The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors made two key decisions about the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 on Tuesday, including a vote to retain a 2-percent salary increase.
However, supervisors must hold another discussion next week to put finishing touches on a $376 million operating and capital budget that includes a property tax rate increase of 2.5 cents. If adopted, the rate would be 84.4 cents per $100 of assessed real estate property value.
“We just want to be able to do everything we can to bring this budget to a close,” said County Executive Tom Foley.
Supervisor Rick Randolph suggested the tax rate could be reduced if raises for staff could be delayed until 2017.
“The conditions with the budget justify us being extra careful of pay increases, and I’m well aware of the impact that will have,” Randolph said.
However other supervisors said they would rather support staff than invest in infrastructure.
“There’s no way I’m going to spend millions on sidewalks and fire stations but not our employees,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
Supervisors voted 4-2 to keep the 2-percent increase in, with Supervisor Ann H. Mallek joining Randolph to oppose the motion.
The other issue decided by supervisors was what to do with additional money that had been set aside in the proposed budget to pay for increases in health care costs.
“It has been a challenging environment for us to project health care costs,” said Deputy County Executive Bill Letteri.
The county built its proposed budget based on anticipated increases of 14.5 percent, but now estimates only a 9 percent increase based on claims made so far this calendar year.
In the absence of budget or tax-rate reductions, that currently makes around $1.1 million available for one-time expenditures. By policy that amount is split between the school system and local government operations.
Supervisors agreed to direct its $270,000 in health-care savings for fiscal year 2017 towards the capital budget. They agreed to release $887,000 in funds designated for the school system but warned the Albemarle School Board against using them for ongoing expenses.
Supervisors also heard directly from Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci about a funding request that would allow for the hiring of another assistant attorney to help with growing caseloads caused by an increasing population.
“This position is elected, but it cannot be political,” Tracci said. “We have been asked to do more with less over the last few years.”
Tracci said he understood the budget climate is difficult but said the county currently has about one commonwealth’s attorney per every 19,000 residents. He said Stafford County, with a similar population as Albemarle, has one attorney per 7,500 residents.
In all, the commonwealth’s attorney wants $10,700 in the current year and $42,900 for the next fiscal year to make one part-time position full-time.
Supervisors will hold a public hearing and take a vote on the tax rate on April 12, followed by final adoption on April 13.
On either one of those days, supervisors will need to make last-minute decisions about what to do with additional unallocated funds. For instance, the county has an additional $40,000 that had been budgeted for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail but is no longer being requested.
Possible considerations are restoring some funding requested by the Offender Aid and Restoration nonprofit, increasing funding for a school resource officer, the commonwealth’s attorney’s request and additional funding for the county’s Acquisition for Conservation Easements program.