Albemarle’s five-year plan a challenge despite tax increase

County Executive Thomas L. Foley has presented Albemarle Supervisors with a five-year financial plan that calls for two 1-cent real estate property tax increases and the imposition of a stormwater utility fee.

However, Foley said the plan would still fall short of paying for key goals set forth by supervisors, such as an initiative to hire more police officers.

“While we were hoping the continuing economic recovery would help, the county finds itself … unable to meet its aspirations within current resources,” Foley said.

Foley said total requests for capital improvement projects from county departments were around $300 million, but the plan only projects $160 million in revenues for capital needs over the next five years.

Every year, the county begins the budget process with a forecast that projects anticipated operating and capital costs over the next five years. The plan is based on the current real estate property tax rate of 74.2 cents on every $100 of assessed value.

The plan presented by staff assumes a 1-cent increase beginning in fiscal year 2016 and another in fiscal year 2018. The revenue would be dedicated to capital improvement projects. It assumes no tax increase in fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014.

While supervisors will not set that tax rate until spring, staff uses the plan to show supervisors if their priorities can be met using current financial assumptions.

“The country is at a crossroads regarding our future direction as a community,” Foley said. “The county has been dealing with downturn while dealing with increasing population and mandates.”

Foley said it will be costly to increase contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, as well as comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s demand to reduce pollution that enters the Chesapeake Bay.

“Those will add $10 million to county’s obligations over the next five years,” Foley said.

The county dealt with the economic downturn by eliminating 66 positions, but an annual population increase of 1.8 percent has meant more people are using county services.

With population growth the county will continue to slip further in a goal to have 1.5 police officers per 1,000 residents. To achieve that benchmark, the county would need to hire an additional 27 officers. Foley said that won’t happen without additional funds.

“We’re barely keeping up and, with the way we’re growing, I don’t think we have enough in there for police officers at this point,” said Supervisor Duane E. Snow.

The budget picture for next fiscal year will become clearer when property assessments are released in January.  Foley said staff is currently assuming a increase in property values.

The plan also assumes a 2-percent salary increase for county employees in fiscal year 2015.

The stormwater management fee would be dedicated to what staff projects will be $1 million in additional expenditures to comply with more stringent regulations. She said the average property owner in Albemarle would pay around $20 a year.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he would not support the stormwater fee.

“If the fee applies to non-profits as it does in the city, I’m thinking more in terms of covering that through general revenue taxes,” Boyd said.

Foley said it will be a decision that will be made during the budget process and will come back for direction early in 2014.

“That’s an important decision that is upon us,” Foley said.

The plan also assumed no new funding for the county’s Acquisition of Conservation Easement program.

“I don’t think this board is going to support a plan that has nothing for ACE,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.

Supervisors will be presented with the School Board’s five-year plan at a work session Thursday.

The five-year plan will come back to the board at a Dec. 4 work session.

The budget process will begin officially at a Dec. 12 work session with the School Board.