Albemarle officials tweak growing Albemarle budget
When Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson unveiled his first operating and capital budget in mid-February, the amount was $428.5 million.
That amount has increased in part because officials in the county’s Office of Management and Budget staff altered the budget cycle this year by adding an additional step in early March that would give a clearer picture of future revenues by including more recent data on tax collections.
“The bottom line is that there is almost $1 million in additional revenue for your consideration,” said Lori Allshouse, the county’s budget director. “Three more months of data makes much better projections.”
One supervisor supported the change.
“It would seem like to me that this process… will certainly tighten up those June numbers that we’re seeing,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said at a March 27 budget work session. “In the past we’ve had more revenues come in June than we anticipated because we were using the numbers from December.”
But what to do with the $956,000 in additional revenue?
Budget staff asked the board if they wanted the additional revenue to be shared with Albemarle County Public Schools based on a formula that automatically allocates a certain percentage for education.
“The School Division would receive $468,450 of this number,” Allshouse said. “The capital projects and debt would receive $95,864 and general government would be $391,976.”
The alternative would be to use the funds as one-time money for local government operations.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway said the board should continue to use the formula to apply those funds.
“This is sounding a lot like a conversation we have around surplus funds,” Gallaway said. “That’s not what this is. In the future doing this update we could have the reverse happen. You could have a negative. What’s the most fair way to split up a negative? I would be looking to the formula.”
“We want to make sure that we’re basing our budget on accurate, up-to-date data every year and that we’re not getting into an argument about what was precedent-setting,” she said. “We have a formula and that seems like that’s what we need to follow.”
Allshouse said any surpluses at the end of the year are not determined by the formula.
“End-of-the-year funding is really one-time in nature,” Allshouse said.
A potential effect of having the data earlier is that supervisors may have additional revenue to stave off any real property tax rate that may be projected in Richardson’s budget.
“It has happened over the years that in June we ended up with more revenues than we had in December, and we raised taxes,” McKeel said. “This cleans up the process and makes it more a lot more clear for the public and for us.”
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to use the formula.
At the March 27 work session, supervisors also discussed funding requests by nonprofit agencies who had submitted proposals to the Agency Budget Review Team process. The city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County both appoint members to the ABRT to evaluate proposals.
During the budget process, many groups that did not receive their full request lobby for additional funding.
The first discussed was a request from the Legal Aid Justice Center. The group had requested $48,735 from the county but Richardson’s budget only granted $38,700, the same amount in the current fiscal year.
“That’s a solid program that is strong alignment with our values,” said Supervisor Norman Dill, adding that other agencies in the same funding category received a three percent increase.
Gretchen Ellis, a city employee who oversees the ABRT process on behalf of the city and county, explained that the county opted to level-fund any agency that scored between 80 and 90 on a 100 point scale.
“Organizations that received a three percent increase were rated exemplary which was a score between 90 and 100,” Ellis said.
Dill also advocated partially funding a $13,000 request from the Local Food Hub.
“I think there’s a lot of alignment with our small business development and helping local entrepreneurs,” Dill said.
Ellis said the Local Food Hub requested $22,750 from the city.
“Their work on the county side is more on the farmers’ side than educating people,” Ellis said.
“In the city most of the program is the Fresh Farmacy which is educating people about using healthy foods,” Ellis said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she could support their full request.
“We’re trying to find markets for our farmers,” Palmer said.
Dill also advocated for funding the group Sin Barreras, an organization that helps immigrants acclimate to the area. They had asked for $12,000 and their request was not recommended by the ABRT.
“I think they have a very valuable program that helps immigrants from Latin America and South America that comes with things like how to register for school, how to navigate the bus system and where to go for workforce training,” Dill said, adding $5,000 would be a symbolic gesture to show that Albemarle welcomes immigrants.
Supervisor Rick Randolph opposed any moves to go against the recommendations of the ABRT.
“This process was set up to have a procedure that was non-political in nature,” Randolph said. “And now we’re politicizing them if we support these organizations that were not recommended. I agree they are worthy but there are plenty of other worthy organizations.”
Dill countered that the recommendation for Sin Barreras was rated as a solid and that the ABRT recommended funding at that level if available.
“If we follow your advice we should fund the ones that they recommend instead of giving up our responsibility for oversight,” Dill said.
The additional requests were not added to the budget.
The Board of Supervisors also was asked to consider various unfunded positions that had been requested from various departments.
That includes $55,000 to help pay for the “therapeutic docket” that began recently as an alternative set of court procedures for those with mental illness. The project is a recommendation of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Evidence-Based Decision Making Policy Team.
“This is a grant funded program and the grant ends at the end of this fiscal year,” said deputy county executive Doug Walker. “Absent any additional funding that’s available on July 1, the therapeutic docket will suspend.”
Six people are currently being served according to Walker and another five cases are pending.
“There’s an expectation for up to 50 more,” Walker said. “The actual funding supports some part-time positions at Offender Aid and Registration, which has taken on the docket management; and Region 10, which is taking on responsibility for providing the actual services for these individuals.”
An equal request has been made of the city.
The Board of Supervisors voted to support the therapeutic docket contingent on support from the Charlottesville City Council. Randolph was the lone vote against. He said he supported the program but noted that the request was made outside of the usual cycle for budget requests.
McKeel said the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Board has not yet discussed the issue and will not do so before their next meeting in May.
There was also a $16,667 request to open the Ivy Materials Utilization Center a month earlier than anticipated
“I think it’s important given what’s happening in the trash world right now to try to open that up sooner rather than later,” Palmer said.
In February, the owners of the Van der Linde Recycling Facility in Fluvanna County announced its closure, prompting solid waste haulers to find alternatives.
Palmer’s motion to open the center earlier passed.
Other requests included $52,027 for an additional police records clerk, $680,744 for multiple fire-rescue positions and $59,519 for a full-time position to support the work of the county’s broadband initiatives.
Another request to fund an additional sheriff’s deputy at a cost of $79,000 was approved by the Board of Supervisors.
The police department currently has eight records clerks but are seeking to increase that number to ten.
“Right now when one person calls in sick we’re either filling it with an officer from the street or we’re having to bring in a clerk on their day off to fill it,” said Police Chief Ron Lantz.
The supervisors voted unanimously to approve the police records clerk.
On the broadband position, supervisors opted instead to convert an existing half-time position to full-time at an additional cost of $26,000.
One of the highest priorities within the request from the fire-rescue department is $90,822 for a full-time emergency medical services instructor. Fire Chief Dan Eggleston said the county has traditionally contracted out those services but that is becoming harder to do.
“Most volunteer rescue squads use EMT classes to recruit directly so it’s really important for us to maintain that level of service for the volunteers,” Eggleston said. “I think we will always have a demand for people who want to take EMT classes. If we don’t provide it we’ll see a continued downturn in terms of volunteers.”
McKeel asked if there was a way the county could partner with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital or the University of Virginia Medical Center. Eggleston said Sentara will be involved with the new Pantops station and that UVA classes are focused on internal staff.
“The hospital has to have a good EMS system but their training is for internal staff mostly at the advanced level,” Eggleston said. “They don’t have a big need to train EMTs.”
Randolph said he could not support the position without a fuller report on the results of a recent federal grant the county received to train emergency medical technicians.
McKeel said she wanted the department to investigate partnering with the city.
“I think there are some savings there,” McKeel said. “Before I support this I want to talk about a return on investment for the possibility of that contract with the city.”
Eggleston said the city doesn’t have as much of a need.
“We’ve got a staff of 700 when we add the volunteers and there’s a lot of turnover,” Eggleston said. “There’s a big demand for a continuous training. The city would benefit to some degree but they just don’t have the scale.”
Some supervisors wanted to delay a decision on whether to fund the position at this time, but Mallek thought it was important to take a vote.
The vote on the EMT training position passed 4-2 with McKeel and Randolph voting against.