As Albemarle staff begins preparing for the upcoming budget cycle, no major changes are planned to the way the county funds nonprofit agencies that provide social services or cultural activities.

“We plan to use the same criteria that we used last year,” said Lori Allshouse, the county’s director of budget and performance management.

Allshouse told supervisors at their meeting last week that there is about $18 million in funding for non-governmental or quasi-governmental agencies in the current fiscal year.

The vast majority of that amount — about $16.1 million — went to entities with which Albemarle has a contractual obligation such as the regional jail, Charlottesville Area Transit, the SPCA, Region Ten and the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.

These allocations are reviewed internally by budget staff.

Another $1.6 million was allocated to social services agencies on a discretionary basis after being vetted by a city-county group known as the Agency Budget Review Team.

“The ABRT team consists of city staff, county staff and community members,” Allshouse said.

Recipients include organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the local United Way, Albemarle Housing Improvement Program and the Charlottesville Free Clinic.

A much smaller amount — $42,000 — went to cultural agencies such as the Charlottesville Municipal Band, the Ash Lawn Opera and the Virginia Festival of the Book.

It is too early in the planning process for next year’s budget for Allshouse to predict how much funding will be available, she said. A preliminary forecast will be available in November, when the board has a work session on the five-year financial plan.

Prior to last week’s discussion of the ABRT process, Allshouse met with each supervisor to get their suggestions about how the overall budget process could be improved.

“[Many of] you had advised that you would continue to want us to look at the arts and cultural funding separate from the ABRT,” Allshouse said.

“This type of a process has been in place since the 1980s and evolved over the years,” Allshouse added.

For instance, beginning in 2001, funding has been weighted on whether specific outcomes were being met. In 2004, a point-based scoring system was added.

The ABRT also evaluates requests from arts and cultural nonprofits for the city’s budget. However, Albemarle staff opted to review those requests outside the ABRT process for the current fiscal year and recommended last week that they continue doing so in the upcoming budget, in part because some supervisors expressed concern last year about the review process.

Criteria for funding arts programs include whether the money would strengthen the county’s cultural heritage, if a program’s goals can be measured and if the organization is fiscally sound.  

Staff makes its recommendations to County Executive Thomas L. Foley Jr. and he ultimately decides what gets included in his suggested budget.

“We try to do the contributions by thresholds based on the impact to the community,” Allshouse said.

“Sometimes some of the bigger events have a lot more resources than the smaller ones, so impact for impact is not necessarily the fairest way,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek.

Mallek said she thinks county staff could use input from someone with experience in the arts community.

“Having somebody from the Piedmont Council of the Arts perhaps, because that is the state agency for our region for arts and culture,” Mallek said.

Mallek also asked if the ABRT has any policy that requires its members to disclose any associations they have with organizations that are applying for funding.

“We have been very diligent in the past about making sure that people declare [that],” said Gretchen Ellis, a human-resources planner who works for the city who helps oversee the ABRT.

Ellis said this year’s process will be different because the ABRT will be split into four subgroups that will not be reviewing each other’s work.

“There will be a team related to youth programs, a team related to health and safety, a team related to self-sufficiency and housing and a team related to the arts,” Ellis said. “People who might be employed by or involved with an organization that falls into one of those areas will not sit on a team that looks at any of their applications.”

The first meeting of the budget cycle will be Wednesday, when supervisors hold a joint meeting with the county School Board to discuss compensation. Allshouse will use that information to help calculate the five-year financial plan in advance of work sessions on Nov. 5 and Dec. 3.

Foley is expected to present his budget to supervisors Feb. 19.