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March 27, 2009

City Council discusses capital budget; Planning Commission's call to cut Meadowcreek Parkway funding is omitted

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How much will the City of Charlottesville spend on capital projects in the next five years? Less than in previous years, according to City Manager Gary O’Connell. During a March 24, 2009 work session with City Council, O’Connell said the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five years has been reduced by about $25 million compared to last year.

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As the work session began, Councilors first got an update on some revisions that have been made to the budget.  After being prompted by Councilor David Brown to make sure the revenue assumptions were calculated correctly, Beauregard and her staff reduced the City’s projected budget by over $163,000 due to reduced property assessments and the downturn in the economy. That reduction would have been higher, but the budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly restored some state funding that Beauregard had anticipated would be cut.

20090324-Beauregard
Budget Director Leslie Beauregard

The trends are really scary,” Beauregard said. “We just don’t know where these are going and we don’t know if these have hit bottom.” Beauregard showed Council how expenditures have been reduced to accommodate the decrease.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM REDUCTIONS

Council next turned their attention to the CIP. The total projected CIP budget for FY2010 is over $16.3 million, and anticipates a bond issue of nearly $11.4 million. The rest of the CIP money will come from the transfer from the general fund as well as contribution from Albemarle County for joint projects such as CATEC and the Levy Building. Initiatives to be completed through the CIP are divided into bondable and non-bondable projects. 

Councilor David Brown expressed frustration about not having enough information about what projects would not be completed due to the reduction in the CIP. He was concerned that the City’s aging infrastructure issues would not be addressed. City Manager Gary O’Connell said that some projects would likely be delayed for a year, and that many projects have been completed. In particular, he singled out the HVAC replacement to City schools and buildings.

Council spent some time discussing one project that isn’t slated to begin until at least FY2014. Councilor Brown also asked if the $490,000 expenditure budgeted for the"Central Library renovations" in that year would be the City’s only contribution. Beauregard said the total project is expected to cost between $15 and $20 million, and O’Connell said the City’s projected funds for FY2014 are meant to be for architectural and engineering work. Both the City and the County have pushed the project back one year. Later in the meeting, Brown encouraged the City and the County to not defer maintenance projects at the library, out of a concern the library’s condition would worsen, raising the ultimate renovation costs. 

Councilor Satyendra Huja asked what the libraries’ plans are, and Beauregard said she felt that the library wanted to stay in its building on Market Street. O’Connell said that he thought it was too early to know for sure what would happen. Council agreed to have JRML Executive Director John Halliday appear before them in the near future for an update.

Another bondable project is the Ivy Road/Fontaine Area fire station, which is budgeted at $9.2 million over the next five years. Beauregard said the project has also been pushed back a year.

Mayor Dave Norris asked why there is no funding shown for the Old Lynchburg Road project in the coming year. Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said the plans will not be ready in time for construction to start in the upcoming fiscal year.

Satyendra Huja asked what the current status of project to place utilities underground. The FY2010 CIP contains $100,000 for the project which is to be matched by private developers. Tolbert said the next phase will involve placing utilities lines on Water Street between the Jefferson Theater and the Live Arts building.

MEADOWCREEK PARKWAY

Non-bondable projects include items such as sidewalk repair, bridge maintenance, highway inspection, as well as a $450,000 match the City must pay to get state funding for its portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway (the City’s portion is referred to as McIntire Road Extended). Mayor Norris asked why Council had not been given recommendations from the Planning Commission to reallocate that money to parkland acquisition. Norris participated in the Planning Commission's December 2008 discussion. Beauregard said she never received anything in writing from the Planning Commission.

“If they had something in writing, I would have included it in the material,” Beauregard said. Councilor Huja asked why planning staff couldn’t have relayed the message, but Beauregard said she couldn’t answer for that department.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow, Planning Commission Chairman Jason Pearson said Beauregard was present when the Commission passed its motion to recommend that the City's capital budget exclude funding for the two components of the Meadowcreek Parkway and instead allocate increased funding to sidewalks and park acquisition.

"If in fact Council did not receive any information about our recommendations, then I will forward them directly to Council via e-mail," Pearson said. "I think it's the responsibility of staff to make sure [Commission recommendations] are conveyed."

COUNCIL DECIDES TO SPEND $178,000 ON BIKE LANES, PARKS AND TREES

Budget staff had provided a line item of $177,906 for “non bondable contingency” projects for Council to program during the work session. Councilor Huja commented that he would like to add $50,000 in additional funding for urban tree preservation and planting. Currently the proposed CIP for FY2010 shows a line item of $106,090.  Mayor Norris and Councilor Julian Taliaferro said they would support adding more. Norris said that he wanted to use $100,000 to fund parkland acquisition, and he got the support of at least two other Councilors.

Councilor Brown asked what further opportunities there might be to develop more bike lanes. Public Works Director Judy Mueller said that the City has already installed all of the bike lanes it can where the lane marker has to be simply painted. Brown said a lot of cyclists wanted to see improvements on Emmet Street between University Avenue and Barracks Road Shopping Center. Tolbert said the only way to accomplish that would be to take off one lane of traffic in each direction. He said City Trails Planner Chris Gensic has been looking for ways to build an off-road trail with limited success so far. Councilor Huja said that the City needed a program to expand bike lanes to bring it in line with what other university communities have achieved. Huja requested funding to turn his vision into reality.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to make [bikes] a mode of transportation unless people feel safe to ride them,” Huja said. Brown said he already felt safe cycling in Charlottesville, but that he’s been doing so ever since he was a student at the University of Virginia. He said inexperienced cyclists could use a little more protection.

20090324-Tolbert
NDS Director Jim Tolbert

Tolbert said the City might likely employ a strategy of routing bike traffic on other roads, similar to what will be done with the Old Lynchburg Road project. In that case, bike traffic will be routed on to Monte Vista Avenue, rather than spend the money to widen Old Lynchburg Road to accommodate bike lanes. Council decided to go ahead and add a $25,000 line item from the non-bondable contingency fund to pay for bike lane construction for FY2010.

Councilor Brown wanted to know if it were possible to save money for large capital projects in the future, such as the Central Library renovations. O’Connell said that the City is reducing its budget in part by reducing the CIP by about $25 million over the next five years. O’Connell said the City spent more on large capital projects when times were better, pointing to the consolidation of the City’s indoor pools. He said he would compile a list of all the CIP projects that have been completed in the past five years.

“If we’re spending half a million dollars less in facilities capital projects than we proposed last year, what is it we’re not doing?” Brown asked of Judy Mueller. She responded that central office renovations for the City’s schools has been cut, and funding for a renovation of Buford Middle School has been reduced. Paving of Charlottesville High School’s parking lot will be deferred for one year.

“There was no major project that was cut out that we said we wouldn’t do,” Mueller said. “It’s a matter of saying we may have to delay things.” She said she would send Brown a detailed list of what other projects will be deferred.

While the Council did not agree last November with a staff recommendation to institute a stormwater utility fee, they did approve the spending of $600,000 for “citywide stormwater initiatives” in each of the next three years, with $100,000 proposed in both FY13 and FY14. Council will revisit the idea of instituting a fee sometime in FY13 if they want to continue the program.

NEW FUNDING INITIATIVES

Council discussed how they would like to spend the $250,000 set aside for Council Priority Initiatives. They approved of a plan to use at least $112,000 of that money for workforce development programs. The remaining funds will be programmed during the next Council work session on April 2, 2009
In addition, Beauregard also said staff was recommending spending on three new initiatives: $85,373 would be spent to expand the City’s Youth Internship Program; $63,000 to provide free bus rides to participants of the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW) program; and $60,000 on the proposed Community Dialogue on Race.  Councilor Huja expressed concern about the latter project. O’Connell said he would be bringing something more detailed before Council in the near future.

COUNCIL DEBATES CREATION OF A PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT ANALYST

One of the recommendations of the City’s recently completed efficiency study was for the City to create a new “Performance Management Analyst” position to coordinate all of the City’s efforts to save money through streamlining. The position, which is initially set at a base salary, of $60,000, would involve developing the City’s efficiency policy.

Councilors were not enthusiastic about the idea. Councilor Brown asked what other communities had such a position, and wondered what would actually be measured. Beauregard said each department will have to develop a mission and vision statements, along with outcomes, goals and objectives. Performance would be measured differently by each department.

Councilor Taliaferro said he assumed that the intent of the position would be to try to achieve more than $60,000 worth of cost savings each year to balance the cost of hiring the person. Beauregard said her staff is currently asking many questions about how to improve performance, but the new position would enable someone to look more deeply into how City government functions.

Mayor Norris asked if it would be better to use the available funding to train department heads in state-of-the-art performance techniques. O’Connell said the efficiency study showed that the existing City government structure does not have the “horsepower” to provide analysis that can lead to results.
Brown said the idea sounds like a good one, but that he was not convinced adding a new position to the payroll would be the best way to achieve the goal of increasing efficiency. Councilors and O’Connell went back and forth for several minutes before deferring a decision on the position to a future work session.

Council will next consider the budget at a work session on Thursday, April 2 at which funding for outside agencies will be considered.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Mayor Dave Norris calls the meeting to order
  • 01:30 - Budget Manager Leslie Beauregard describes the agenda
  • 05:40 - Councilor Taliaferro asks a question about the formula that determines school funding
  • 06:00 - Beauregard moves discussion to the CIP 
  • 08:15 - Councilor David Brown asks for a comparison of this year's bond issue to previous years
  • 09:45 - Beauregard begins discussing bondable projects
  • 10:45 - Brown asks for details on what will not be done because of the reductions to the CIP budget
  • 15:30 - Brown asks about the $490,000 expenditure for the Central Library renovation project anticipated in FY2014
  • 19:20 - Beauregard discusses transportation and access projects in the CIP
  • 21:15 - Mayor Dave Norris asks why there are no funds for the Old Lynchburg Road improvements project
  • 22:10 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks about undergrounding utilities
  • 24:00 - Beauregard discusses parks and recreation projects, including $5.7 million for Smith Pool replacement
  • 24:30 - Discussion turns to non-bondable projects in the CIP, including sidewalk repair
  • 26:30 - Huja calls for an additional $50,000 for urban tree planting
  • 27:00 - Brown asks if sidewalk projects keep up with demand, with report by Jim Tolbert
  • 31:30 - Huja calls for City to condemn property to ensure consistent sidewalks throughout City
  • 33:30 - Mayor Norris asks why Council was not shown the recommendations from the Planning Commission
  • 38:00 - Brown asks what the implications are for decreasing the amount of money for city wide traffic improvements from $200,000 to $150,000
  • 39:45 - Tolbert updates Council on the pedestrian signals that are being installed downtown
  • 41:40 - Discussion of $2 million in spending for "citywide stormwater initiatives"
  • 42:30 - Discussion on $5 million for the Charlottesville Housing Fund and $625,000 for the Home Energy Conservation Grant
  • 46:45 - Discussion of bike lanes
  • 57:30 - Brown asks if Council should be saving for large projects
  • 1:03:45 - Huja says that the budget should reflect the City Council's values
  • 1:05:00 - Brown asks Mueller how capital project for facilities development will be reduced
  • 1:12:00 - Brown points out that the school system's CIP is overseen by a committee, but that there's no process for prioritizing replacements in City buildings
  • 1:13:15 - Huja asks about the future of the existing CTS yard
  • 1:15:00 - Brown expresses concern about not funding anything to do with the library
  • 1:17:45 - Beauregard recaps the requests for additional funds she heard uttered by Council
  • 1:18:30 - Councilor Taliaferro asks what role stimulus money can play
  • 1:19:15 - Work session shifts to a discussion of new funding initiatives
  • 1:23:30 - Norris asks if Councilors are okay with spending money from
  • 1:27:10 - Huja says he has concerns about spending $50,000 for Community Dialogue on Race
  • 1:33:00 - Beauregard moves discussion to whether or not to create a new Performance Management Analyst position
  • 1:49:30 - Councilor Holly Edwards offers her views on the position
  • 1:52:00 - Beauregard describes what will happen next with the budget process
  • 1:53:30 - Comments from Jim Moore with the Charlottesville Taxpayer Association
  • 1:59:10 – Comments from Colette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association

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