At the May 9, 2007 meeting of the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

, the Fiscal Year 2008 budget was approved for Albemarle County.  The day after the meeting, I started to document some key points in the discussion.  By coincidence, this was the Word of the Day on Dictionary.com:



denouement



1. The final resolution of the main complication of a literary or dramatic work.

2. The outcome of a complex sequence of events.

The County budget reached its

denouement

after a series of work sessions that raised fees and taxes to generate additional revenues, that cut back the property tax rate from 74 to 68 cents [

sparking this debate

], and that eliminated or curtailed many new initiatives.  The

article in the Daily Progress

mentioned how the Supervisors had gone about “slashing about $10 million” from County Executive Bob Tucker’s recommended budget resulting in a “a 2.4 percent increase over the current budget.”  True, the total operational

and

capital budget started at a recommendation of $315.4 million and the amount approved by the Supervisors was $305.7 million.  However, the total

operational budget

the Supervisors approved is $263,556,849. That is a 5.6% increase over FY07.  Further,

Charlottesville Tomorrow

has confirmed with County staff that to balance the budget to expected revenues, the Board of Supervisors made no cuts to existing County operational expenses (excluding the school operations).  The only reductions came in the form of cuts to new initiatives or the elimination of new initiatives all together.

At a work session on the County’s capital improvement program (CIP) on February 14, 2007, Mr. Tucker and Assistant County Executive Tom Foley told the Board of Supervisors that they would be unable to fund the Board’s vision with current revenues coming in to the capital budget. At that time the budget was based on a 74 cent tax rate.  Mr. Tucker asked the Board to “take some votes… and give us some real direction,” particularly on transportation and urban infrastructure.  Staff had identified a need for $43-50 million in additional funding required to accelerate capital projects in this area.

A little more than two weeks later, at the March 2, 2007 press conference unveiling his original budget recommendations, Mr. Tucker commented on the challenges facing the County in future years.

“We are going to be facing some major issues in funding the future in out years.  Out years meaning in the next five to ten years.  Based on the facilities and infrastructure we are anticipating the needs to be in the future, based on our growth projections in the future, so the Board [of Supervisors] will have to wrestle with that during the [budget] work sessions….It will be a balancing act whether or not they want to move forward with some of these projects and programs and infrastructure that we have outlined and identified for them.  What the Places29 master plan, what the Rivanna master plan or the or Pantops master plan may entail and whether or not we move forward with those or delay some of these major projects that we have identified.”

The Board of Supervisors held five work sessions on the budget in March and April.  On the verge of setting the tax rate, Supervisor Sally Thomas expressed her frustration that the Board had never discussed in depth the budget’s new initiatives and identified needs.  Supervisor David Slutzky repeatedly challenged his colleagues to consider the cost of infrastructure needs identified in the master plans.  He favored keeping the tax rate at 74 cents.  Mr. Boyd challenged the Board to reduce expenses and questioned whether a master plan really makes any promises to the public for future investments in infrastructure. He encouraged Mr. Tucker to consider reducing expenses in other areas of the County budget instead of sacrificing new initiatives.  Mr. Dorrier said, “2007 will go down as a watershed year.  A year we came face to face with a tax revolt.  They told us if we don’t do something we will all be out of office.”  He recommended a “blue ribbon commission” to deal with the budgeting process.  Tucker pleaded for guidance backed by four votes of direction from the Board. That direction came in last week’s unanimous vote, and the cutting that was done came in the form of delayed capital projects and eliminated new initiatives. Stay tuned, the FY2009 budget process will be underway soon.

Brian Wheeler

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