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By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Monday, March 19, 2012
Only a half dozen Charlottesville residents appeared Monday at a public hearing on the city’s budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
“It is unfortunate that more citizens do not participate,” said Colette Hall, a resident of north downtown. “As you consider each item, the general fund, the capital improvement budget, remember that someone else has provided that money.”
The City Council is reviewing a $146.2 million budget for fiscal year 2013, a 2 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget. The total includes $16.37 million for capital improvements.
The city’s tax rate has been set at 95 cents per $100 assessed property value since fiscal year 2008, when it was lowered from 99 cents.
“As a result of the new assessment numbers, 98 percent of residential property owners will see no change a decrease in taxes,” City ManagerMaurice Jones said. “We are not proposing a tax increase or a reduction in services.”
There was some discussion of whether to raise the tax rate, even though the city has advertised the stable rate and thus cannot increase it this year.
By Kurt Walters Charlottesville Tomorrow Friday, November 18, 2011
Representatives from Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia presented updates on their planned and recently completed capital construction projects before a joint planning council on Thursday.
Noticeable at the Planning and Coordination Council meeting was the contrast between the scale and ambition of a university angling to become “the premier undergraduate experience of the Americas” and those of the county government, which has had to cut back construction plans due to ongoing revenue shortfalls.
“We really have almost a maintenance-only budget right now going forward,” said Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
Which is not to say that there are not projects being completed by each entity. The county highlighted it had just opened a newly improved Jarman’s Gap Road in Crozet. Meanwhile today UVa plans to hold a ribbon-cutting at its technology and engineering-focused Rice Hall today and the city will conduct a groundbreaking ceremony for the Fontaine Fire Station.
In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council. In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, FIFTH IN A SERIES
In recent budgets, the board of supervisors has chosen not to raise taxes to provide additional funds for capital budget needs such that the current capital budget primarily supports only maintenance projects. How will you address capital funding needs as part of the next county budget?
Ken Boyd (R) - Incumbent
The problem with capital “needs,” is who defines what these “needs” are. I fully support the needed infrastructure as well as maintenance of our capital assets. We do have to be diligent in our spending relative to the state of the economy and the impact on our citizens.
I would not support borrowing more money that we don’t have the existing capacity to pay back. Meaning that if we don’t have the operating funds to pay back the loans, then we can’t borrow the money. That’s what they do in Washington, D.C. and that’s what’s gotten them in so much trouble at this time.
Sometimes you have to kind of keep the late model car rather than buying the new one if you can’t afford to buy a new one. That should apply to government as well as in our individual lives.
Cynthia Neff (D) - Challenger
I think that the actual word from the county executive was “minimally maintains what we have.” Minimally maintains what we have. And yet if I look at the capital needs budget, it’s actually a funny document because it talks about all these grand and glorious things we’re going to do. Here’s our vision, we have walkable communities and they’re self-sustained and then we’re going to protect the rural areas, we’re going to…provide great quality of life and infrastructure. We’re going to do all this stuff, but oh by the way we don’t have any money…
If you look at the Strategic Plan, if you look at the Comprehensive Plan, you look at the Economic Vitality Plan, we continue to articulate a vision for what this place looks like, what it feels like, you know, the kind of place it is to get an education, raise children, you know, conduct a business and yet we’re not supporting those goals.
On September 28, 2011, Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-sponsored a candidate forum for the two candidates running for the Rivanna District seat on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
Photo: Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress Used with permission
Watch the forum video
0:03:48 -- OPENING STATEMENTS
0:10:00 -- QUICK RESPONSE TOPICS
Water plan As the primary approach for adding to our long term water supply, do you favor dredging and water conservation before construction of a new or taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, YES or NO?
Western Bypass Do you support construction of the 6.2 mile Western Bypass as currently proposed for U.S. Route 29, YES or NO?
Property Taxes Will you consider raising the real estate property tax rate in the next county budget to invest in capital funding priorities, YES or NO?
SEVEN MODERATOR QUESTION TOPICS
0:12:10 -- Economic Vitality Plan What role should local government play to stimulate economic vitality? Do you support Albemarle’s economic vitality plan and are there areas you recommend for improvement?
0:15:35 -- City-County-UVA relations How should the city, county and the University of Virginia work together to enhance our community’s unique character and economic vitality?
0:18:55 -- Western Bypass Do you believe the Western Bypass project is consistent with the character of our community and the public’s vision for transportation in Albemarle County?
0:22:44 -- Growth area boundary adjustments and/or expansions Should the board consider boundary adjustments for Albemarle County’s designated growth areas to create new locations for business on land currently zoned as rural areas? Does it matter if the land is in the watershed of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir?
0:27:20 -- Education Albemarle County’s vision statement calls for a “world class” public education system. What does that mean to you and how will you support that goal?
0:30:38 -- Your priorities What is your top priority for action by the board of supervisors if you are elected?
0:33:46 -- Your qualifications for Board of Supervisors Please describe your past experience that qualifies you to be on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.
On August 17, 2011, Ryan DeRamus, owner of Random Row Books, hosted a forum for all candidates running for Charlottesville City Council. Eleven of the 12 declared candidates seeking three seats on the council participated.
The almost 70 citizens in attendance took full advantage of the opportunity and generated all the questions.
On July 20, 2011, Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress co-sponsored a city council candidate forum for the seven candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for three of the five seats on Charlottesville City Council.
The Charlottesville Democratic Party will hold an “unassembled caucus,” also known as a Firehouse Primary, on Saturday, August 20th, from 9am to 7pm at Burley Middle School to select its three council nominees. One candidate for Clerk of the Charlottesville Circuit Court will also be nominated.
In the primary, Charlottesville Democrats may vote for up to 7 council candidates and rank them by order of preference. This ranking is to facilitate an instant runoff in the event there is not a simple majority.
MEADOW CREEK PARKWAY Do you support construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway in the city of Charlottesville, YES or NO?
WESTERN BYPASS Do you support the Western Bypass route now in place if the state fully funds its construction as well as fully funding other local transportation priorities such as the Belmont Bridge replacement, Hillsdale Drive Extended, Berkmar Drive Extended, the widening of Route 29, and the improvement of the Best Buy ramp to the U.S. 250 Bypass? YES or NO?
WATER PLAN As the primary approach for adding to our long term water supply, do you favor dredging and water conservation before construction of a new or taller dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, YES or NO?
Moderator questions (each candidate received 3 of the 7 questions)
Transportation What is your transportation agenda for the city and how will you fund AND implement it?
City-County relations Much is made of the status of city-county relationships and the importance of maintaining and strengthening this relationship. On a grading scale of A to F, how would you grade this relationship, and how do you think it can be improved?
Performance measurements for local government Do you think the city is doing a good job of measuring its performance on the implementation of its vision and council priorities? Would you favor any specific other approaches or methodology?
Water supply Are you planning to seek a new vote by the council on the previously approved 50-year water supply plan and how would you change the plan, if at all?
Role of City Council What are the top responsibilities that you believe City Council should be actively and consistently engaged in?
Education Are you satisfied with the performance of the city schools? How would you support continuous improvement as a member of City Council?
Workforce development / Jobs What do you see as the best opportunities to develop career-ladder jobs that city residents can pursue?
After the moderator questions, the candidates each answered one question from the audience. Then each candidate had an opportunity to ask another candidate a question.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Tuesday, April 26, 2011
A member of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia has announced he will run as an independent candidate for Charlottesville City Council.
“I’m in this to win, and it’s a long shot, but I think I can do it,” said Brandon Collins in an interview Monday. “We live in a really messed up world and we’ve got to start changing things now or we’re pretty much doomed.”
Image courtesy of Brandon Collins
Collins, 37, is a lifelong resident of Charlottesville and a graduate of Charlottesville High School. He is a board member of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and a co-founder of the Cville Workers Action Network.
Collins is a musician who works at the Blue Moon Diner and as a caretaker of a person with cerebral palsy.
In recent weeks, Collins has appeared before the council to oppose the Meadow Creek Parkway, to call for dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and to ask that the city distance itself from the emerging presence of the defense sector in the region.
“You can resist the war here in local government by taking a look at the massive amount of contractors we have here in Charlottesville, seeing what role the city plays with those folks, and eliminating that role altogether,” Collins said at the council’s April 18 meeting.
One way to do that, Collins said, would be to prevent defense contractors and the military from participating in city-sponsored job fairs.
Collins’ platform would double the amount of funding for affordable housing programs and expand full public transit service to Sundays and to add late night service.
But Collins said he was still considering how the city could raise more revenue to pay for his suggested programs.
“Raising taxes might harm the working class and poor folks,” Collins said. However, he said increasing tax rates for businesses would be an option.
Collins said he would like to pass a law requiring both public and private employers to pay a “living wage,” but acknowledged the General Assembly would need to give the city authority to do so.
“We can say we want a living wage for everyone in Charlottesville, but we can’t legally do that,” Collins said. He added that one possible suggestion would be to deny certain permits to companies that don’t offer a living wage.
Collins said he thinks Charlottesville is ready to elect a Socialist to its City Council, and that his party can’t grow until its ideas are on the table.
“There are plenty of progressives who support some of the things we talk about, and they may not be Socialists, but they’re willing to listen,” Collins said. “The Democratic Party might be scared of being labeled [Socialist], but for the most part progressive people and working-class voters are supportive.”
He said he is still collecting signatures and hopes to file his first paperwork with Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta by the end of the week.
No slaughterhouses operate in the county today and planning staff recommended changes, in part to satisfy the growing interest in the local food movement. The debate over slaughterhouses is also part of an ongoing review of the zoning ordinance to satisfy a directive from the Board of Supervisors to promote economic development.
“What you will see potentially happening in the coming years is more of a local demand for ways to process local food products,” said Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning. “The turn there seems to be towards having more local food available for local sales.”
“We do have a lot of folks who raise cattle and they have to take their animals outside of the area over fairly long distances,” said Susan Stimart, the county’s economic development facilitator.
Currently, slaughterhouses are only allowed in heavy industrial zones with a special-use permit. Staff had recommended dropping that requirement, except when the operator wanted to render inedible parts of slaughtered animals into some form of marketable byproduct.
“What we’ve tried to do is to identify opportunities to make industrial districts more viable for modern industrial operations,” Cilimberg said. “In the first phase we moved certain by-right heavy industry uses into the light industrial category by special-use permit.”
Commissioner Linda Porterfield said she opposed the change.
“There are many considerations with a slaughterhouse, including the runoff,” Porterfield said. “There’s noise, bringing in the animals, killing the animals … They need a lot of water for this particular kind of business.”
Porterfield noted that the existing public hearing requirement with a special-use permit gives the community a chance to make certain that slaughterhouses are located in appropriate locations.
“Without a slaughterhouse available, people are doing these types of activities on their own,” said zoning official J.T. Newberry. “Having a slaughterhouse that would be able to accommodate some of their plans for the future might be a use we would want to consider.”
Commissioners Russell Lafferty and Tom Loach agreed with Porterfield’s position, but Commissioners Don Franco, Duane Zobrist and Calvin Morris said they could support the change. Commissioner Ed Smith was not present at the Tuesday meeting.
Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum argued to accept the staff recommendation because it would fulfill a local demand.
“Albemarle County defers a great deal of tax base to allow [the land use tax program], and in the Comprehensive Plan, you support agricultural production,” Williamson said. “Cows become hamburger.Why would you create barriers to discourage the end result of the activity that you’re encouraging on the other side?”
Performance standards for how slaughterhouses would be regulated have not yet been written, but will be discussed by the commission during the next phase of the review of industrial zoning. Commissioners agreed not to give a direction on slaughterhouses until that information was made available.
The ordinance review also is taking a look at whether office and residential uses should be restricted in the light industrial zones because of the relative scarcity of that type of land in the county.
“Concerns have been expressed previously that we may be losing some of our industrial land to non-industrial activities,” Cilimberg said.
To protect industrial land, staff recommended that commercial office uses require a special-use permit for all industrial districts.
Staff also proposed that homes be allowed in light industrial districts but only with a special-use permit.
“There may be areas in industrial zonings where residential uses are appropriate because if it’s a large employment area, people may want to live near where they work,” Cilimberg said.
“The encroachment of commercial uses into industrially designated land is a significant issue,” Butler said. “Not only does it affect the supply of industrial land in the county, but it also drives up the cost, making it unaffordable for would-be industrial users to move here.”
A public hearing on the changes will be held early next year.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Thursday, November 24, 2010
A new city fire station and a long-awaited upgrade of Old Lynchburg Road will proceed next year if a proposed $23.4 million capital improvement program is adopted by Charlottesville’s City Council in the spring.
The money will come from a variety of sources, including a $4.8 million transfer from the general fund, as well as a proposed bond sale of $15.9 million. The University of Virginia is contributing $750,000 toward the fire station, which will be built on Fontaine Avenue. That project’s total cost is $8.75 million.
Another source of funding for next year’s CIP is the transfer of an expected $2 million fund balance from this year’s budget, which will allow the Old Lynchburg Road project to move forward. The project had been pushed back to 2014 after the Biscuit Run development became a state park, costing the city $1.5 million in proffers from the developers of the Albemarle County project.
“The sidewalks have become a huge need with the increased volume of traffic, which puts our increased numbers of pedestrians only inches away from being hit on a daily basis,” said resident Jeanne Chase in an e-mail.
The proposed CIP budget contains $300,000 for new sidewalks, $500,000 for a new bathhouse at Washington Park pool and $50,000 for new bicycle infrastructure. Another $1 million contribution will go to the Charlottesville housing fund, which is awarded to nonprofits working to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing.
Another $775,000 will go toward stormwater initiatives, a figure that staff said might not be sufficient.
“This assumes that there will be no [stormwater utility] fee in place for 2012,” Beauregard said. In previous years, the commission has recommended implementing a fee that would charge property owners for impervious surfaces. However, the council has not yet chosen to do so.
Jim Tolbert, director of neighborhood development services, said the city will likely have to significantly invest in the stormwater system to comply with the Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements, known as the Total Maximum Daily Load, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires localities to upgrade their stormwater systems.
“We’re looking at between $3 million and $15 million a year based on what iteration of the TMDL is adopted,” Tolbert said.
The CIP for fiscal year 2012 will not contain a $625,000 allocation for the Piedmont Family YMCA.
“That was moved to  because their construction schedule is being pushed out as they’re trying to get their fund-raising done,” Beauregard said. “It doesn’t hurt them at all, but it helps us balance the budget.”
The CIP also does not include any funding for improvements to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure. That money comes instead from utility rates.
The CIP budget for FY 2012 is 31 percent lower than the $33.85 million budget adopted in the current fiscal year. This is the year in which federal and state funds to pay for the Meadow Creek Parkway interchange have been disbursed to city coffers.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the budget at its meeting on Dec. 14. Councilors will be presented with the budget in March and will adopt the budget in April.
By Sean Tubbs Charlottesville Tomorrow Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The two boards met at CitySpace to begin the FY2012 budget process
As Albemarle County begins another budget cycle, members of the county’s two elected bodies sat down Tuesday to discuss ways to improve communications. Supervisors and school board members aired their grievances about how the current year’s budget was developed.
In April, the School Board approved a $142.9 million budget for FY2011, $6.1 million less than the previous budget. Some of the savings came from eliminating more than 40 staff positions, including the equivalent of 22 full-time teaching positions.
The Board of Supervisors kept the property tax rate at 74.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. Because property values declined, the average tax bill was around $90 lower than the previous year.
“One assumption is that a school system works in the context of budget projections and needs to offer a budget that is balanced within those projections,” Bosher said. “For us today, I believe you want to talk more about what are the mechanisms we can use to confront that process.”
During the three hour session, Supervisors and School Board members discussed how to better improve how they communicate information about each other’s needs.
Supervisor Ken Boyd, who served on the school board from 1999 to 2003, said he thought the school board members didn’t understand the constraints placed on local government by the recession.
“You didn’t really do a good job of explaining to us why you needed [an] additional two or three million dollars,” Boyd said. “You never told us what your expenditures were and how much you anticipated them to be.”
Bill Bosher of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute
For the next hour, school board members and supervisors argued over the details of last year’s budget and pledged to do a better job of relaying information as next year’s budget is developed. It is anticipated that the School Board will need to make further cuts in the FY2012 budget due to continued reductions from state government.
One outcome of Tuesday’s retreat is likely to be increased meetings between the two bodies, especially during when the budget process gets underway. Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he thought that would go a long way towards increased trust.
“If someone on our board has a perception that they’re wasting money or they should find savings someplace, let’s put it on the table and talk about it,” Rooker said. “It’s very easy not to like somebody you never sit down and talk with.”
The two boards will next meet in October to further discuss the budget. Bosher advised that the boards not to negotiate about money at that meeting, but simply provide each other with information.
“If you have a chance to fairly put your stuff in front of the body that funds you, and they say no, all you really asked for was a fair hearing,” Bosher said. “There’s always going to be a next season.”
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
01:00 - Introduction from Bill Bosher of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute.
23:30 - Comments from Lane Ramsey
31:00 - Bosher asks elected officials why they are proud of Albemarle
43:30 - Bosher asks what elected officials can do to create mechanisms to work through difficult times
54:30 - Conversation on previous year's budget process begins
1:34:00 - Bosher asks elected officials to suggest ways of ensuring communications stay open
1:41:00 - Bosher re-opens session after break
1:49:00 - Bosher gives feedback on what he's heard listening to the conversations