County to spend $42,000 to advertise bond referendum
In the months leading up to the November general election, Albemarle County expects to spend $42,000 on educational mailers, fact sheets, advertisements and legal notices about the general obligation bond referendum approved last month.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted, 5-1, Wednesday to approve county staff’s plan to educate voters on the referendum — a measure that includes legal notices, advertisements and a mailer.
Supervisor Rick Randolph voted against the information plan after voting against the referendum itself last month. Supervisor Brad Sheffield, who opposed the referendum itself, voted for the plan.
The cost of printed materials, mailers and presentations will be split between the county general government, the school division and the county registrar’s office. Both the general government and the school division will pay 40 percent of the $42,000, while the registrar will handle the remaining 20 percent of the costs.
So far, county government has not decided where the money will come from. Money to plan and advertise the referendum was not specifically set aside during the county budget process this spring.
“This is a new cost that we would have to come back to you and suggest comes out of contingency funding or some other appropriate channel,” Lee Catlin, assistant county executive, told the board.
In a staff report detailing the steps Albemarle will take to educate voters and explain the $35 million bond referendum, officials broke down a laundry list of costs.
The biggest expense is $25,000 to print a fact sheet and mail it to 48,000 county households, the staff report said. Most of that cost is for postage, Catlin said.
The next biggest line item is $10,000 for two rounds of advertising and a public meeting schedule.
The staff report also lists handouts to be distributed at polling places, posters and a “road show” presentation to take to town hall meetings and public information sessions.
Supervisor Norman Dill said he would like to see Albemarle look at additional avenues to explain the measure.
“I wonder, since this is the first time we have done this in 40 years and nobody knows what a bond referendum is, whether we shouldn’t look at some other information channels like television or radio,” he said.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she hopes to bring the referendum up with her constituents in person.
“I think this will be a great topic for fall town hall [meetings], with a very careful reliance on the fact sheet,” she said. “There are people who never touch a computer, so we need to be looking at ways to get on the radio talk shows and drive-time shows and other avenues.”
The county likely will mail out a simple information postcard, Catlin said, but might instead opt to send a brochure.
None of the materials may advocate for or against the bond referendum.
“County government [will play] a neutral, non-advocacy role,” Catlin said. “We are sure there will be people putting their own opinion forward, so we want to be as open and transparent as we can.”
Per Virginia code, the referendum must be explained by the county attorney in a statement of no more than 500 words. The statement has to be written in easy-to-understand language, the staff report said.
The supervisors formally adopted a resolution at its July 6 meeting, asking the circuit court to request a special election for the referendum and added the list of projects to the county Capital Improvement Plan.
The project list includes a $15.2 million renovation of Woodbrook Elementary School, $10.9 million for division-wide classroom modernization, $6 million to build three additional science classrooms and renovate another seven at Western Albemarle High School and $2.9 million for security improvements at Baker-Butler Elementary.
The last county bond referendum passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 1974 and was used to fund construction of Western Albemarle High School.
The general election is Nov. 8.