By Sean Tubbs
Friday, February 25, 2011
“This budget totals just over $301 million and is balanced on the existing tax rate of 74.2 cents, resulting in a tax decrease, because of declining real estate assessments, for the average property owner for the second year in a row,” Foley said.
“This budget is very much about transformation, and fundamentally shifting how we approach the business of providing local government services,” he added.
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The proposed budget is a 3% increase over the budget adopted for the current fiscal year. The majority of the increase in revenues comes from the sale of bonds to pay for capital improvement projects.
Real estate assessments decreased 1.25% this year, the smallest decline since the downturn began according to Foley.
At a press briefing Thursday, Foley said this year’s budget was the first in several years that was not a reaction to sharp decreased in revenue.
“We’re seeing stabilization of our revenues,” Foley said. “That doesn’t mean our revenues are recovering. It just means that they’ve stopped falling. We have moved to supplementing our core services that have fallen behind over the last few years.”
For example, two police officer positions have been unfrozen by freezing three other full-time positions elsewhere in general government.
The county has a performance goal of having 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents, a goal it has not yet reached and won’t with the restored positions.
“The current authorized strength of the force is 123 officers,” said
, one of the county’s two assistant county executives. “This will not get us any closer to the 1.5.”
Foley’s budget also recommends unfreezing a deputy director position for social services.
“The one place we’ve tried to invest and shift staffing has been to social services because the needs have been so great,” Foley said.
Positions eliminated include a records clerk in the police department and an assistant director for parks and recreation. The position of facilities development director has been eliminated now that
is now serving as the other assistant county executive.
That brings the total number of frozen or eliminated positions to 66 since the downturn began.
“They’re not coming back,” Foley said. “The world has changed.”
Many of the positions have come from the community development department, which is responsible for reviewing land use applications. If the economy rebounds, that could mean staff will have more work to do but fewer people to do it.
“If we get more plans to review than we’ve had for a few years and the staffing is down, we’re in a process of looking at whether we need to restructure to do that,” Foley said.
“We have a group that looks at urban areas and one that looks at rural areas. Maybe those need to become one group so they can handle the workload in a different kind of way.”
County staff will receive a 1% salary increase, the first raise since FY2008.
For the first time, the county will also put 1% of revenues into a stabilization fund. That will set aside $2.6 million in a ‘rainy-day fund.” That’s in addition to a $744,000 contingency fund to address potential revenue short-falls.
Funds are also in the budget for the county to conduct a “target industry study” to assist with economic development efforts. The budget also includes funds to support the opening of
Several programs will be eliminated, including community policing, hunting control, and a housing down payment fund. No county funds will go toward the
Acquisition of Conservation Easements
(ACE) program, though it will continue to receive some grants and other sources of revenue.
Community agencies, including the
Jefferson-Madison Regional Library
, will receive a 1% increase in funding.
Last year’s proposed budget initially contained a 5% reduction in funds for the library and other community agencies. Supervisors agreed to level-fund the library after the Board of Trustees threatened to close the Scottsville or Crozet library.
“We hope to not have as much strife this year,” Foley said.
One remaining question is how much state funding Albemarle can expect, as the General Assembly has yet to conclude its budget process.
The first public hearing on the budget will be held on March 2, 2011. Supervisors will hold a series of work sessions in mid-March before a second public hearing on March 30. Adoption of the budget will be on April 6.