Albemarle supervisors begin review of $371 million budget
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors began the process of reviewing a $371 million proposed budget for next fiscal year Tuesday by taking a look at possible changes to the county’s capital improvement plan.
The capital budget anticipates spending $46.3 million in the next fiscal year, with 58 percent of that going toward public safety. The school division would get $10.2 million and the parks department would get $2.6 million.
“This year was particularly challenging with our new approach to capital funding, which required moving some resources from capital and making a lot of last-minute changes,” said William Letteri, a deputy county executive.
The total budget recommended by County Executive Thomas Foley would provide a 2.3 percent salary increase for county employees next year and would add 15 employees, including five police officers.
Foley also has suggested a one-cent real estate tax rate increase to expand fire-rescue services and to consolidate their revenue sources into one dedicated fund. That would bring the tax rate up to 80.9 cents per $100 of assessed value.
To balance the budget, Foley has recommended capital funds be taken from the Acquisition of Conservation Easements program, school modernization and sidewalk construction.
While those areas would receive funding in the next fiscal year, there would be no further investment in those three areas in order to continue to pay for the new and restored positions unless new sources of revenue are identified.
For instance, funding for the Acquisition of Conservation Easements program has been reduced to $250,000 in the next fiscal year with no identified funding source after that.
“That is a departure from the oversight committee recommendation, but this year is really about looking at core services versus enhanced services,” said Trevor Henry, the county’s facilities development director.
A first phase of an Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle High School would be funded, as would renovation of a county fire-rescue facility on Berkmar Drive.
There would be funding for a small-area plan around the future Rio Road grade-separated interchange. There also would be funding for some sort of replacement for the Ivy Materials Utilization Center, though a solution has not yet been decided.
Henry said the county will receive a $2.3 million windfall from the Virginia Department of Transportation because the John Warner Parkway came in under budget. Staff has recommended using that money for a sidewalk on Ivy Road, as well as crosswalks on Rio Road and on U.S. 250 in Crozet near the Harris Teeter.
The county had anticipated using VDOT’s revenue-sharing program to advance those projects. That program matches a locality’s contribution by up to $10 million.
Other sidewalk projects that have been partially financed through the VDOT program will continue to proceed. They are a sidewalk on the northern portion of Crozet Avenue, a sidewalk at South Pantops Drive and an asphalt walkway on Old Lynchburg Road. Staff held a design public hearing on a project to add sidewalks on Barracks Road and Hydraulic Road.
One county planner said VDOT has discouraged Albemarle from making another application.
“They strongly suggested that we clear some of these projects off and get them done,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning. “The ones we are working on are important because they provide access to transit, Region Ten and elementary schools.”
Some supervisors expressed surprise at the recommendation and wanted to know if other projects could get funded by the windfall.
“I’m sitting here thinking about how we need a way to get across U.S. 29 at Forest Lakes and U.S. 250 so we can connect our growth areas,” Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said. “We need to start thinking outside the box about how to connect our neighborhoods with our shopping centers.”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said supervisors should debate how the windfall should be used.
“What’s the best use of the money to stretch it as far as possible?” McKeel asked.
Supervisor Brad Sheffield said he wants more information on all of the projects and how they are being funded and when they can be expected to return.
“The underlying frustration is putting all this money in all these different pots and never come to a head,” Sheffield said.
Foley said the feedback was welcomed, and the point of the work sessions was to check in on priorities.
“That’s what the point of what this whole budget has been about,” he said.
Supervisors also discussed a potential bond referendum in November 2016 to fund specific capital improvements.
While a decision on whether to proceed with a referendum will be made outside the budget cycle, they reached consensus that school modernization, additional sidewalk construction and parks infrastructure might make good candidates. They also discussed potentially funding the ACE program through bonds.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of four work sessions to review the budget and was focused on the capital improvement program.
A work session on the school budget and general government budget will be held Thursday.
The tax rate will have to be set March 3 and will depend on whether supervisors want to fund additional projects.
March 11 will be the day in which the board makes its final decisions about the budget that will go to a public hearing April 1. The tax rate will have its own public hearing on April 8, followed by adoption of the budget April 14.