As Albemarle County continues its rebound from the recession, the Board of Supervisors spent several hours Wednesday reflecting on what direction to take the county.
“The board does not often get a chance to sit back and think about the big picture,” said Louise Wyatt, the county’s organizational development manager.
Every year, the board holds a strategic retreat before the budget development process begins in the fall. This year’s retreat was held at Morven Farm, an estate given to the University of Virginia Foundation by the late John Kluge in 2001.
Topics ranged from additional funding for the capital improvement programming, the state of landscaping along county roads, and improving transit and sidewalks.
While no decisions were made at the meeting, all six supervisors said they want to spend more money on capital improvement projects. Foley said property values were trending upward, which could mean additional revenues for that purpose.
“We want to have more than a maintenance [-oriented] capital improvement program going forward and we want to arrange our financing to get that into place,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
In 2012, supervisors agreed to a 2-cent increase in the real estate property tax rate, which enabled construction of the Crozet library.
“Achieving a number of these things depends on revenues and certainly the improving economy has made it possible to move forward on some things we did not think we could move forward with two or three years ago,” Rooker said.
However, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said his support for investing in more capital programs should not be interpreted as support to increase the tax rate to do so.
“How we get there is something we have to spend some time on,” Foley said.
Throughout the day, supervisors made other comments about where they’d like to see the county invest funds.
Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas said he wanted to help boost the county’s participation in Charlottesville Area Transit, citing the success of the new Route 11, which connects Fashion Square mall with downtown Charlottesville.
However, Boyd said he would need more information into whether transit – and biking and walking—is a choice people want to make.
“Huge numbers of people prefer single-person vehicles,” Boyd said. “I don’t want to just throw money [at transit]. We have to find out if there’s a need.”
Rooker said the county does not do a good job of maintaining landscaping along public right of way compared to Charlottesville. Supervisor Duane E. Snow suggested that partnerships could be formed with schools and scouting troops to beautify key locations.
Supervisor William “Petie” Craddock suggested corporations could be asked to sponsor landscaping, similar to a program that operates in Lynchburg.
Snow wanted the county to focus on sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian trails. He also said the county should help facilitate redevelopment of old buildings as times change.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she wanted the county to continue investing in making its own buildings energy efficient.
Boyd said county government needs to downsize and its citizens and nonprofits need to become more self-reliant.
“I don’t think people should be looking to the county every time they need help,” Boyd said. He repeated a call he made earlier this month that funding for nonprofit organizations should go toward county services, such as hiring more police officers.
At least three supervisors wanted the county to find a way to begin putting money back into the Acquisition of Conservation Easements program. The county eliminated its own funding to the program several years ago, which operates today solely on state funding.
“There’s got to be a resource somewhere we can get to build that program back up,” Thomas said.
Rooker said funding the program will be ultimately be a matter of budgetary priorities as the staff and the board prepare a budget for next fiscal year.
“The question is, will we find a way to pay for that program?” Rooker said.
Of the six Supervisors present, only Boyd and Mallek are guaranteed to be there in January when the next board convenes. Snow and Thomas are up for re-election, Craddock is an interim supervisor who will be replaced in a November special election, and Rooker is retiring after 12 years in office.