Albemarle Supervisors briefed on $179 million capital budget

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors was briefed Wednesday on details of the county’s proposed capital improvement plan, a document that prioritizes infrastructure spending over the next five years.

The proposed capital budget totals $179.2 million, according to county budget documents. However, the plan could change during the budget cycle to reflect the priorities of the four supervisors who were elected last year.

“We review it every year and just because it is set in place this year doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t change because it will be reviewed,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.  

Trevor Henry, the county’s facilities development director, said capital improvement program planning begins when county departments are asked to submit requests in the summer. Last year, department leaders made about $300 million in requests that were ranked by an oversight committee against the county’s strategic plan goals and other factors.

Budget director Lori Allshouse said public safety spending makes up 26 percent of the five-year plan, school spending comprises 32 percent, and renovation and expansion of county courts will be about 17 percent.

“Over the next five years, these [categories] are the lion’s share of the CIP,” Allshouse said.

Last May, supervisors directed staff to begin planning to renovate the court buildings in their existing location in downtown Charlottesville. Additional details are expected at the supervisors’ meeting next week.

“The FY 2015 budget includes money to start the design process for the renovation,” Henry said, adding it will take seven years to complete the renovations and expansions.

McKeel pointed out that the school division’s share of the plan has shrunk since she was elected to the school board in 1997.

“It is valid to recognize that the school division is down to about 33 percent of the CIP,” McKeel said. “It used to be a much higher number. When I came on the school board it was more than 50 percent.”

The biggest source of revenue in the capital program is from borrowed money.

“From the taxpayer’s perspective, a lot of times if you’re building a library it is best to debt fund it because you have the public paying it over 20 years versus everyone here today paying for a library that will be here for decades,” Allshouse said.

Unfunded public safety requests include a robot to sniff for bombs, a police substation for Crozet, and a “mobile surveillance unit.”

In the next fiscal year, staff also recommended money be allocated to construct sidewalks on Crozet Avenue, Hydraulic Road, Barracks Road, and South Pantops Boulevard.

“We’re pulling down that money every year and since we can’t afford to do any roads, we just do a bunch of sidewalks,” County Executive Thomas L. Foley said. He added supervisors could change that policy.

No funding was recommended for video streaming of county meetings or enhancements to the county’s website.

“That is a request that was ranked very low based on the criteria and so is not funded but that may be the kind of thing the board collectively says they feel strongly about,” Henry said.

The county’s CIP still also contains a $2 million contribution to the Piedmont Family YMCA’s long-planned aquatics facility in McIntire Park.

“It’s my understanding the YMCA now is intending to start construction sometime this calendar year,” County Attorney Larry Davis said.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he wants to see the YMCA’s business plan before the money is appropriated to meet the request.

The CIP would also include $3.4 million for the Acquisition of Conservation Easements program. That could allow for easements to be purchased for up to 500 acres.

Funding in the first year of the plan includes a dedication of a third of a cent of the tax rate to the program.

Supervisors will consider details of the general fund budget on Friday and will set an advertised tax rate after discussing the school system’s request on Monday.

At the end of the public hearing, Supervisor Liz Palmer had asked what the tax rate would need to be so that the average home owner paid the same amount of property tax in 2009.

That rate would be 82.3 cents per $100 of assessed value, according to Lori Allshouse.

“That would generate $8.5 million more in revenue than the current rate,” Allshouse said. That would be $6.2 million more than provided under the 1.7 cent tax rate increase County Executive Thomas L. Foley proposed.