The two City Councilors elected in May of 2006 have jointly proposed a series of reform initiatives to guide Council through its next budget cycle. At a November 13th news conference, Councilors Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro outlined several proposals they said would usher in the “fiscal responsibility” that the two men campaigned on.
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Norris said the changes were being announced this week in advance of the City’s budget process, which officially gets underway next Monday with a preliminary Council discussion on budget development.
The suggested reforms are meant to make city government more “citizen focused,” according to Taliaferro. He said he wants the City to better measure its performance so that “citizens in the City are getting value for the tax dollars that they’re spending.” Part of that will include making more comparisons with other Virginia cities.
Taliaferro also suggested that City Council hold an annual public hearing and work session devoted to listening to citizens’ ideas about how the City can save money and become more efficient. The former City Fire Chief also vowed to restore a program where City employees would receive incentives for making suggestions in their own departments, and said the City would increase its efforts to save money through energy conservation.
Norris said he wanted the budgetary decision-making process to be more transparent.
“All new major expenditures must be fully vetted in the public realm,” Norris said. “Information on the status and the funding streams and anticipated outcomes of all major city projects needs to be made available to the public on an ongoing and accessible manner.” He said more people would accept and understand special programs like Art-in-Place and the Sister Cities program if the process was more public discussion. Norris said the City also had to invest more on its infrastructure.
“We strongly feel that in recent decades, the City of Charlottesville has been penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to deferring maintenance and badly needed upgrades to our City infrastructure in order to save short-term dollars,” he said. “And now we’re suffering the consequences.”
As one solution, Norris suggested changing the way the City spends money received from Albemarle County as part of the revenue sharing agreement. Currently, half of the money goes to capital projects. Norris would like to change that ratio to at least 75 percent. Last year, the City received over $13 million from the County, raising the possibility that several million could be added to Charlottesville’s Capital Improvement Program.
“It’s a way to try to get our arms more around the issue of infrastructure cost without adding even more to the property tax burden of our residents,” said Norris. “We expect to see a substantial increase in revenue sharing dollars from Albemarle County. Our belief is we should take advantage of this opportunity and use some of those new dollars for some of the capital cost, particularly the capital cost that we incur in trying to manage the growth that we’re seeing in Albemarle County.” He specifically mentioned road improvements, and opened the door to the possibility of partnering with Albemarle County to pay for new roads and trails.
Norris also called for the creation of a dedicated source of City funding for affordable housing projects, and suggested dedicated a half-cent or cent on the property tax to such a fund.
Finally, Taliaferro predicted the City would have a budget surplus, and that he and Norris were assessing the feasibility and legality of a tax refund.
Sean Tubbs & Kendall Singleton