included in that second proposal.  Some local officials have stated that an RTA should not be created to replace the Charlottesville Transit System (CTS) without new sources of revenue being identified. 

20081104-BOS1 While road construction and maintenance has traditionally been funded at the state and federal level, area officials have said repeatedly that the state is not fulfilling its responsibility to adequately fund the area's transportation needs.  The City and County rely heavily on real estate property taxes to fund local budgets, but in the absence of state funding, they would prefer to fund major transportation projects with alternative sources of revenue.  A local gas tax or sales tax, however, would require authorization from the General Assembly.  The next step in the effort to create the RTA will be to focus on identifying specific funding sources and potential voter referendum requirements.

The RTA work group will report to City Council and the Board of Supervisors before the end of the year with their recommendations.  Their next meeting is scheduled for November 21, 2008.

The text of the resolution approved on November 5, 2008 is as follows:

Resolution To Seek Enabling Legislation To Establish a Regional Transit Authority In The Charlottesville-Albemarle Area
 
WHEREAS, transportation planning and systems are regional in scope; and
WHEREAS,  transportation planning includes both transit planning and transit operations; and
WHEREAS, limited transit facilities currently serve the overall Charlottesville-Albemarle area; and
WHEREAS, the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle intend to continue to serve existing ridership; and
WHEREAS, the City and County are interested in extended transit service to developing areas and providing faster, more frequent service to the existing system; and
WHEREAS, a Regional Transit Authority would coordinate regional transit planning and operations; and
WHEREAS, a Regional Transit Authority does not currently exist in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area; and
WHEREAS, enabling legislation is necessary to create a Regional Transit Authority.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the County of Albemarle requests that enabling authority for a Regional Transit Authority to serve the Charlottesville-Albemarle area be adopted.

Brian Wheeler

November 03, 2008

RTA working group continues to debate approach for funding mechanism

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The General Assembly convenes in just over two months. While legislation to create a Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is likely to receive support, local leaders are still seeking consensus on an appropriate funding mechanism. There remains uncertainty over whether the region’s legislators can agree on a specific funding source, or sources, that they would be willing to support.  Last week, three area legislators were skeptical that any bill to create a funding mechanism could pass in 2009.

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The working group of City Councilors and Albemarle County Supervisors responsible for shaping both bills spent their meeting on October 31, 2008 discussing how to proceed. Their preference is to ask the General Assembly for permission to hold a referendum on a one-cent sales tax increase. However, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce has held off on supporting that approach, and would prefer to see the RTA and other transportation projects funded through a gas tax or other local revenue sources.  The Lynchburg, Danville, and Charlottesville Chambers all see a Western bypass for Route 29 north of Charlottesville as a key transportation priority, a road they would all like to see proceed even with local transit initiatives..

Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) is scheduled to brief the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce next week on the RTA legislation.  He has met recently with Chamber President Tim Hulbert to discuss his concerns. Slutzky reported that Hulbert said the Chamber could support the sales tax with reservations. “I still think we should go and ask for the enabling legislation,” Slutzky said. “Once we have a new President and if the political winds shift very strongly in a certain direction maybe the folks in the General Assembly will wake up.” Slutzky then asked for the opinions of other working group members.

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Supervisor Dennis Rooker

“I think it’s a bit of a Hail Mary pass at this point, but I think we should try it,” said Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said the community should go forward with the legislation to create a local funding mechanism, but he was not sure what form that might take.

“Seems like from the response we’ve gotten that probably the sales tax seems to get the most support from people on the [Transportation] Funding Options Group,” Rooker said. Slutzky said the Chamber “hates” that option because they feel it will suppress consumer spending.

Rooker then asked members of the group if they were in agreement that the legislation would ask for up to a one-cent tax increase, to be approved by both City and County voters in a referendum. Norris said he was in favor, but asked how the RTA working group would respond if Delegate Rob Bell (R-58)  announces his opposition to the bill. Rooker said if that happens, the group would need to meet with the other legislators to gauge their support. However, many legislators including Senator Emmet Hanger (R-24)  and Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25)  have both said that transportation funding is a responsibility for state government. So far, the group has not received an indication of where Delegate Steve Landes (R-25)  is on the issue.

David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, said two critical conditions needed to be met to get support from area legislators. First, there needs to be consensus among the local legislators, and second, there needs to be community support. Blount said neither existed at this time.

Slutzky further elaborated on the Chamber’s opposition. He said its membership wanted the allocation from any funding mechanism to be weighted in favor of roads rather than transit. In particular, the North Charlottesville Business Council (NCBC), a division of the Chamber, supports the Western Bypass. Slutzky said it might be possible to convince the NCBC that a series of grade-separated interchanges on US 29 would accomplish the same goals of relieving congestion at a cheaper cost.  

Rooker said that the NCBC was created by the Chamber specifically to fight grade-separated interchanges on US 29. He said he could not support the Western Bypass being listed as a beneficiary of the funding mechanism because US 29 is a primary road, which should be paid for with federal and state revenue.

“I don’t want us using the money that we’re trying to set aside to do local transportation projects on a $250 million road that certainly our studies indicate is not going to do a significant amount to move traffic in the corridor,” Rooker said. Rooker added that he doubted whether the current VDOT study of the US 29 corridor will recommend the construction of the Western Bypass on its existing alignment. Melissa Barlow of the TJPDC was absent from the meeting to attend the first meeting of that VDOT study group.

FUNDING MECHANISM DEBATED

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Supervisor David Slutzky explains his positions

If the group decides not to pursue a sales tax, other options include seeing a local gas tax as well as the various taxes and fees previously authorized for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads under HB3202. Slutzky said the HB3202 options did not make sense for this community. The group speculated on how much money would be brought in by a gasoline tax. If a gas tax were raised, would a percentage of the cost be proposed, or a specific amount? The group was concerned that the tax on gas might have to be fairly substantial to come up with the same amount that could be raised through a sales tax.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he supports the sales tax, but he did not think it had much chance of passing. He also said he would not be supportive of creating the RTA unless there was a new funding source.

The City and County already have the power to levy additional property taxes in specific areas to fund transportation projects. Slutzky asked how much money would result from instituting a commercial service district which could carry a supplemental property tax. No one had the answer at the meeting.

Given the uncertainties of a gas tax and a commercial service district, Slutzky asked if the group should take a position to recommend a penny-sales tax with a statement that a gas tax might not work. Rooker said the group should hold off on making a recommendation until after Slutzky makes his presentation.

Other localities across Virginia are also pursuing legislation to create transportation and transit authorities. County Attorney Larry Davis said the Richmond area will decide in mid-November whether or not to go forward with their enabling legislation, which will utilize the HB3202 funding options. Fredericksburg has opted not to pursue an authority at this time, according to Blount.

Both Fairfax and Arlington County have levied an additional commercial real estate tax to fund transportation. Huja said the HB3202 options might be worth pursuing, and that perhaps this community should accept whatever the legislators are willing to fund.

“I think it’s going to be a complicated discussion depending on how many different concepts are being floated around,” Davis said. “They’re going try to meld and mold and try to come up with some kind of consensus approach.”

Rooker said it was common for communities to have to pursue enabling legislation for many years. He said it would be a good idea for Charlottesville-Albemarle to be ready to adjust its plan to match another locality’s plan if theirs looks close to passage.

City Council will hear an update on the RTA tonight. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission Board will consider a resolution in support of both pieces of legislation at its meeting on this Thursday. Delegate Toscano had recommended securing the regional support of the TJPDC to help get the RTA approved in Richmond. The RTA working group will next meet on November 21st, 2008.

Sean Tubbs


TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Slutzky reports on his meeting with Tim Hulbert, asks RTA working group members for their thoughts on legislation
  • 8:10 - Norris asks question which prompts discussion of legislators' support for the funding mechanism
  • 14:10 - Rooker outlines why he is opposed to the Western Bypass
  • 21:00 - Slutzky asks about if the Chamber's position would be subject to a vote
  • 22:00 - Discussion of other funding options besides the sales tax
  • 25:20 - Councilor Huja said that he is not supportive of creating an RTA without a dedicated funding source
  • 28:00 - Discussion returns to the Western Bypass with Rooker giving a history lesson on Carter Myers' involvement
  • 29:30 - Slutzky asks how much revenue would come through a commercial service district
  • 33:00 - Discussion switches to how much revenue a gas tax would build in
  • 36:30 - Slutzky asks the group if they should recommend a penny sales tax
  • 43:00 - Huja asks question about how funding allocation will be funded
  • 46:45 - Comment from County Attorney Larry Davis about Richmond's efforts
  • 50:50 - CTS Director Bill Watterson asks question about Richmond's efforts
  • 54:00 - Discussion of how other communities are building their plans
  • 55:00 - Discussion of TJPDC support
  • 1:00:00 - Slutzky asks if he should go down to meet with Lynchburg and Danville officials to discuss western bypass
  • 1:06:00 - Mayor Norris suggests possibility of raising additional money for transit through local property taxes as a Plan C
  • 1:11:00 - Discussion of who will actually write the legislation
  • 1:13:00 - Norris says legislation does not have to come before Council again
  • 1:14:30 - Discussion of whether Board of Supervisors will approve resolution 1:17:30 - Rooker briefs City Councilors on County's budget shortfall
  • 1:21:00 - Discussion of meeting schedule for RTA working group
  • 1:23:00 - Supervisors decide to pass two resolutions to support the two separate pieces of legislation