Two temporary employees of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission hired to help update the Albemarle and Charlottesville comprehensive plans will leave their jobs seven months earlier than expected as money from a $1 million federal grant begins to run out.
A third has already left the TJPDC to take another job.
“City and county staff wanted to move along on the part of the Comprehensive Plan updates so that [meant] we were going to do them faster than originally anticipated,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.
However, city and county officials disputed Williams’ explanation Thursday at a TJPDC board meeting.
“There is no indication from city staff that there was an acceleration of the timeline,” said City Councilor Kathleen M. Galvin.
“I got that [same] affirmation that we are on the same timeline that we’ve been on for the last five years,” said county Supervisor Ann H. Mallek.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $999,000 “sustainable communities” grant to the TJPDC. In addition to the plan updates, some of the funding was allocated to help update the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range transportation plan.
Williams said the TJPDC has spent 85 percent of its allocation to date.
The grant included payments of around $122,000 to both the city and county to help cover their internal costs of updating their plans. Both localities also allocated a partial match from their general operating budgets.
Of the amount allocated to the TJPDC, half was to be spent to help the city and county coordinate their Comprehensive Plan reviews. Three temporary staff members were hired to help with those tasks.
Summer Frederick has been serving as project manager and Mandy Burbage has been the outreach coordinator. The third employee, Sarah Stamp, has already left her position to take another job.
Another temporary staffer, Matt Weaver, was hired by the TJPDC, though some of the funding for his position comes out of the county’s allocation.
However, Williams told the TJPDC that he and Chief Operating Officer Billie Campbell made a math error when they factored how much TJPDC staff time would go to the project.
“The original expectation was that they would go through about June or July of next year,” Williams said. “Due to the fact that we did the math wrong, they’re only going to go through the end of November this year.”
When the grant was announced, members of the Jefferson Area Tea Party expressed their opposition to the plan. Williams told the board that the controversy resulted in additional internal expenses.
“We had some issues in the first four months where we had quite a bit of controversy here in the area with regard to the project,” Williams said. “We ended up charging a good bit of my time beyond what we had originally proposed to charge.”
In all, Williams said he allocated around $15,000 from the grant to cover the extra time he spent dealing with the controversy, as well as another $3,000 to cover the costs of another TJPDC webmaster to create a website for the project.
Mallek was concerned that Burbage would not be available to conduct outreach for the county’s rural area.
“This is a very important role that we see great value in her coming to the advisory councils,” Mallek said.
Williams said Burbage would be available to do the outreach this fall before wrapping up her work.
“We are anticipating that we will be able to close out the project, complete all of the products that have been promised both to HUD, the city and the county and the MPO within the budget and within the time frames that are proposed,” Williams said.
Remaining tasks include the development of recommendations of changes to city and county zoning codes to bring them into compliance with the new comprehensive plans.
Another task that remains will be to “identify key behavior changes that, when enacted, will benefit the sustainability of the region the most.” Staff is expected to develop a draft set of recommendations by the end of the year with public input opportunities in the winter.
Galvin said she did not believe that the TJPDC would be able to fully complete its work.
“The concern is that because the project schedule has been pushed up 1.5 years, that there is still 1.5 years of work to do but it is going to be done between now and November, and that’s not possible,” Galvin said.
“I would disagree,” Williams said. “We did not make an open-ended commitment to provide support for three years … We had specific tasks that we committed to.”
The city and county planning commissions are expected to make their recommendations on each Comprehensive Plan by the end of this year. The City Council and Board of Supervisors will begin their review at the beginning of 2013 with adoption expected in the summer.
“There is a lot of concern on the part of the city that [staff] are leaving, because the work that’s left is very much involved with completing out the Comprehensive Plan piece,” Galvin said.
Williams said he has met with top planning officials in both the city and county and said that if they want Frederick and Burbage to continue working, they could reallocate their portion of the HUD grant in order to retain them. Williams said the city and county declined that offer.
The TJPDC board voted to create an ad hoc committee to determine how to deal with the issue. The four-member task force includes both Galvin and Mallek and it will hold its first meeting next week.
“We want to make sure we haven’t made any glaring mistakes that need to be remedied, and if we did, we need to fix them,” said Joe Chesser, a member of the Fluvanna Board of Supervisors and chairman of the TJPDC.