By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, July 1, 2010






Deputy County Executive Tom Foley

Facing an uncertain economic future, the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

has directed staff to further involve the

School Board

in the budget process and to explore new methods of funding capital projects. Those were the top two priorities identified by supervisors at a meeting held yesterday to develop a strategic plan to guide budget decisions over the next two years.

“We’re going to be living with the reality of reduced services levels and reduced resources,” said Tom Foley, the deputy county executive. “It’s a whole new future going forward.”

Since 2000, the county’s population has increased by about 12,000 people according to data from the

Weldon Cooper Center

. In that year, the county brought in about $65 million in property taxes.  That figure had doubled by 2007 due to rising property assessments and population growth.  Since then, that local revenues have been decreasing, as has state and federal .

“The new economy is about redefining government over the long term in a significantly adjusted economic framework,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin. “Even if we do begin to see some stabilizing, and some positive signs, that is not an indicator that things are going back to the way they were.”

In previous years the board has held a planning retreat in the fall to kick off its involvement with the budget.

However, the meeting was moved up to summer because a majority of supervisors have asked to be involved with the next budget from the beginning.

All six supervisors agreed that the process by which schools are funded was the highest priority for study by county staff in the coming year. Over sixty percent of the county general revenues are transferred to the school division.

“We need to have a better understanding of where the money is spent and offer [the School Board] suggestions for change,” said Supervisor

Duane Snow

.

To try to build that understanding, both boards will hold at least four joint meetings during the budget process, beginning with a joint retreat in August.  A second meeting in October will cover how the school division builds its budget.

Another effect of the downturn in county revenues has been decreased funding for the capital improvement program. In 2008, the county spent $42.4 million on capital projects for both schools and general government. It expects to spend about $8.1 million in the current fiscal year.

“We’re down to just a maintenance level of funding,” Foley said.

Supervisor

Dennis Rooker

said he wants to consider setting a target amount to set aside each year, and to suggest ways in which money could be reallocated towards priority projects. Supervisor

Ken Boyd

suggested that staff investigate if money could be saved by expanding the service life of county-owned vehicles to lengthen time between replacements.






Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier places dots to indicate his priorities for the strategic plan


Another area singled out by the Board for discussion was the future of Albemarle County’s participation in the

Jefferson Madison Regional Library

system. Several supervisors said they would like to alter the 1991 agreement that governs how the system is funded.  Under the terms of the agreement, the county and city jointly fund the two branches in Charlottesville as well as Northside Library in Albemarle County.

“I’m fundamentally opposed to us paying 60% of the costs for the downtown Charlottesville library,” said Snow.

Staff will prepare a list of options for the Board to consider before a joint meeting with the JMRL Board of Trustees.  One option could involve a cost estimate for how much it would cost the county to operate an independent library system.

The board was also given details of how next year’s budget will be developed. A majority of supervisors have requested it be put together using zero-based budgeting principles. Beginning this year, the board will have the opportunity to review detailed line items for the budgets of at least two departments.

Supervisors also decided that economic development would not be specifically addressed in their strategic plan because that issue is being handled through the separate action plan that will come before them on July 14.

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