David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission


The working group overseeing the creation of a

Regional Transit Authority

(RTA) has only a few months to craft legislation to both enable Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form the RTA as well as to provide a funding mechanism to pay for it. The first bill was largely vetted at the group’s meeting on October 10, 2008 and was pronounced to be “in good shape” for review by local legislators by David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC). However, legislation to grant taxing authority has not yet been written and may face greater hurdles before the General Assembly.


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The group spent about 45 minutes going through the legislation line by line, asking questions about the intent of certain passages. For example, Supervisor

David Slutzky

(Rio) wanted to know how the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which manages Monticello, could be added to the RTA governance structure should they decide to join? He wanted to know if they should specifically be listed.

Other questions included: Could the

transit study developed by the firm VHB

serve as the regional transit plan that the legislation says will be implemented after adoption, or will a new one have to be created? Should the legislation spell out the RTA’s ability to raise bonds?  Should the legislation place a limit on the number of members on the RTA board. These questions were addressed by City Attorney Craig Brown and Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Lyttle. On the last question, the working group settled on capping membership of the Board of Directors at eleven, with initial membership consisting of two City Councilors and two Supervisors.

Slutzky asked what the difference would be between the RTA and the

MPO

. The draft legislation states that the RTA would have “general oversight of Charlottesville-Albemarle area programs involving mass transit” as well as other planning functions. Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) said the MPO is a federally recognized body that would supersede the RTA, and he did not see an issue.

The draft legislation to create the RTA will go before the

City Council

and the

Board of Supervisors

in early November. Council has already approved the general concept, and a public hearing will not be held by the City. It will be up to Board Chairman

Ken Boyd

(Rivanna) to determine if he will allow public comment before the Supervisors.

“It’s time for us to have public comment,” Slutzky said. “Do we need to have a resolution as an outcome that acknowledges the 5-1 support that we may have for this?” Boyd, who was not in attendance and is not a member of the work group, has expressed reservations about the funding mechanism for the RTA. Rooker said he thought the Board would need to pass a resolution in support of the enabling legislation to create the RTA.

However, that resolution would likely not apply to legislation that needs to be written to allow for a funding mechanism. The RTA working group’s preference would be for Charlottesville and Albemarle County to be granted the authority to levy a 1-cent sales tax. The revenue would primarily go to pay for the operations of the RTA, including debt service for capital projects, but additional money would also be used as a source of funding for other transportation projects.  At the meeting on October 10th, elected officials and staff debated how specific those allocations should be written in the legislation.

Blount said that he had spoken with

Delegate


Rob Bell (R-58


)

, who told him that the enabling legislation to create the RTA would pass. However, Bell told Blount that he was not convinced that Charlottesville-Albemarle was the next place for Virginia to allow a “tax-payer supported system” but needed to see specifics before saying whether or not he could support it.

When discussing those specifics, Melissa Barlow, the TJPDC’s Director of Transportation Programs, said if she were a legislator, she would want more information on how the funding would be split between transit and other transportation projects. Slutzky said he did not know, and that the Funding Options Working Group are themselves split on that question.

“We don’t want to be constrained because we really don’t know how much revenue it is going to take, we haven’t decided the scope of the transit yet, and we don’t know what additional monies may be coming from the federal or state coffers,” Slutzky said.






Supervisor Dennis Rooker explains how Albemarle County is being affected by cutbacks in state transportation funding


Rooker said obtaining a funding mechanism was vital to future projects in Albemarle County. “We’re in a situation now where we have about 1/10th of the money we had ten years ago,” Rooker said. “We’re trying to do something locally.”

But other staff members expressed the concern that the legislation to create a funding mechanism needed to spell out the role of transit. Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Lyttle said she wanted to know if the extra funds would first go to transit, and then to other projects. Slutzky said that was the intention, but that he did not want to write that into the legislation at this time. But Lyttle continued with her questions.

“Without the up to a penny on the sales tax, in reality, can the transit authority truly be funded without seeking that additional income?” Lyttle asked. Slutzky said the City and the County could generate funds through a service district, or could choose to have a “less expanded but still unified, collaboratively owned and operated transit system.”

David Blount said there would be resistance if the RTA is created to enhance transit, but then a majority of the funding generated goes to pay for road projects.  Rooker said he did not want to hide that fact.

“We are starving for transportation dollars,” Rooker said. Blount said he did not disagree, but said calling the RTA a “transit” authority brought up different visions. Slutzky and Rooker said they were preparing two different pieces of legislation, and that legislation to get a funding mechanism would be clear.

“To make allocation decisions now would be ludicrous,” Slutzky said. Slutzky said he would ask County  staff to prepare a report that documents the reductions in state funding for County road projects in advance of the October 23rd meeting. Charlottesville Public Works Director Judy Mueller said that the City’s reductions are more complicated to calculate than the County’s.

Barlow said she thought the County Supervisors were moving away from the point of the RTA discussion. “You brought the City to the table to talk about a transit authority… to say [they’re] ready to partner with you in this transit direction.”

Slutzky and Rooker disagreed, with Rooker saying that Council and Board both agreed in two joint meetings to support non-transit projects with a funding mechanism. Slutzky said the City can choose to spend its share of the allocations any way it wishes.

“We probably will allocate a higher percentage of our revenues attributable to this funding to roads than the City will, and that’s fine,” Slutzky said.

Councilor

Satyendra Huja

said that the City was not likely to building many roads in the near future. However, Rooker pointed out that the $30.6 million

Hillsdale Drive Connector

is in the City, and that the Fontaine-Sunset Connector would also serve City needs by alleviating traffic volumes on City neighborhood roads.

However, Huja said that City Council would not necessarily proceed with joining the RTA if Richmond does not grant a funding mechanism, either via a 1-cent sales tax or other funding options. Rooker said he could understand that, and he was not sure if the RTA would be worth forming if there is no additional revenue.

The RTA working group will next meet with the members of the Funding Options Working Group on Friday, October 17, 2008 in Room 241 of the County Office Building.


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