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April 11, 2011

Council hears report on cooperative work with Albemarle

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DailyProgressOne year after Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, encouraged elected officials from the city and Albemarle County to improve relations, at least one is lamenting that not enough progress has been made.

“I think we had an opportunity to do something big here and I don’t think we took advantage of it,” City Councilor David Brown said at a recent council meeting.

Toscano convened a joint meeting last April for the City Council, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and both school boards after the two localities clashed over a request by the county School Board to recalculate a formula that determines state funding for education. The local composite index does not take into account the annual revenue sharing payment that the county makes to the city.

If the effort had been successful, the county would have received an additional $2.6 million in state funding for education, but the money would have come from Charlottesville’s allocation. The idea prompted outrage from city officials.

“Periodically this threat gets raised about coming after funding that is currently being directed for city schools and appropriating it for county schools,” Mayor Dave Norris said. “And then we have to go and scramble and hire lobbyists to go down to Richmond [to fight] Albemarle County because of this proposal.”

One outcome of the meeting was the formation of a subcommittee tasked to find areas where some funding could be allocated to joint projects. The group met behind closed doors last August.

“The school departments of the city and county were to identify a mutually beneficial program which could be created or increased to use the contested $2.6 million,” Albemarle Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said. One idea was to create a “virtual high school” to offer remote classes, but Mallek said the idea was too expensive.

“We need to start with a smaller effort,” Mallek said.

Another outcome of last April’s joint meeting was the formation of subcommittees to explore whether the two jurisdictions’ fire-rescue or social services departments could be merged.

The groups were directed to “examine delivery of services and implement measures which increase the level of services at the same cost or provide the same level of services at lower cost to taxpayers of both jurisdictions.”

However, both reports issued by the committees listed several reasons why merging would end up costing taxpayers more money.

Download Download Fire-Rescue Consolidation report

Download Download Social Services Consolidation report

“Through their discussions and their research, staff and elected members of those groups came to conclusions that, at this point, consolidating services may not be the best route to take,” City Manager Maurice Jones said. “But we have been collaborating on a lot of different issues for many years and both groups identified [new] areas that we can collaborate on in the future.”

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she would welcome further discussions about becoming one community rather than two, but understood some of the obstacles.

“One thing I was struck by with social services … is that if you combine them, you’d have to build a new building because you’d suddenly have a bigger staff and so you’d eat up the savings with construction [costs].”

Despite the recommendation, Councilor Satyendra Huja said he still sought further exploration of consolidating the city and county social services departments.

“Even if you did nothing else, you would have one less director and one less assistant [to pay],” Huja said.

Brown said he has received advice from former councilors that consolidation will only happen if it is the will of the council and the Board of Supervisors.

“Staff on the city side and staff on the county side have too much invested in the status quo to really want to push for change,” Brown said. “That’s what I’ve found to be true.”

Councilor Holly Edwards said the consolidation talk should have provided an opportunity to combat what she sees as one of the region’s biggest issues.

“Poverty knows no boundaries between the city and the county and neither does grief or loss or pain,” Edwards said. “This may conclude the story for now, but I think there might be opportunities in the future.”

The fire-rescue report outlined several areas where the two communities are already working together, including joint work on training, investigations and educational outreach. Mallek said the county already pays the city to provide additional coverage in the Pantops area.

“The development of a true mutual aid agreement is [expected],” Mallek said.
 

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