Albemarle County’s transition to a year-round budget process continued Tuesday as the Board of Supervisors ranked possible strategic priorities to determine how limited resources will be used.
“Priority-driven budgeting is used to focus limited resources to meet the most important goals,” said assistant county executive Lee Catlin. “It results in prioritizing certain services over others.”
For years, Albemarle staff members have used a five-year financial forecast to look at potential trends. Projections show the county will continue to face revenue shortfalls in the future caused by rising costs due to increases in population.
To get ahead of the curve, supervisors have been asked to submit directives they want the county to tackle. These include finding strategies to revitalize aging urban areas and beginning the design process for the long-term needs of the county’s court system.
County executive Tom Foley said the ranked priorities will help budget staff prepare a two-year fiscal plan.
“This becomes ultimately your basis for the next two-year fiscal plan that we’ll talk about in the fall,” Foley said. “It’s not anyone’s individual agenda but what the collective body believes are the most important things we should be focused on in the next two years.”
The main purpose of the exercise was to identify “tier one” goals.
“Those are the most urgent places you would direct staff to go with available resources in order to push these things forward,” Catlin said.
Supervisors reached a consensus that the county should find a way to free up more resources for the Department of Social Services.
“To me, a key priority is low-income people who are not represented very well in our meetings and in our deliberations,” said Supervisor Norman Dill.
Other supervisors agreed.
“We really ought to be looking at the programs in DSS that give us the biggest bang for our buck rather than just putting a lot more money towards the whole department,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the department already knows where it needs to hire more staff.
“Their wish list for staffing is all carefully laid out,” Mallek said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer pointed out that fixing blighted urban areas also can address social issues.
“A lot of people who live in our run-down urban areas are recipients of these kinds of services,” Palmer said.
This November, Albemarle voters will weigh in on a $35 million bond referendum for school projects. Last month, the Planning Commission recommended removing $500,000 from the list that would pay for a location and feasibility study for a new high school.
One supervisor feels there needs to be better communication.
“The Planning Commission really needs to get up to speed if they’re going to be discussing schools and school sites,” McKeel said. “Walkable neighborhood schools are great if you’re building a new neighborhood model community, but in a lot of areas, it is totally unrealistic.”
However, sometimes plans can turn out differently than intended. Mallek pointed out that Old Trail near Crozet had been approved for 2,200 homes but will now likely have only 1,500. The demographics also did not work out as expected.
“A grand expectation by the board in 2004 was that the huge majority of those units were going to be seniors, and now the reality is that a huge percentage of all those people are young families,” Mallek said, adding that Crozet school populations have increased as a result.
Supervisors recently signed memorandums of agreement with Charlottesville City Council identifying four areas where the two governments would cooperate. They are affordable housing, education, the environment and transportation.
Supervisor Rick Randolph wanted to know why that group of issues did not receive a higher priority.
“Should we be thinking about closer cooperation with the city of Charlottesville as a tier-one goal?” Ran-dolph asked. “Right now, I look at this and I don’t see a strong backing for the board for these MOUs as strategic priorities.”
McKeel said cooperation with the city would help address many of the other strategic goals.
“I can’t help impact or solve some of the problems I have in my district in my older areas unless I am able to work with the city because of where our borders meet,” McKeel said.
Mallek said the county had to consider its own issues and does not want the agreements to drive the strate-gic process.
“We are trying to think of the other jurisdiction and I hope that it is reciprocal,” Mallek said. “I have yet to see evidence that it has actually improved.”
Staff will now study how the goals might be achieved. Supervisors will be presented with the draft priority list at a future meeting.