The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has endorsed legislation that would allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County voters to decide whether to impose up to a 1 cent sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation projects. That follows the
Board’s endorsement last November
of legislation (
) to create a Regional Transit Authority, which would be funded by the additional revenue. While Supervisor
(Rivanna) supported the first resolution, he withheld his support for the funding legislation citing concerns about raising taxes in the current recession.
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The bill by
Delegate David Toscano
) has been introduced in the House of Delegates and is currently awaiting action in committee. In August,
Toscano told a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council
that the bill would only win passage if it had the unanimous support of all of the area’s elected officials.
Though there was no scheduled public hearing on the resolution, several people spoke out against the idea of any tax increase during the Board’s public comment period early in the meeting. Greg Quinn, a stonemason who lives in Albemarle County, called the idea of a Regional Transit Authority a “socialistic Shangri-la” and that the County had to live within its means. County resident Tom Slonaker said that a sales tax increase would close businesses and contribute to the economic crisis. Keith Drake, Chairman of the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance, said that the County needs to do more to pressure the state to do its part to fund transportation. Drake added that he was concerned about what he saw as a “tax first, then plan how to spend it approach.”
However, Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said that he supported the idea of asking voters directly if they wanted the tax increase. Werner was a member of the Transportation Funding Options Working Group, and that the referendum was one of that group’s recommendations.
The Board’s discussion of the legislation to allow for the referendum was the last item on the agenda for the meeting on January 14, 2009. Chairman
(Rio) said the item was originally slated to be on the consent agenda until Boyd requested it be pulled for Board discussion.
Slutzky said he is hopeful that the legislation will pass, and that the County has to do something to address its transportation problems. “We seem to have no choice but to go down this path,” Slutzky said. Otherwise, the County may be forced to raise property taxes in order to fund road and transit projects. Addressing Drake’s concern that this is a tax-first spend-later approach, Slutzky said that projects that would be funded would conform to the County, City and MPO’s transportation priorities.
(Jack Jouett), who has been involved in County transportation issues for over 20 years, said the state has “completely abdicated” its role in funding road construction and improvements. He said the County has been funding projects such as the Meadowcreek Parkway with property taxes, but needs another option.
“What I’m in favor of is allowing the people in our area to at least have an opportunity to express their opinion through the ballot on whether or not they want to find a way to pay for transportation projects other than on the backs of property taxes,” Rooker said. He pointed out that any projects that would receive funding must be part of the long-range transportation plan.
From the outset of his comments, Supervisor Boyd said he would not support the bill. He said that while he supported referendums, he questioned whether this was the appropriate time to levy a 1 cent tax.
“I’m not in favor of increasing any kind of taxes on our populace right now,” Boyd said. “I am not certain this recession is going to be gone in a year from now, or even two years from now.”
Boyd said the local transportation tax would further push the General Assembly towards devolution of funding responsibility to cities and counties. He suggested asking the General Assembly to return another cent back to the localities from the state sales tax. Rooker asked how that would be possible when the state is contending with a $2.3 billion deficit.
Slutzky pointed out that 56% of Albemarle County residents said they would support additional taxes to support transportation projects, according to the biennial citizen survey conducted for the County. Boyd disputed those results and said they had not yet been finalized
After Boyd called for a vote, Supervisor
(Scottsville) asked to speak. He said that the County had to be ahead of the curve and invest in public transportation. He and Slutzky both asked Boyd to support the legislation in order to send a unified message to Richmond. Boyd declined.
“I’m principled against this so I’m sorry that I can’t,” Boyd said.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
1:00 – Public comment from County resident Greg Quinn against the legislation
2:30 – Public comment from County resident Tom Slonaker against the legislation
4:30 – Public comment from County resident Keith Drake of the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance
7:00 – Public comment from City resident Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
10:00 – Chairman David Slutzky opens Board’s discussion by listing reasons he’s supporting legislation
19:00 – Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier asks how much money can be raised with a 1-cent sales tax
19:30 – Supervisor Dennis Rooker explains why he is in favor of legislation
26:30 – Dorrier asks questions and is answered by Slutzky and Rooker
28:00 – Dorrier asks if expanding RTA to other counties has been discussed
31:00 – Supervisor Ann Mallek explains her support
32:15 – Supervisor Ken Boyd outlines his reasons for opposing the legislation
35:00 – Rooker questions if Boyd trusts the voters to make a decision, followed by discussion of Western Bypass
43:00 – Supervisor Sally Thomas explains why she supports the legislation
47:15 – Dorrier explains why he supports the legislation
48:30 – Slutzky asks Boyd to support the legislation; Boyd declines
49:40 – County attorney Larry Davis explains that the Board would be able to levy less than 1%
54:15 – Rooker makes motion to move for approval; motion passes 5-1