Faced with the impacts of a growing population, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors has begun wrestling with how to pay for increased infrastructure one month after completing the upcoming fiscal year’s budget process.
“The process has really started for next year,” said Trevor Henry, the county’s facilities development manager. “On the heels of the approval by the board [in April] we’re already looking at next year.”
In April, the board enacted a two-cent real estate tax rate increase, to 81.9 cents of $100 of assessed value. However, several supervisors have expressed concern that the increase will not do enough to address the needs of a locality that has now topped 100,000 residents.
Supervisors held a work session Wednesday to address ways to derive new revenue to address the county’s long-term capital needs.
During budget work sessions, the board asked staff to come up with new ideas for how to fund Albemarle’s infrastructure needs.
Staff identified over $258 million in requested projects that were not funded in the adopted capital budget for the five-year period that begins July 1. Of that number, $133 million was in requests from the school system.
Henry said that would likely be classified an “enhancement” under the county’s definition.
“We would be adding square footage or capacity to a building,” he said.
However, supervisors and staff agreed that the word “enhancement” could be seen as subjective.
“It could be that ‘enhancement’ makes it sound like it’s a nice to-do, but it really is about keeping up with growth …,” said county executive Thomas Foley.
“I’m mainly concerned about how it’s prioritized,” Palmer said.
Foley agreed that it is important for the county to get the words right.
But some supervisors took issue with that classification because it made it seem like some infrastructure upgrades were optional.
“I think we need to prioritize them differently,” Palmer said.
Palmer also pointed out that Albemarle has budgeted $3 million over the next five years to replace windows at the County Office Building on McIntire Road. She suggested that the money could be used to help Red Hill Elementary both modernize and expand its footprint.
Wednesday’s conversation also addressed how Albemarle government would address urban amenities such as sidewalks
Specifically, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd wanted to know how the county might find money to build grade-separated pedestrian crossings over U.S. 250 on Pantops or U.S 29 in the Places29 area.
“I’m very interested in some sort of pedestrian and bicycle crossing, but I don’t know how to get that onto any list,” Boyd said. “There’s no real path for us to make suggestions.”
David Benish, the county’s chief of planning, said he was working on ways to turn that concept into reality.
“We will try to investigate those and try to figure out a strategy by which to implement those,” Benish said. “We clearly hear that as a priority.”
Foley said he and other staff members have heard the need to fund infrastructure loud and clear, but many sidewalk projects may not necessarily be priorities.
“An addition for a school because we have more students is not an enhancement, but a sidewalk and the [Acquisition of Conservation Easements] need to be defined by [supervisors] as something we’re going to fund,” Foley said.
Another looming question is whether the county will opt to fund a fire station to serve the Pantops area.
“In 2016, what is in the recommendation is to fund around $250,000 for its design,” Henry said. “If a decision is made to defer that work, we wouldn’t start work on that until the board authorized it.”
Discussions about capital funding often span multiple years, and encompass decisions made by several different iterations of the Board of Supervisors
For instance, supervisors decided in 2009 to dedicate three cents of the tax rate solely to the capital fund.
“I remember my first budget very clearly and seeing that chunk going there, and then the very next year it came under attack,” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said.
The county at that time was experiencing the effects of a national economic downturn, and the money set aside in the tax rate for capital needs was placed back to support operational needs.
Despite the recession, the county’s population continued to increase, leading to more school students and a need for increased infrastructure spending.
This summer, the county will convene a committee to discuss long-term strategies for raising additional revenue without increasing the real estate tax rate.
“I intend on communicating with residents about our capital situation and I’d like to be able to tell them how we think we can solve the problem we are in,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
Possible options to raise additional revenue for school and other governmental infrastructure include selling bonds and creating special tax districts to pay for sidewalks and additional transit service.