The Albemarle Board of Supervisors adopted a $375.5 million operating and capital budget Wednesday based on a 2-cent increase in the property tax.
That’s a half cent less than recommended by County Executive Tom Foley, and it creates a larger deficit for the county school system to close as they consider their budget.
“You never know until they vote what they’re going to do,” said Albemarle County Public Schools Superin-tendent Pam Moran.
Adoption of the budget came after nearly three hours of debate over the tax rate.
In March, supervisors voted 4-2 to advertise a 2.5-cent increase in the tax rate, from 81.9 cents to 84.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.
But Supervisor Brad Sheffield surprised staff and some supervisors by voting against that increase, result-ing in a 3-3 stalemate.
Supervisors Ann H. Mallek and Richard Randolph had voted against the tax rate because of a 2-percent sal-ary increase for county employees included in the budget.
“My effort was to try not to penalize county employees,” Randolph said. “Given this budget of austerity, I felt we needed to share sacrifice to move the county forward.”
However, Sheffield was concerned a portion of the tax rate that had been set aside for capital programs such as sidewalks.
“I have an issue with building sidewalks when we can’t even pay the debt we already have,” Sheffield said. “I am not going to vote for a tax increase that supports projects I don’t support.”
The reduction in the tax rate creates an $800,000 deficit split between local government and the school sys-tem.
Supervisors opted to close most of their portion by eliminating funding for the Acquisition of Conservation Easements program that had been tentatively allocated after a public hearing on Tuesday. They also used $10,000 from a contingency fund. They also reduced the capital improvement budget by $79,000.
That leaves the school system with an additional $448,000 deficit.
Funding for the easements program could return if the county has a budget surplus following an audit of the current fiscal year.
Sheffield had suggested the county could save $1.6 million in the five-year capital improvement program by eliminating several sidewalk projects paid through the Virginia Department of Transportation’s revenue-sharing program.
However, County Attorney Larry W. Davis said VDOT has already begun work on some of the sidewalk projects and that if supervisors canceled them, they would have to reimburse the state agency. He also sug-gested VDOT would take those cancellations into consideration when the county makes future applications.
“There are potential consequences going forward,” Davis said. “I would advise that is not a good strategy for balancing future budgets.”
Sheffield said he wished he had been more articulate in making his concerns known earlier in the budget process, which began in late February.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t want to build these things,” Sheffield said. “… It just means our assessments did not go up enough to fund the aspirations we have for those kinds of capital improvements.”
The tax increase passed on a 5-1 vote, with Supervisor Diantha McKeel voting no. She supported the higher tax rate in order to help fund the county’s growing needs.
Because the discussion went on longer than expected, supervisors did not have a preliminary discussion on how to proceed with a bond referendum expected to be on the ballot this November.
Albemarle schools must adopt their budget by May 15. The School Board meets on Thursday.