Albemarle Supervisors postpone vote on five-year financial plan

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday to delay a vote on its five-year financial plan.  The five-year plan, which is approved every year before the regular budget cycle begins, provides a guide for operational and capital spending.

“This is a plan, and it is not the budget, but it informs our budget but it’s based on assumptions,” said Lori Allshouse, the county’s director of budget and performance management.

The budget will be developed after county real estate property assessments, which provide a clearer picture of how much revenue will be available, are released in January.

The draft financial plan assumes an additional penny on the tax rate will be added in fiscal year 2016 and a second penny beginning in fiscal year 2018. The revenue generated would be dedicated to capital projects.

“These pennies are necessary to address the need to upgrade and retain our Emergency Communication Center’s communications and dispatch systems which are past their useful lives,” Allshouse said.  She added that the county must also build additional space for the county court system, a line item budgeted at $33 million over five years.

“What’s in the capital improvement plan is that we’ll start design for those facilities in the next fiscal year that would get the ball rolling,” said County Executive Thomas L. Foley Jr.  

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd asked if it was absolutely necessary to replace the communications center’s systems.

“We’ve made decisions about school buses to extend their life,” he said.

Boyd was told that the equipment manufacturer, Motorola, is no longer supporting the technology.

The draft plan assumes the county will spend more to comply with more stringent water quality regulations, but defers a decision on a dedicated revenue source until the budget process.

The draft plan also assumes the county will hire six additional police officers over the next three years to help meet the Comprehensive Plan goal of having 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents.

“That’s just the assumption in the plan,” Allshouse said. “It could be done in a different way.”

Allshouse said she wanted to know if supervisors agreed with the general assumptions presented by county staff.

“The decision to add a penny is made at budget time and not now,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said. “If revenues are better than projected, the need for that penny may not be there.”

New Supervisor Jane Dittmar, who was sworn into office in November, said she was concerned that taking action on the plan would bind the hands of her three new colleagues.

“We have new thinking coming on the board and we need to get acquainted with that,” Dittmar said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said the strategic planning process helps the county prioritize spending as well as eliminate wish-list

“We do a much better job with our citizens if we avoid telling them everything is fine and we can do everything we want to do based on the money we have, because that’s clearly not the case,” Mallek said.

Board members also cited questions about county school board’s capital funding requests among reasons for the deferral.

“I see five different technology projects [on their list] that I have a lot of questions about,” Boyd said.

Supervisors are scheduled to meet with the school board 3 p.m. today in Room 241 of the County Office Building. Capital improvement requests are among the items on the meeting’s agenda.