Albemarle’s county executive has presented the Board of Supervisors with a total budget of $349,287,622 for fiscal year 2015, an increase of 8.3 percent over the current year. County schools face an almost $6 million funding gap in the proposal.
In order to deal with state mandates, Thomas L. Foley’s recommended budget includes a real estate property tax increase of 1.7 cents over the current rate of $0.766 per $100 of assessed value.
“This budget is very modest in terms of dealing with critical things we felt we’ve had to do, but a lot of things are left undone,” Foley said at a briefing to the media on Thursday.
Foley’s presentation marks the official beginning of Albemarle’s budget process. This will be the first budget cycle for four new Supervisors who were elected in November.
“There’s a new majority that has some thoughts for what they’d like to see accomplished while they’re in office,” Foley said.
Foley said his recommended operating budget of $238,965,441 for both schools and general government is up 2.6 percent over last year.
Under Foley’s proposal, seven-tenths of a cent will be dedicated to the county’s water resources protection program. The other penny would go to the general fund, with 60 percent of the new revenues being devoted to help the school system.
One of the topics during the Supervisor’s deliberations in March will be how to bridge a divide between Foley’s budget and the request from the Albemarle County School Board.
“We think that even with the additional inclusion of local revenues in the school division’s budget request, we’ll continue to have a funding gap of $5.8 million,” said Lori Allshouse, the county’s director of budget and performance management.
Foley said the economy has not recovered at the pace he and his staff had expected. Additionally, the county is facing several state mandates such as paying for a greater share of employee’s pensions and meeting more stringent water quality goals.
“These have been huge drivers and on the Board’s agenda for the last two years,” Foley said. “We have now come to the point where we have to pay for those mandates.”
Foley said the county will need to find more revenue to comply with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s stormwater management program. The City of Charlottesville opted to pay for its program by levying a stormwater utility fee, but the county has not yet decided to follow suit.
“We are shortly going to be starting a process with the community to determine whether the ultimate cost of stormwater ought to be borne by a stormwater utility fee or the tax rate,” Foley said. “There are three options we’re looking at and we’ll have roundtables and will form a committee.”
Increases in the capital improvement budget can be attributed to the opening of the Crozet Library as well as the planned opening of a new Northside Library in October.
Foley opted to include $160,000 to fund creation of a new economic development department with a full-time director, even though Supervisors have not yet approved the venture.
Foley said some positive signs are reflected in the budget, such as a one percent increase in property assessments. Real estate property taxes comprise the largest source of revenue in the budget.
“For the first time in five years, our property values are not declining,” Foley said. “That’s great news but there’s not a great story here about revenue and the economy growth that’s going to help pay for some of these demands that we’re faced with.”
The recommended budget also provides funds to hire three additional police officers, though Foley said the county will continue to fall short of a strategic plan goal to have 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents.
Foley said the vision guiding the strategic plan for a “thriving” Albemarle.
“This is something that needs a lot of discussion by a new Board of Supervisors,” Foley said. “This year’s budget takes modest steps to deal with critical issues and critical mandates.”
For instance, the budget reflects an 8 percent increase in health care costs for Albemarle employees.
A public hearing will be held on Monday at Lane Auditorium beginning at 6:00 p.m. After a series of work sessions, Supervisors will decide on a tax rate to advertise on March 3. A second public hearing will be held on April 8, and the board will adopt the budget on April 15.
The Board’s five year financial plan already assumes two additional pennies on the tax rate through FY2019.
“There are future tax increases to pay for court expansion and renovation and for public safety improvements that are necessary,” Foley said.