Albemarle supervisors keep requests alive during budget talks
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors wants more public input before making key spending decisions that will affect the ultimate real estate tax rate on which next year’s operating and capital adopted budget will be based.
The board voted 4-2 late Wednesday to advertise an tax rate, but at least four supervisors indicated they would not vote to support that rate in April. Once advertised, the calendar year tax rate can be lowered at the time of adoption, but not raised further.
Supervisors Jane Dittmar and Kenneth C. Boyd voted against advertising an tax rate.
Supervisors have left several of their funding requests on the table in advance of a series of town hall meetings that will be held this month before the next public hearing on the budget April 1.
These requests include more than $300,000 for two additional police officers and equipment for traffic patrol, which would be on top of County Executive Thomas Foley’s inclusion of extra funds for five other additional officers.
“I just think it’s important for this board to hear from our community on what they value,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel. “We’re creating a budget draft to take out to our community and get their feedback.”
In late February, Foley recommended a $371 million operating and capital budget that would include a one-cent real estate tax rate increase, to 80.9 cents per $100 of assessed value.
During a series of ensuing work sessions, supervisors asked for other items to be added for consideration.
Some supervisors wanted to ensure ongoing funding for the county’s Acquisition of Conservation Easement program. Foley had suggested the program be funded next year but not in following years unless another source of revenue could be identified.
Another budget request is $224,888 to add 38 slots to the county’s Bright Stars pre-K program for a total of 175 positions.
“This is a net number of what would be the local cost if we wanted to bring in two new classrooms,” said budget director Lori Allshouse. “You would also have to work with the school division to identify where those classrooms would be and whether the school system had room to do it.”
Supervisors want more information on how many slots can be filled without expanding the classrooms. That would lower the capital costs.
Another request is to add $54,929 to establish a natural-resources position in the community development department.
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she supports the position because the person will help enforce rural area protection ordinances.
“This individual would be proactive,” Palmer said. “The rural areas are the last priority for staff right now.”
On Wednesday, budget staffers said they wanted the board to make some final decisions on their requests so they could prepare a final document for the public hearing.
Since then, county staff has been seeking additional ways to provide funding to accommodate supervisors’ requests.
“We have been scrubbing revenues and expenditures and want to bring the most up-to-date picture to you,” Allshouse said.
For instance, state funding cutbacks were smaller than expected.
But the additional revenue was not enough to accommodate all the requests.
“This list is bigger than what you will have to balance the budget,” Foley said.
Another decision that remains to be made is whether county employees will get a 2 percent raise on Oct. 1 or Jan. 1. Postponing the raise for non-school employees would save the county $346,408.
The School Board also has an estimated $750,000 deficit in its proposed budget that must be resolved.
Supervisors also could not reach agreement on how to divide the additional revenue between the capital, operating and school budgets.
One major item was removed from the list of new initiatives.
Boyd withdrew his request to contribute a $122,000 local match to a crime-reduction grant requested by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail seen as a way to limit the jail’s need for expansion. Other supervisors said they needed more information to decide whether to proceed, and Boyd obliged.
Several supervisors said they will make final decisions after the town hall meetings and that other options also are on the table.
“At some point, we’re going to have to suggest where cuts need to occur, as well,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield. “We’re going to get pressure to hold to a certain tax rate. At some point, we need to suggest what is not a priority.”
Supervisors did decide to commit $2.2 million of funds leftover from the John W. Warner Parkway to ongoing sidewalk projects in the county.
“It was [the Virginia Department of Transportation’s] recommendation these funds be allocated to a series of projects already on our priority list,” said Bill Letteri, deputy county executive.
The move will allow sidewalk construction projects to continue past next year, though no new county money will be put into the program following the end of the next fiscal year.
The board will set new transportation priorities later this spring beginning with a work session also to be held April 1. This summer, supervisors are expecting to explore possible ways of raising more revenues next year, including a bond referendum.
The decision on whether to hold a referendum will be held after a work session and after a possible citizens committee on long-term financing is formed.
Supervisors will hold another budget work session April 6 and are expected to decide on a final tax rate at their meeting April 8.