The Albemarle Board of Supervisors is moving closer to holding a bond referendum in November to pay for capital projects that are currently unfunded, but will not choose which ones would go before voters until after the capital budget is adopted in April.
“Before you go out on a referendum, you need to have some certainty about the projects that the public is going to vote on,” said County Attorney Larry Davis.
The topic came up during a work session Thursday on the proposed $34.9 million capital improvement budget for fiscal year 2017.
“Our capital program that is being recommended continues to meet our funding obligations, our mandates and our maintenance replacement program,” said Trevor Henry, director of the county’s facilities and environmental services department.
“Sixty percent of what is in our [capital] budget is maintenance and replacement,” he said.
The recommended capital program for next year includes $3.25 million for construction of a public safety station on Pantops and $5.1 million to modernize Red Hill Elementary School.
The total proposed five-year capital budget is about $143.7 million, and some supervisors expressed concern that won’t be enough to meet the county’s growing needs.
“This five-year plan that we have has no new school projects in it for the entire five years except for at Red Hill,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “That is a serious concern.”
McKeel, who spent 16 years on the county School Board, suggested that the Pantops station could be reduced in scope to help pay for $1 million in design work for an addition to Woodbrook Elementary School.
“If we don’t get started on the design phase, they are never going to get those children into classrooms,” McKeel said.
Henry said he would review the capital program to see if he can find money elsewhere for the Woodbrook design. That will be among the items discussed by supervisors at their next budget work session, on Tuesday.
A total of $205 million in requests for 90 projects are not funded through the next five years. That number increases to $375 million when a 10-year capital needs assessment is factored in.
Staff had recommended waiting until at least the 2018 general election to issue bonds, but a majority of supervisors said they wanted to proceed.
“There are certainly some years where you would not want to do it at all based on low voter turnout, but it does seem to me that a presidential year is the year you would want to do this,” McKeel said.
The board will decide on which projects to include at a May work session. They would then need to amend the capital budget for fiscal year 2017.
“What’s required is that you have adopted a CIP plan that includes the projects,” said Bill Letteri, the deputy county executive.
In May, the School Board would have to agree to include educational facilities as part of the bond package. Supervisors would have to request the referendum in June for the Circuit Court to approve it by July or August. The referendum would be considered a special election, even though it would be on the same day as the general election
“Then you would embark on this whole public information campaign as it relates to the bond referendum itself until the November election,” Letteri said.
“All of us really want to do something about the schools’ capacity issues,” said Supervisor Norman Dill.
It’s also possible bond proceeds could pay for a portion of a project to expand Albemarle’s court system to cope with increasing caseloads.
The proposed capital budget anticipates spending $31.7 million in the next five years on renovations and additions for the county general district court and other judicial facilities.
Charlottesville’s proposed capital budget calls for spending $500,000 in 2017 to pay for design for a facility that would be shared with Albemarle. The city also would spend $7 million in fiscal year 2019 on construction.
Supervisors will get a full update on the courts project April 6, including alternatives outside of the city of Charlottesville.