The Charlottesville City Council turned its attention to the capital budget Thursday and began deciding which infrastructure projects should be priorities in the coming fiscal year.
One change made to the capital program was to reduce the amount of money allocated to build a skate park in McIntire Park. The difference will now go to pay for design work for a new field house and track at Charlottesville High School.
“We took a lot of community input that we’ve gotten about the capital budget and a lot of feedback about the nonprofit budget,” said Mayor Mike Signer. “I think we’re going to be able to come up with a budget that really meets the community’s needs.”
The three-hour work session covered the capital improvement program, as well as city funding for nonprofit agencies.
The council did not make final decisions on giving additional dollars to nonprofit agencies whose requests were not recommended for full funding through the Agency Budget Review Team process.
However, a majority appeared willing to restore funding for the Legal Aid Justice Center to the same level as the current fiscal year. That matches actions taken by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
The council also agreed to restore $30,000 funding for the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The ABRT had not recommended any funding.
The $20.4 million capital budget proposed by City Manager Maurice Jones had anticipated spending $1.7 million to fully build the skate park next year but no funding was included for the track and field house projects at the high school.
Councilor Wes Bellamy suggested reducing the amount for the skate park.
“One of my concerns is that it’s such a large amount,” Bellamy said.
The skate park used to be next to the Charlottesville Area Rescue Squad on McIntire Road but had to relocate due to construction of the John W. Warner Parkway.
“We didn’t ask to be moved,” said Dan Zimmerman, a member of the skate park’s advisory board. “We were forced into it.”
Bellamy said he understood but that the city has other needs, as well.
“I have to think about how our home track at CHS has not had a home meeting for eight years,” Bellamy said.
The amount for the skate park was reduced by $250,000 and some of that money will now be set aside for design of the track and the field house.
The capital improvement program includes several line items to pay for various kinds of work. Councilors debated whether the amounts suggested by budget staff could be altered.
For instance, the recommended budget anticipates spending $475,000 over the next five years to buy new parkland.
“We’ve been spending a lot on parkland acquisition recently and maybe we could slow that down for a year,” said Councilor Kristin Szakos.
The council agreed to lower the amount to buy new park property from $95,000 a year to $70,000 annually.
Councilor Kathy Galvin suggested some of the parkland money could be used to augment urban tree planting. The recommended capital budget calls for spending $25,000 a year but the request from the parks department had been for $75,000 a year.
Bellamy said some in the community question that use of funds.
“A group of individuals have told me there is a group of people who can’t go to the pool and swim throughout the summer,” Bellamy said. “When they hear that we’re looking to put $75,000 into trees … I’m not sure how I’m supposed to provide a rebuttal.”
Brian Daly, the city’s parks and recreation director, said there is currently no waiting list for a student scholarship program that can decrease admission fees to city pools to as low as $2 for the summer.
“It might be that people don’t know about the scholarships,” Galvin said.
A former mayor and member of the Tree Commission pointed out that the annual budgets for tree planting used to be much higher and that the advisory group was created to oversee stewardship of urban trees.
“I understand the feeling that we have a lot of trees, but we lose a lot of trees every day,” said Bitsy Waters. “With all of the development and change, we are losing trees.”
Councilors also questioned the $150,000 set aside each year for economic development initiatives but opted to leave it as is.
“It’s a fund for one-time capital projects,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. “We used it to fund the first phase of Hillsdale Drive a few years ago.”
The fund currently is being used to underground utility lines on Water Street in conjunction with the Market Plaza development.
Galvin suggested the city could reduce the amount of funding set aside to pay for milling and paving streets. The proposed budget allocates $1.49 million a year in this category.
But Jones said the money was needed.
“We’re falling behind, and you can see it in our roads,” he said.
The amount will remain for now but could still be altered before the budget is adopted.
One outstanding issue is how much the council will set aside to create new small-area plans to guide development. Currently, the capital budget allocates $50,000 annually for those plans.
Councilor Bob Fenwick asked if the council should set aside any money to purchase the abandoned Landmark Hotel property on the Downtown Mall through a condemnation process.
Signer said no.
“We’re working very hard to make this be something we wouldn’t have to pay for,” Signer said. “We’re negotiating with them to see how they can make this business work and what they need from the city.”
He said the council’s action earlier this year to pursue legal options has been instrumental in bringing officials with Dewberry Hotels to the negotiating table.
The council made some other budget decisions not related to the capital plan, including a majority of councilors reaching consensus to consider an assistant to the City Council clerk on a part-time basis rather than an $84,000 full-time position that would also serve the city manager. However, a final decision has not been made.
The council will hold a first reading of the budget at its meeting Monday. There will be another work session April 7, at which some of the remaining choices are expected to be made. The budget is expected to be adopted at a special meeting April 12.