By Sean Tubbs
Monday, March 22, 2010City Council
reviewed the details of the city’s $33.85 million capital improvement program (CIP) budget during a work session last week. Council made several revisions to the budget related to the city’s transportation infrastructure, its inventory of parkland and the number of affordable living choices within city limits.
Highlights from the work session:
- Council opted not to spend $110,000 to increase service on three Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) routes.
- Mayor Dave Norris called for an additional $400,000 to be spent on affordable housing initiatives.
- Council agreed to dedicate $50,000 to expanding the network of bike lanes, despite suggestions by staff that doing so could be much more expensive.
- $200,000 will not be spent to make repairs to the downtown mall near the Omni.
- Council remained open to a proposal to allow the YMCA to rent Crow Pool at full cost, extending its operational life until a new facility is built in McIntire Park.
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Transit service increases deferred; Huja pushes for bus route for Greenbrier neighborhood
In February, CAT Director Bill Watterson proposed several changes to bus routes in order to increase service. One of them involved spending an additional $110,000 to operate three routes (3, 4 & 6) on a twice-hourly basis.
Councilor David Brown said he did not want to expand service at this time.
“I would not mind taking this amount of money and adding it to our [economic] downturn fund,” Brown said.
Councilor Kristin Szakos
said she supported Watterson’s proposal because it would be a relatively affordable way to increase the attractiveness of riding the bus. However, Norris said he sided with Brown about holding off on expanding service right now, and Council agreed with his suggestion to set aside the funds.
Councilor Satyendra Huja had also previously requested that staff create a route to serve Charlottesville’s northern neighborhoods.
“Is it fair not to have the transit system in the northern part of town?” Huja asked. He said the demographics of the Greenbrier neighborhood would add more “choice” riders to the system, referring to people who can afford to drive but might not if they had an option to take transit.
Watterson studied three possible ways to alter Route 9 in order to accomplish Huja’s goal, but said none of them would work because the route could not be completed in under an hour.
Another proposal to alter Route 1 to serve Mill Creek and the Tandem School
in the county is also unlikely to happen because some Councilors expressed concern Albemarle County would not provide funding.
“I got a pretty clear indication Council was not enthusiastic about that one,” Watterson said.
New life for Crow Pool?
Major decisions about the future of the city’s aquatic facilities have been made in the past few years. A previous Council agreed to close the Crow indoor pool at Walker Upper Elementary School and use the savings to build a new Smith pool at Buford Middle School. At the same time, the City agreed to contribute to the capital costs for a new Piedmont Family YMCA
in part because the city would no longer have to pay for the ongoing operational costs at Crow.
Crow Pool had been expected to close this fall as the new Smith pool comes online. However, Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly said the YMCA is interested in renting the pool until their new facility is ready.
Currently, the YMCA rents the pool for 24 hours a week at a discounted fee. Under this proposal, the YMCA would begin paying the full cost of operating the pool.
“It would be best for us if they had their own building,” Daly said. He estimated the YMCA will have their plans finished by June. Construction is expected to take at least 18 months.
City Manager Gary O’Connell
said a decision was not necessary from Council until Smith opens in September.
Future uncertain for City payment to keep McIntire Recycling Center open
In June, the City’s contract with the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority
will expire. The proposed budget anticipates that it will not be renewed, potentially saving the city $248,928 in “solid waste disposal fees.”
However, that means that the City’s continued participation in the McIntire Recycling Center is in question. All city residents have the option to recycle items in curbside bins, though that service does not include disposal of batteries, electronics, and other hazardous materials.
“The City and the County need to make a decision whether or not to keep the McIntire Recycling Center open,” Mueller said. “We don’t know what the cost of keeping [the center] open.”
Council made no decision at this work session, but is expected to take up the matter at another work session in April.
Council discusses other items in CIP
The capital improvement program for FY2011 is $33.85 million, more than double for that of the current fiscal year. The increase is almost entirely due to a $16.5 million payment from the federal government to pay for a portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway interchange.
Budget Director Leslie Beauregard said the rest of the capital improvement program is beginning to slow down, in part because of the reductions in revenue.
“Our strategy over time has been when the times are good, we put the money to one-time use, and now we know that those one-time funds have dried up,” Beauregard said.
The city is expecting to raise $6.9 million through a bond issue later this year. That number will increase to $16.86 million in FY2012 in order to pay for a new fire station on Fontaine Road.
Councilors had the option to eliminate items from the CIP, and they made several decisions.
Councilor Huja questioned spending $200,000 on repairs to the downtown mall near the Omni. Szakos also said the city might be able to defer spending for another year. Norris also agreed it was not a high priority for this year.
The capital budget for FY2011 does not include funding for a $3 million project to add sidewalks, bike lanes and drainage improvements for Old Lynchburg Road. City Manager Gary O”Connell said the project has been delayed in part because the project is not fully designed. A contribution of $500,000 is expected in FY2012 and design work will continue.
“There’s an impression in the community that this project is just going to start,” O’Connell said. “It’s never been planned to do that. We have to wait until the money catches up.”
The city had expected to eventually receive a million dollars for the project from a proffer from Albemarle County’s rezoning of the Biscuit Run property. The funding was lost when that land was acquired by the Commonwealth to create a new state park.
Council commits additional funds to build more bike lanes
In February, Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert told Council that there are very few opportunities to create additional bike lanes in Charlottesville
without removing on-street parking or widening roads.
At the work session, Councilor Huja expressed his dissatisfaction.
“There are gaps in the network, and I think they need to be dealt with,” Huja said.
Tolbert said he would be bringing a proposal to Council this summer that would address the possibility of removing on-street parking and widening roads to increase the network of bike lanes.
Brown, an avid cyclist, said one road on which he would like to see bike lanes is Emmett Street, but he acknowledged doing so would cost money.
“There might be a plan that could accomplish [adding bike lanes] but it’s not a $25,000 project,” Brown said. The current year’s capital budget set aside that amount for “bicycle infrastructure” and the money was used in part to develop special signals to allow cyclists to trigger traffic lights.
Huja suggested putting aside money now in order to pay for those projects in the future.
“Symbolically, I think it is important to set aside some money to show our intent that we’re going to do something,” Huja said.
Council agreed to take $50,000 from a line item for “traffic improvements” to dedicate for additional bike lanes. Council may spend more money on parkland acquisition
The proposed capital budget sets aside $250,000 to acquire more land for parks, an increase from the $100,000 set aside for this year.
The figure for this year may go higher because of the possibility of acquiring an athletic field and because of other opportunities being suggested by parks director Daly.
The City is currently negotiating to purchase Davis Field, a rectangular field off of Park Street, but the $250,000 set aside in the proposed budget might not cover the acquisition costs. Daly said he had a solution, but did not want to discuss it in open session.
“While the $250,000 is great, my counsel to Council would be that there are a lot of potential acquisition opportunities out there that enhance connectivity and do a lot of forest protection, and it may not be advisable to spend all of the funding in one location,” Daly said.
When Norris asked if Council should increase the amount set aside to buy parks, Daly said he could not talk about it without going into a closed session.
Mayor Norris seeks increase in funding for affordable housing
The City dedicated $1 million in the current capital budget for the Charlottesville Housing Fund
. Next year, Mayor Norris wants to increase that amount to $1.4 million. He said both the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee endorsed the increase.
“I’d like to see us go on record as endorsing that dollar figure, however it comes together,” Norris said.
Council held a brief discussion of where the funding would come from to pay for the increase, but did not reach a consensus at this meeting.
Council will be on hand for a budget forum this Wednesday night at CitySpace
. The public is invited to ask questions of Council and budget staff. The next budget work session will be held on Wednesday, March 31
. The second public hearing on the budget
will be on April 5 in City Council chambers. Council will adopt the budget at a special meeting
on April 12. TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
- 01:00 - Mayor Dave Norris opens the discussion
- 03:00 - Councilor David Brown asks about state revenues
- 06:15 - Councilor Satyendra Huja agrees with Brown's request to put more money into "rainy day fund"
- 10:40 – City Budget Director Leslie Beauregard explains the line item for Council priorities
- 14:00 - Beauregard explains how more money will be spent on three Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) routes
- 17:30 - CAT Director Bill Watterson explains evolution of Route 9
- 21:20 - Councilor Kristen Szakos asks if there's a way to only stop at high school at certain times
- 26:30 - Brown asks for philosophy behind increasing frequency on certain routes
- 29:30 - Norris asks about proposal to serve Mill Creek / Tandem School
- 37:40 - Beauregard details memo from City Parks Director Brian Daly regarding funding for aquatic centers
- 40:00 - Daly describes how he is projecting additional for aquatic facilities once new Smith Pool opens
- 55:30 - Daly describes how his department is seeking ways to increase revenues to recover expenses
- 1:01:00 - Conversation turns to reductions in RSWA /landfill
- 1:06:30 - Beauregard discusses potential reductions possible if City drops out of recycling at McIntire
- 1:15:00 - Discussion turns to capital improvement program
- 1:20:30 - Norris asks about federal and state funding for interchange
- 1:21:00 - Brown asks about the future of the Levy Building, which is currently vacant
- 1:22:20 - Conversation turns to revenues that go into the CIP
- 1:22:45 - Brown asks why debt issue for FY2012 is expected to double
- 1:24:40 - Beauregard explains why Market Street parking garage needs "serious repairs"
- 1:29:00 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks about spending $200,000 to renovate Mall near the Omni
- 1:31:00 - Councilors ask questions about how sidewalk and street repair is being financed
- 1:34:30 - O'Connell describes why the Old Lynchburg Road project has been delayed by a year
- 1:36:30 - Discussion begins on Washington Park bathhouse improvements
- 1:38:30 - Discussion of $800,000 in funding over 5 years for McIntire Park renovations beginning in FY2012
- 1:40:20 - Discussion of funding for the Meadowcreek Parkway interchange
- 1:42:00 - Huja asks why $200,000 is being planned for improvements in the Belmont corridor
- 1:44:00 - Huja asks for more bike lanes, prompting philosophical discussion
- 1:48:00 - Norris asks for information on the Planning Commission's CIP recommendations
- 1:52:00 - Discussion of Planning Commission's request for a Building Endangement Fund
- 1:54:00 - Discussion of purchase of Davis Field, but further discussion of whether enough money is in budget
- 1:55:20 - Daly says he has a solution, but does not want to discuss it in open session
- 1:57:00 - Discussion of stormwater initiatives
- 2:00:40 - Brown expresses concern about the source of funding for stormwater initiatives
- 2:08:30 - Discussion switches to Charlottesville Housing Fund and Mayor Norris' request to increase it
- 2:15:00 - Public comment from Colette Hall