The Charlottesville City Council has held a second work session on City Manager
Gary O’Connell’s proposed budget for FY 2009
. On March 13, 2008, O’Connell took Council through the major initiatives in the operating budget as well as the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
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O’Connell provides update on EMS Billing
Gary O’Connell provided Council with a brief update on the status of negotiations on EMS Revenue Recovery billing currently ongoing between the City and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS). O’Connell says CARS will be on board with EMS billing, but added the organization is waiting to see what will happen with the County’s negotiations with its rescue squads on how the revenues will be allocated to public safety.
O’Connell reminded Council that it allocated money to the EMS program in last year’s budget, but the program has not been implemented. Under the current budget proposal, the new Fire Department’s EMS employees will begin work in August. EMS Revenue Recovery Billing would begin in October, pending Council approval of the practice.
Under EMS billing, people who require ambulance service will have their insurance billed. If they do not have coverage, a scholarship or compassionate billing service would allow them to receive service anyway. O’Connell said the new system would require a “big public education effort” to let people know that no one will be denied service. Council wanted more information on how “compassionate billing” works in other jurisdictions. Fire Chief Charles Werner said that most people with insurance pay a premium for ambulance service whether they use it or not.
“What this becomes is a user fee, a revenue source that is outside the normal real estate [tax],” Werner said, adding that between $3 and $4 million of revenue recover y could be “captured” each year in both the City and County to help offset the cost of the new ambulance service. Werner also said that CARS would be expected to receive between $400,000 and $600,000 from EMS billing.
asked what agency would be responsible for coordinating the billing, and Werner responded that the City and County have the desire to have both localities bill from the same location.
asked O’Connell if he wanted Council’s approval at the work session. O’Connell said he would be back in early summer with a formal proposal. Norris pointed out if the current budget proposal is adopted, that will imply Council approval.
Watterson explains new CTS routes
Bill Watterson, Director of the Charlottesville Transit Service, briefed Council on how an additional $380,000 in increased funding would be spent. In short, Route6B will be reconfigured as the new Route 8, which will now connect downtown with K-Mart and Seminole Square Shopping Center via the Barracks Road Shopping Center and Preston Avenue. The Route will also now be routed through Angus Road to avoid using the stretch of US 29 between Hydraulic Road and the 250 Bypass, meaning the bus will no longer stop in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken. That area will eventually be the location of an additional lane on Route 29, and Watterson said CTS is moving the line now in anticipation of that construction.
Route 3A (serving Belmont) will be renamed Route 3, and extra funding will go to operate more buses during peak service times. Route 3B will be reconfigured to include additional service to Charlottesville High School. Watterson said this new service would connect the University with the Tenth and Page neighborhood.
Night service on Route 5 will go forward if CTS gets a grant from the federal government. The $70,000 local-funding match for the grant will be provided by the County.
Councilor Huja questioned whether the County was putting enough new funding into the system. O’Connell said the City’s new investment pays for new service in the City where the County’s new dollars pay for new service there. Watterson said the system is currently has an informal 80-20 split in terms of funding, and the County’s additional funding is consistent with that formula. Councilor
said the County should be commended for raising their funding for transit for a second year in a row, especially while negotiating a tight budget.
Affordable housing programs discussed
The Capital Improvement Program includes $1,400,000 for the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Investment Program in the next fiscal year, and assumes $1 million for the next five years after that. O’Connell is suggesting Council hold a work session to determine how to use the money. The work session will come after the joint City-County Task Force on Affordable Housing makes it report later this year.
Brown suggested asking the public for specific proposals, and then basing funding on that, rather than specifying the amount of funding first. Norris said this year the fund had requests totaling $2.3 million for $1 million of funding. O’Connell suggested that Council put a priority on programs that allow the leveraging of dollars.
The ceiling for the Charlottesville Housing Affordability Tax Grant has been raised to $365,000, opening the program to more residents. However, Norris wonders why funding for the program has been reduced. Budget analyst Leslie Beauregard said that’s because the City did not fully spend last year’s allocation of $588,767. Under the program, homeowners with an income less than $50,000 can apply for a grant to help cover some of the cost of property taxes. Huja suggested the program needed to be better publicized. Only 16 percent of eligible homeowners took advantage of the program last year.
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