Supervisor candidates address budget challenges
In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards. In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
ALBEMARLE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, SECOND IN A SERIES
Name one specific area of the county budget that you are concerned about and tell us why.
Norman Dill (D-Rivanna)
In general I am a very frugal guy and I have run my businesses with a tight budget and I am always looking for opportunities to save money, but we have to be clear that are several state and even federal mandates in quite a few different areas that affect us a lot. But the most important one, if I had to pick one, is the school system. We have neglected maintenance on many of the schools over the years. We will eventually need to build a new school or two in the future, and the funding has gone down from the state by about $600 over the last few years per pupil. That’s a tremendous amount of money that we need to come up with just to stay even. Teacher salaries have been pretty stagnant over the last few years. If we are going to have the fantastic Albemarle County school system that we have, in all of its manifestations – not only in our 26 schools, but in [the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education center] and [at Piedmont Virginia Community College] and early childhood education, adult learning and prison education – if we are going to maintain all that we need to find a way to fund that in the budget.
Lawrence Gaughan (I-Rivanna)
Well I am concerned particularly about the capital investment budget because we have out of control spending. We have taxes that are continually going up. And if we able to make cuts in the capital investment budget, even if it means curtailing some of the building of needless fire stations, for example, I am all for that. I am all for streamlining our budget in a way that reduces the tax burden on citizens and saves money. And I think one way to do that is with the capital investment budget.
You look at the fire station that was proposed on Pantops and we had a big victory there. They were talking about putting in a full fire station that would have cost an extra $6 million and that has been curtailed now down to just an ambulance station for the time being. Thank goodness because it would have put undue burden on the county when we already have dedicated volunteers.
People who are running for this seat have talked about wanting to serve the community. Well if you want to serve the community, I don’t know if running for the county board is the best way to do it. You look at somebody like Mike Reid, the chief of the Stony Point Volunteer Fire [Company], he dedicates full-time hours as a volunteer for free to protect and save lives. That’s service to the community.
Richard Lloyd (R-Rivanna)
The process, the budgetary process. When you look at a multi-billion dollar company, in the budget, even in a division, you are looking at a very complex document that’s larger than the County of Albemarle’s. The way we could get our hands around it is that we had fixed expenses and we had discretionary expenses. So the fixed expenses are the things that you can’t change. We have got to pay our taxes. What are the taxes? We don’t need to discuss it, they are what they are and the corporation is not going to be able to change them. Yes there are tax attorneys there, yes they are trying to, but from a board perspective you can’t do anything about it, you’ve got to pay it. But there are discretionary items. Should we go into this business, work on this profit center?
So we have got the fixed and the discretionary, but in Albemarle County we look at the budget by line items and nobody knows. Here’s the school budget – the school budget is 60 percent of the entire budget – but what portion of the school budget is fixed? If we can take that and move it aside, and then look at the increment that’s discretionary, we can start to prioritize these discretionary items, we can start to look at them one by one by one because they are manageable. You can get your hands around them. You can see them and you can anticipate the unintended consequences of making these decisions. But to take them on their whole and try to deal with them to me obfuscates the entire line item. It’s too complex, it’s too laborious. Staff can do a great job of saying this is fixed, this is discretionary, let’s negotiate the discretionary and find out what we want to do as a board. Then we give the budget back to the school board and then they can massage it again, but they only have to look at the discretionary items and then the staff will take care of the fixed items. Say we are paying too high a rent on a particular building, or whatever, they can take that issue up without having to bring it to the board level.
Richard Randolph (D-Scottsville)
In my platform I have called for revising the county’s fiscal platform. This means ensuring that our annual budget is fiscally sustainable, which annual jumps in property taxes the last two years are not, and that the rationale for the final rates is made clear to the public. I am well aware that people on fixed and those with lower incomes at or just above the minimum wage are challenged to live in the county because of the property tax. I am watching attentively the current deliberations of the Citizen Resource Advisory Committee to see what recommendations they have for decreasing the county’s reliance on property taxes to fund the full range of departmental and capital requirements.
While this committee is thoroughly examining all options, I suspect it will recommend, as I have proposed, that increased bonding and the creation of special districts be utilized to capitalize different categories of county projects.
An increased repertoire of capital funding methods to address critical capital needs will enable the county to begin to address the expectations of Scottsville district residents residing in planned residential communities that critical neighborhood and area master plans and corridor studies are undertaken. These studies and plans can lead to safer and more livable communities. Finally, I am also advocating for the county’s use of increased metrics to comparatively assess country services and programs.
Now despite the perpetual old saw that Albemarle is overtaxing its residents, a comparative analysis of Albemarle with five peer counties demonstrates that Albemarle’s current rate of $.819 per hundred dollars of personal real estate property is lower than Stafford’s, Roanoke’s, Spotsylvania’s and James City’s. Only Hanover’s rate is lower, but Hanover’s poverty rate is half of what Albermarle County’s is. Albemarle’s school system and many departments meantime serve today as benchmarks for the rest of the Commonwealth’s counties.
Earl Smith (R-Scottsville)
Being new to this again, I am going to refer back to being a regular citizen and the things I think about. Of course the public safety thing again, that comes back up. I really do think we need to reexamine our priorities. The budget needs to be examined on a line by line basis. The current situation does not automatically equal higher tax rates—back to the bar stool theory. You have got to find some way to keep that bowling ball on there.
One of my biggest things that I found out, that I don’t think a lot of citizens know, is that 10 cents out of every dollar from our [real estate property taxes] goes to the city of Charlottesville. That equals out to 20 percent of our budget. What I also find amazing is they tried to amend our composite index, a formula that’s based on what we have in taxes, and we then get money back from the state, our funds, well they don’t take into consideration the 20 percent we send [to Charlottesville]. So we miss out on things other counties are getting. That was started back in 1982 when the city wanted to annex over there where the K-Mart is at. It’s not working. We always end up being 20-30 percent shy on our budget and this needs to be looked at again. We don’t have any say over how the city of Charlottesville is spending the money that we send. Like I said, 10 cents out of every dollar from our property taxes goes to the city.
White Hall District
Ann Mallek (D-White Hall) * Incumbent
It’s hard to pick one, that’s for sure. Because despite the best planning efforts we make with strategic planning followed by five-year financial planning followed by annual budget processes, there are still so many gaps in the items we know we should be doing that we just can’t because of that response for question number two. We can’t go taking all the money that people get for their social security to spend for these very worthy projects.
But the one I would have to choose is the school demand and the demands which are caused by items that are not of our generation or our choosing. They are increased numbers of children, the changes in the needs of those children in many cases. When my elderly citizens talk about ‘well, when I was in high school, we didn’t have these things.’ And I ask them: “Was there anyone in your high school who didn’t’ speak English?”
At Albemarle High School, graduating in 1967, we had no children there who did not speak English fluently. Even though there wasn’t a huge amount of money flying around, a parent could support a family on their wage whatever it was and be there to be able to help their kids with their homework and that kind of thing.
There are so many changes now, not for the good, that we have to deal with and it creates incredible burdens on our school funding. This is a real big problem because it costs a lot to do a really good job and we definitely want to do a very good job on our school education. We know how important education is for all the other aspects of local government.
One of the saddest consequences of the recession was that in order to try to keep the integrity of the core services in local government, our capital improvement investments, the CIP, went to zero. Which means we effectively postponed $100 million worth of investments for three years and now we’re playing catch-up ball and catch-up ball is painful and expensive.
I know that citizens are aggravated by these constant increases in tax rates but when you get tax cuts three years in row, now it’s time we have had to pay the piper over the last two years. And as I said, it’s an unhappy circumstance for folks.