Council holds last budget work session
The Charlottesville City Council made several final adjustments Thursday to the proposed $162 million operating and capital budget, including restoring some funding to construction of a planned skate park intended for McIntire Park.
“We have heard a ton of concern about the skate park,” said Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.
Council also agreed to fund a part-time deputy City Council clerk and increased the amount of funding for a new redevelopment specialist position.
There were several remaining issues leftover from council’s March 31 work session.
Council agreed to allocate an additional $75,217 to the registrar to prepare for the 2016 presidential election.
“We need twice the number of poll workers as we would have in a regular election,” said Rosanna Bencoach, the city’s registrar. “We could be dealing with 3,000 to 4,000 absentee ballots, and that takes a lot of manpower.”
The proposed budget had called for a proposed $84,460 for an assistant to the city manager and the city clerk.
“There are a lot of communities that have a deputy clerk and an assistant to the city manager and we thought we could combine the two positions into one,” said City Manager Maurice Jones.
However, some councilors had concerns about whether the position was needed.
“The levels of citizen engagement have gone up in the last few years, so we’ve had an increase in phone calls, emails and visits,” said City Council Clerk Paige Rice.
Rice said that in the first 50 days of the year, there were 1,032 phone calls and more than 65,000 emails. She said that’s double over the same period the year before.
Council chose to partially fund a part-time deputy clerk position to assist Rice but agreed to wait on funding the other half of the position until an efficiency study is conducted later this year.
However, the additional $50,000 will be put into the council’s strategic investment funds in case they decide to hire an assistant to the city manager.
The discussion over the specialist position turned into a philosophical debate over the council’s role in jumpstarting redevelopment of Charlottesville Housing and Redevelopment Authority sites.
According to the job description, the person hired would concentrate on the Strategic Investment Area south of downtown.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he was concerned that focusing on that section of the city would take away from redevelopment of Westhaven, the largest CRHA site. He also wanted the position to be housed within the CRHA, but the city manager and some councilors said the housing authority needs to make redevelopment a priority.
“They’re going to have to hire someone who is thinking about redevelopment of their properties every single day, and it may be that their new executive director will take on that role,” Jones said. “They’re going to need someone who is sleeping and dreaming and breathing redevelopment.”
Jones added that a master plan adopted by the CRHA in 2010 slated Crescent Halls as one of the first housing sites to be redeveloped. That property and two other public housing sites are within the SIA.
The specialist will also assist the Piedmont Housing Alliance as they work on redevelopment of Friendship Court.
“I think it is important this person is not going to just assist private development,” Jones said.
Council also raised the budget for the position to $120,000 in order to attract well-qualified candidates.
Last week, council reduced funding for the skate park from $1.7 million to $ million. On Thursday, they restored $50,000.
Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly said staff will need to reduce some of the scope before the project can be put to a bid.
“We need to go back and do a little more work,” Daly said.
Councilors opted not to fund citizen requests to add funding for a small area plan to guide development of the Cherry Avenue corridor.
They did agree to fund an $80,000 request to support restoration and maintenance at the Daughters of Zion cemetery.
The cemetery work will be funded through a line item for the Strategic Investment Area
“We believe the investment in the cemetery will truly help Charlottesville’s efforts to be a world-class city,” said Bernadette Whitsett-Hammond, a representative from Daughters of Zion.
Council did not restore funding requests for the Municipal Band or the African-American Teaching Fellows program. The band’s request scored “weak” by the Agency Budget Review Team. The fellows program scored “fair.”
However, council suggested the AATF make a request outside of the budget process following a lengthy discussion of its merits.
Last week, City Council restored some funding requested for the Legal Aid Justice Center, but followed the ARBT’s recommendation that a new program serving immigrant youths not be funded. Council then suggested Legal Aid officials return to directly request funding from the council’s strategic initiatives fund.
That invitation was welcomed by a Legal Aid representative.
“Saving these kids from deportation back into violence is really life-changing,” said Erin Trodden, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Charlottesville office.
Council will take a final vote on the budget at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.