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Committee to explore Albemarle’s long-term funding needs

The number of people who live in Albemarle continues to grow, and county officials are looking for new ways to help pay for the increased services that come with a growing population.

“For the last year, we’ve talked about a funding gap between revenues and expenditures,” County Executive Tom Foley said.

In January, the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia estimated that Albemarle’s population on July 1, 2014 was 103,707. The center’s demographers project that number to increase to 134,196 in 2030 and 154,814 in 2040.

In April, supervisors voted 4-2 to increase the real estate property tax rate by 2 cents to 81.9 cents per $100 of assessed value. However, the county’s five-year financial plan indicates that more revenue needs to be raised to meet priorities identified by supervisors in the Comprehensive Plan.

To prevent or defray the need for additional property tax increases, the Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to convene a committee of eight-10 people who will be asked to study alternatives.

“What we want to do is to get the group very well-grounded in why we have a funding gap and make sure they realize it is not because we have all these super-ambitious new things,” Foley said.

For instance, Foley said, Albemarle ranks near the bottom of Virginia localities in terms of police officers per capita. An increase in people also creates a need for more school classrooms and firefighters.

Other supervisors identified the need for new infrastructure.

“Something needs to be in our planning as to how we’re going to deal with pedestrian and bicycle crossings for U.S. 29 and U.S. 250 because [the roads] are splitting our neighborhoods,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.

The committee will study whether service districts might be created in order to raise additional revenue to pay for infrastructure in specific geographic districts.

They will also study whether to pay for new school capacity through selling additional bonds and whether the county might get permission from the state to levy taxes that cities are allowed to enact such as one on cigarettes.

Committee members will be selected by supervisors with assistance from the School Board, a move that Supervisor Diantha McKeel, who served four terms on the School Board, said pleased her.

“The two sides of Albemarle government are coming together to find out what’s best for the entire organization and our community,” McKeel said. “I think this will be informative for everybody.”

Boyd said he hoped that all sectors of the community are represented on the committee.

“What I think we’ve lost in past committees that we’ve put together is that we don’t get enough private businesspeople,” Boyd said.

The committee is expected to issue its recommendations by the beginning of November.

Around the same time, supervisors will be presented with a new version of the five-year financial plan.

That document guides budgetary decisions over several years and helps determine if the county can pay for infrastructure in the capital improvement program. By then, supervisors will have also finally adopted a new Comprehensive Plan.

“Our objective with the five-year plan is always to engage with the big issues and get some direction [from supervisors] that helps us put a budget together,” Foley said. “The five-year plan this year may look very different.”

Supervisors on Wednesday also adopted a series of new strategic plan objectives to work on in the next two or three years.

These included developing small-area plans for the Rio Road interchange vicinity and the Rivanna River corridor.

Another objective is to establish a plan to expand the number of children who can attend pre-kindergarten classes.

“We’re proposing we focus now on moving ahead to finalize some direction and develop a plan based on a lot of the work that’s been done in the last year,” said Louise Wyatt, the county’s organization development manager.

Another initiative will be the expansion of a water resources management program to comply with federal and state mandates to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The county plans to hold an open house June 24 to discuss the need for a water resources program and potential funding opportunities. The city of Charlottesville enacted a stormwater utility fee to pay for its expanded program.