Albemarle County is proposing a real estate tax increase of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. This would be on top of an average increase of 4 percent in property values.

All of the funds raised from the tax increase would help pay for “21st century infrastructure” like school improvements, parks and bicycle infrastructure, according to County Executive Jeff Richardson.

The tax increase would be the first since 2016. However, Richardson said that the county has expected to raise taxes for several years, after 73.5 percent of county voters  in 2016 approved a $35 million bond referendum to improve school infrastructure.

“Due to strong revenue growth, the tax rate increase that had been projected to support the debt service for these projects were deferred in 2017 and also deferred in 2018,” Richardson said.

On Tuesday, the county held a public hearing to discuss Richardson’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that ends in June 2020.

Two of 10 members of the public opposed the tax increase.

“Whenever there’s a tax increase in the budget, the [Board of Supervisors] agonizes over many work sessions to try to find some alternative to a tax increase if they possibly can. It goes on and on and on,” said John Martin, a resident of Free Union. “Thank you for that.”

Martin suggested that the county avoid the tax increase by cutting most of the funds reserved for economic development projects, like matching state grants to incentivize WillowTree Inc. to move to the county.

Economic development is one of the top three priorities of the Board of Supervisors, as stated in its three-year strategic plan. Richardson recommended setting aside $3.2 million of additional funds from the fiscal year ending in June for such projects.

The largest item in the fiscal 2020 capital budget is $30.2 million to design, develop and build Center 2, the second version of what formerly was known as Albemarle Tech.

However, a clear majority of speakers were excited about a smaller line item — $2.9 million in city and county funds to upgrade four grass fields at Darden Towe Park.

“I can safely say that I am here representing thousands of families and even thousands more young athletes in our community who would strongly support this initiative,” said White Hall resident Robyn Mattern. “Ironically, tonight, my children are playing soccer in a parking lot, on asphalt, because the grass fields are too saturated from Sunday night’s rain.”

Rex Linville of the Piedmont Environmental Council, lauded the county’s ongoing fund dedicated to preserving rural land and the focus on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the proposed budget. However, he said that he was disappointed to see $2.2 million allocated to designing Hedgerow Trail Park rather than increasing funds to open the more urban Biscuit Run Park.

“Our community already has an overabundance of remote rural parks that we need to drive to to access and enjoy. Hedgerow Park, which is in the budget, is yet another park like that,” Linville said, referencing the 2018 Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment.

The Board of Supervisors plans to hold two budget work sessions next week — at 5 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Thursday in Room 241 of the County Office Building on McIntire Road.

The final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 9.