Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson unveiled a $466 million recommended operating budget for the Board of Supervisors to review over the several weeks. (review the recommended FY22 budget)
“This year’s budget theme pulls forward the budget theme year from fiscal year 21 which was ‘Respond, Recover and Recalibrate’,” Richardson said.
That budget was altered on the fly as the economy was shut down to in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Positions were frozen and both operating and capital expenditures were cut back while the financial picture became more clear. Now, Richardson has presented a budget that allows for the county to move forward with lessons learned during the pandemic.
“This year we’ve been added to that theme the word resilient because this recommended budget is intended to make certain strategic investments to transform our organization as the community around us transforms,” Richardson said.
One of those investments is the creation of an Office of Broadband Access, intended to move Albemarle towards universal internet coverage.
“The office will have two recommended [full-time equivalents] that will report through the County Executive’s work to support the work of expanding access in urban and rural communities,” Richardson said. “Two very different approaches and needs. The full force of this organization will support this office which will work to tackle broadband using the equity lens.”
The budget does not anticipate an increase in the property tax rate, which will remain at $0.854 cents per $100 of assessed value. Residential assessments are up by 2.8 percent though commercial assessments are down 5.5 percent.
Richardson’s budget includes a move toward a $15 an hour minimum wage for county employees as well as a two percent “market adjustment.”
Here are some highlights from the budget:
An expansion of Mountain View Elementary will proceed
Five new firefighters will be hired to support daytime service at North Garden Volunteer Fire Company, plus a new training position and a new ambulance
$3 million in funding for “Business Process Optimization” program to update land use permitting process and other government systems
$600,000 in funding for affordable housing, to be determined (in FY21)
$600,000 in funding to implement Climate Action Plan, to be determined (in FY21)
$25 million to fund the already-approved renovation of Albemarle courts in downtown Charlottesville
Two additional positions in social services for “family preservation”
Budget is based on creation of a local tax on cigarettes that would go in effect Jan 1, 2022
Near the end of his presentation, Richardson sounded an optimistic tone.
“Board, we believe that during the course of FY22, our economy will continue to stabilize,” Richardson said. “We’ll know a lot more about our economy, our customer service expectations and what the public needs and expects, and the way we work.”
Supervisors did not have many specific questions during the presentation, but Samuel Miller District representative Liz Palmer said she supported the investments in public safety at North Garden.
“The North Garden Volunteer Fire Department is a wonderful building that’s been kept up by the community for many years,” Palmer said. “It is a prime location for an ambulance because there are so many accidents on 29 South down there.”
The first public hearing will be held virtually on March 3 at 6 p.m. Work sessions begin on March 10 and continue throughout the month. Stay tuned to the Week Ahead newsletter to learn when.
At their meeting on February 16, Council was briefed on a plan to remedy the city’s noncompliance with a mandate from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to spend previously funding on a timely basis. Erin Atak is the city’s grants coordinator.
“City staff had identified an immediate program for funding to solve the city’s timeliness concerns by May 2,” Atak said. “The city has unexpended 2019 [Community Development Block Grant] entitlement funds totaling $244,950.82 from the delayed Belmont /Franklin sidewalk activity.”
That project came about when Belmont was the city’s Priority Neighborhood but has not moved forward due to COVID as well as difficulty securing space for the project.
“Right now we’re having a lot of issues achieving right of way,” Atak said. “We have reached out ot the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association and the Belmont CDBG Task Force with help on this and they are pretty motivated to help.”
Atak has recommended that the money instead be used for COVID-relief programs and the sidewalk project would be financed by the federal government again in the future. A previously approved rental relief program for public housing residents will now get the additional funds in the short-term.
This item will be included on the consent agenda for the March 1 Council meeting.
The prospect of the West Main Streetscape being implemented is still alive as City Council still wants more information about how the project could be salvaged. The project was split into four phases in order to secure funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation, but staff has recommended not fully funding the project.
Council has not made several final decisions about the proposed $160 million Capital Improvement Program for the next fiscal year and the four years that come after it. That amount also includes $8 million for a 300-space parking deck as well as a $50 million placeholder for reconfiguration of the city’s middle schools.
“There certainly is a lot of unknowns when we think about going into the future of the CIP especially when we think about schools and not knowing the scope of what they’re going to be [doing],” said City Councilor Heather Hill. “And also thinking about the parking deck situation and what options we may have.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he felt the city was at a point where it should proceed with West Main Street in a fashion similar to Council voting to proceed with the pedestrianization of East Main Street in 1974.
“The more I have thought about it, the more I have thought the future of the city is going to be along the axis between downtown and the University and we ought to be spending our time, our energy, and our resources on that area,” Snook said.
Snook said he was less inclined to support the parking garage.
Mayor Walker said budget staff have been clear that the city is running into its debt capacity and the city should proceed cautiously.
“I just don’t know how we are rating West Main Street and still thinking that is a must and that it must continue at this time when we’re talking about things like housing and schools,” Walker said.
Snook said he has been persuaded by arguments that at least $3 million in maintenance improvements are needed on West Main Street.
Councilor Hill said believed the city has made an investment in West Main and should see the project through.
“The biggest thing is just the other dollars coming from other sources that are not the city, and there’s not a lot of projects where we find those opportunities,” Hill said.
Those external sources include $5 million from the University of Virginia and the potential $10.8 million in VDOT Smart Scale funds for Phase 3 of the West Main Streetscape. Phases 1 and 2 require a local match in order for the city to draw down Smart Scale Funds and revenue-sharing funds already approved.
“I’m really struggling with just closing the door on this,” Hill said.
The draft CIP contains a placeholder of $50 million in FY24 for the school reconfiguration.
Walker said would prefer to keep some of the debt capacity available for future needs.
“If we okay West Main at this point, we are limiting schools to an amount because we are boxing ourselves in,” Walker said. “And then everything else that comes up as a result of this pandemic and how long we’re in it, then we are also restricting ourselves there.”
Councilor Michael Payne said he supported the vision of the West Main project, but could not support prioritizing that over schools or affordable housing. He said he would support the city paying for the bare minimum and losing some of the Smart Scale funding due to the debt capacity issue.
“We’re in the same situation where we could eliminate our city funding of West Main Street, and the parking garage, and we still even then wouldn’t be that close to getting our CIP budget on a sustainable level,” Payne said. He also said he would like to continue conversations with the School Board about the reconfiguration project due the large amount of money required to pay for the capital costs.
A firm is working with the school board to further refine the cost estimates for school reconfiguration. There was also interest in getting more information about various scenarios for West Main, including incorporating some of the results of a recent value engineering study. Councilor Snook had this idea.
“One of my thoughts is that we have a brand new city manager, and let’s let him put his creative thoughts to work and see if he’s got some ideas for us,” Snook said.
City Manager Chip Boyles said he would have a conversation with VDOT about when Phase 1 and Phase 2 need to get underway to stay within the six-year deadline required of Smart Scale. Jack Dawson, the city engineer, said the right of way phase is expected to begin this July to keep the project on VDOT’s schedule.
“There is some urgency about what direction we think we may need to go in, sooner or later, for sure,” Dawson said.
Vice Mayor Sena Magill said she would support reducing the scope of the project.
“What can we do with just the revenue-sharing match?” Magill asked. “There’s a lot extra that is on top of what we need for our revenue-sharing match.”
Council agreed to wait on a final decision on West Main until they have more information on options. David Brown is the city’s public works director.
“We do have some time to where we can look and evaluate to make a determination,” Brown said. “For the project, we can evaluate and make an assessment, rescope the project that still meets the requirements of the funding sources so we still have that opportunity.”
Boyles said he would prepare options for Council to consider.
“We can get enough information to come back to you with some concepts and maybe even some recommendations and staff can continue to keep working forward,” Boyles said. “It won’t be that much wasted effort based on whatever your decision is in later March or April.”
The FY22 operating and capital budget will be presented to Council on March 1. The first public hearing is scheduled for March 15. Budget adoption will be roughly a month later.
The Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia has released its annual population estimates for localities across the Commonwealth. Albemarle County has grown by 11.7 percent since the 2010 Census, with an estimated population of 110,545 as of July 1, 2020. The population of the City of Charlottesville increased by 13.8 percent to a population of 49,447. (Weldon Cooper Center site)
There are also increases in most other localities in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Fluvanna County jumped 5.9 percent to 27,202. Greene County is estimated to be at 20,323, or an increase of 10.4 percent. Louisa County increased by 11.6 percent to a population of 37,011 people. Only Nelson County is estimated to have declined over the past ten years, losing just over a hundred people to 14,904 people.
When added all together, the planning district as a whole increased 10.5 percent to a total population of 259,432. Other planning districts that experienced that level of growth include Northern Virginia with 13.5 percent growth, the Rappahannock-Rapidan with 8.7 percent, the Richmond Regional at 10.6 percent, the Crater District at 7.7 percent and the George Washington Regional Commission at 14.9 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau, however, organizes localities into Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The Charlottesville MSA is similar to the Planning District, with the exception that Louisa County is replaced with Buckingham County. When viewed that way, the MSA grew by 10.4 percent. Buckingham County remained flat in the Weldon Cooper estimate with an increase of just 16 people.
The U.S. Census results are expected to be posted later in the year, later than the usual release date of April 1.
To put this into perspective, I asked Hamilton Lombard at Weldon Cooer a few questions.
These numbers show a ten percent increase in growth in the TJPDC. How does this fit into overall demographic trends in Virginia?
Growth in the TJPDC was the fastest outside Northern Virginia and Richmond (I’m counting Winchester as part of NOVA since it is in the same combined statistical area). The Charlottesville area has grown in part because of UVA, most other college metro areas around the country and in VA, such as Blacksburg and Harrisonburg, have also grown as universities have expanded their enrollment, employment and spending. But the majority of the region’s growth has come from people moving into the Charlottesville area from Northern Virginia and Richmond, particularly younger families and to a lesser extent retirees.
What can you tell us about the Census? When will we see those numbers come out?
The 2020 Census numbers are coming out much later than they have in the past. Right now we probably won’t have any local numbers until the end of September at the earliest. When the 2020 numbers are released they are going to need to be used carefully for two reasons. One reason is that the disruptions from the pandemic may have impacted the Census count.
For example, many UVA students were no longer in Charlottesville when the census was conducted on April 1st, 2020. The bureau has made an effort to ensure students were counted where they attend school but Charlottesville’s 2020 numbers may still be missing some UVA students.
The other reason the 2020 numbers will need to be treated with caution is the bureau’s use of “differential privacy” in the 2020 census which masks respondents identities by moving some respondents to different geographies. As a result the 2020 Census numbers below the state level won’t be 100 percent accurate. For smaller geographies or populations, such as the population of Mineral or the number of Stanardsville residents who identify as Black, the 2020 Census numbers will often not be reliable enough for use. See more here.
On Monday, February 15, Chip Boyles will officially become Charlottesville’s City Manager. On February 4, the Board of Commissioners of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission said goodbye to Boyles in his capacity as their executive director. He has been there since April 2014. Greene County Supervisor Dale Herring is Chair of the TJPDC Board and he read from a proclamation.
“Whereas the influence and reputation of the TJPDC and the quality of programs and services during Chip’s tenure has been greatly enhanced by the vision, skills, and passion he brought to TJPDC’s mission, therefore be it resolved that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission expresses enduring gratitude and appreciation for the generous and faithful service provided to the TJPDC and this region by Chip Boyles.”
Commissioner Keith Smith of Fluvanna County said Boyles took over at a time when the TJPDC had opted to not renew the contract of a previous director.
“We were in a bad way and just to do a 180, it was purely upon his skill, his leadership, and that funny accent of his, people apparently trust him,” Smith said. “Who knew?”
Charlottesville City Councilor Michael Payne said he appreciated the comments from other TJPDC Commissioners.
“I’m just incredibly excited to work with Chip going forward and I think there are really bright days ahead for the region as a whole,” Payne said.
Nelson County Supervisor Jesse Rutherford praised Boyles’ optimism but also made a threat in jest.
“Michael and you all, I’m just saying,” Rutherford said. “My threat out there of saying that if this doesn’t go well, we will ban all fruit products and beverages from going into Charlottesville from Nelson County. That’s a serious one and whoever the reporter is in here, write that down!”
Rutherford also sounded a more positive tone.
“We look forward to the success of Charlottesville,” Rutherford said. “That is not only important to Nelson County but the region. I can’t say this enough, but we have sent you our best, alright?”
One of TJPDC’s achievements with Boyles in charge is the creation of the Regional Transit Partnership, a gathering of various agencies that has spent the last few years laying out the foundation for a more integrated system. Recently the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) awarded TJPDC a grant to help build more of the framework.
“This award is $175,000 for the development of a regional plan as recommended by the Regional Transit Partnership,” Jacobs said. “There is a match for this of $175,000 to be provided both by Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville over two fiscal years.”
This plan will involve coordination between Charlottesville Area Transit, the University Transit Service, JAUNT and Albemarle County. The DRPT also awarded a $106,500 grant to TJPDC to study expansion of transit in Albemarle. The county will have to pay half of that as a match.
“This study is to develop the financial feasibility of new transit services in three different areas,” Jacobs said. “Route 29 north, Monticello, and Pantops.”
The TJPDC also coordinates regional priorities for Community Development Block Grants. Applications to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development from non-urban localities are due on March 26.
“As of the end of January, we’ve already been notified of one project in Louisa County for a planning and infrastructure grant for affordable housing,” Jacobs said. “We know of a Nelson County potential grant for downtown revitalization of Lovingston. We have Albemarle County acquisition and redevelopment for an affordable housing project. And Scottsville has a redevelopment project going on.”
The Virginia DHCD is now directly administering a rent and mortgage relief program to assist households during the pandemic, but the TJPDC was in charge of the program in the second half of calendar year 2020.
“We were awarded a total grant of $1.8 million dollars for the region [and] $1.624 million of that went directly to pay for rent and mortgage relief for qualifying families,” Jacobs said. “That was 570 families in this region who were served with an average of $2,000 rent per household.”
Locally, the TJPDC has launched an online portal called Porch Light that allows people to find affordable housing opportunities.
“If you know people who have rental properties, direct them to our website and they can go directly to the site,” Boyles said. “We need landlords to list their properties. It’s free. It’s easy.”
Nelson County Supervisor Rutherford said the COVID pandemic has brought a real sense of urgency about housing.
“We’re going to be doing some hard soul-searching in Nelson County and what it is we can do to get some economies of scale and some more dense housing,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said he is aware that some newcomers to the area are choosing Nelson due to the provision of more broadband Internet. He said he has a tenant who works in Crystal City and commutes twice a week.
“We’re going to see some major culture changes in our workforce and in how we operate on a business level,” Rutherford said.
“In the preparation of a comprehensive plan, the commission shall make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of the existing conditions and trends of growth, and of the probable future requirements of its territory and inhabitants,” reads 15.2-2223.
Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan guides all decisions made in the county, and a major plank is a growth management policy. Charles Rapp became planning director in 2019, but he knows the history. The county’s first Comprehensive Plan dates back to 1971.
“At that time there was a population of just under 40,000 people here in the county,” Rapp said.
Nine years later, the county’s Comprehensive Plan had been updated to call for a growth management policy to limit suburban sprawl. The Board of Supervisors adopted a downzoning in 1980 that established the designated growth areas we know today. The last update was approved in 2015 after a long period of review.
“That update along with the numerous updates over the past 15 years have added a wealth of information throughout our Comprehensive Plan and that has resulted in a document that is over 400 pages long,” Rapp said.
Rapp said the county continues to experience growth, and the pandemic did not slow down the number of building permits and land use applications. Forecasts show the trend will continue.
“The current population is estimated at just below 110,000 here in Albemarle County which is bringing new challenges,” Rapp said. “There have been recent discussion with the Board and with some of our community groups and other boards and commissions focused on transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, development density and form as our development areas take on more urban character, protection of natural resources, scenic viewsheds, and the rural areas.”
Rapp said the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update will give community members and elected officials the chance to review all of these issues. He said there’s also an opportunity to add focus on two new priorities that have emerged in the past few years.
“There’s been an organizational core value of equity and inclusion and diversity which we feel should really be folded into all aspects of this Comprehensive Plan,” Rapp said. “Another item that we’d like to see is to strengthen the synergy between the comp plan’s policies and the goals of the Climate Action Plan so they really align together.”
Rapp said staff is recommending an approach that would “deconstruct” the existing plan and try to root inconsistencies. The idea is to hire a temporary project coordinator to work on a three-year, five phase process to update the plan. The first would be pre-planning, but planning manager Rachel Falkenstein said community engagement would begin in the second. (conceptual scope)
“The second phase we are calling Big Questions and Community Goals, and here is where we would begin the broad engagement process on developing a community vision,” Falkenstein said.
The third phase would deal with land use topics in order to set expectations for community development. The fourth would include development of new policy recommendations, and the fifth would be adoption of the plan. The conceptual framework said this would take place in the first quarter of 2024. A new committee would be created to oversee the project and members of this Project Advisory Group would be paid stipends. The county would hire artists to try to find new ways of conducting community engagement.
Not mentioned by staff, but this year, three seats are up on the Board of Supervisors, and the other three are up for election in 2023. Before then, current supervisors get to approve the pathway forward.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel is in the final year of her second term representing the Jack Jouett District and she expressed a concern.
“Three years is taking me back a little bit,” McKeel said. “That is a long time. I understand there is a lot of work and we don’t want to rush it but three years seems like a long time to get this update done.”
For comparison, the city of Charlottesville is entering the fifth year of its Comprehensive Plan process. (cvilleplanstogether)
But back to Albemarle. The first plan in 1971 envisioned a lot more urban development than currently planned. Supervisor Ann Mallek has been active in civic affairs there since the mid 1980’s and was active with the Earlysville Area Residents’ League.
“Back in the 90’s, 80s, Earlysville’s crossroads was a village and thankfully during the early 90’s the leaders of our little organization at the urging of the residents said, well go down to the Board of Supervisors and ask them when we’re going to get out sewers and our sidewalks to go along with all of the townhouses that we were supposed to have right here in the middle of Earlysville,” Mallek said. “And the Board at the time said you’re not getting any, so the response was, take away our village, and they did. That’s not going to happen now I’m sure because all of the services have expanded out much much further than they used to be.”
This will be the first Comprehensive Plan update for Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District. She said Albemarle’s population has grown by 175 percent since 1971.
“This simply exemplifies the complexities of what we are dealing with as an urbanized county that many of our other nearby communities don’t face and really demonstrates the necessity of a review of our Comprehensive Plan,” Price said.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District was elected in 2019 along with Price. She said she thought the plan revision should be conducted through the Community Advisory Committees rather than create a new committee.
“I will be honest with you, I’ve got a problem with offering some stipends to people,” LaPisto Kirtley said. “I didn’t see how much it would be per person.”
LaPisto-Kirtley said she would support a chapter-by-chapter review of the existing documents rather than appear to start from scratch. Supervisor Liz Palmer’s first year on the Board of Supervisors in 2014 was spent during such a review.
“A lot of people communicate through the Board,” Palmer said. “They elect us. They listen to us. And development and land use planning is what they’re asking us about half the time. I would want to make sure the Board is quite involved in this and doesn’t come in at the end when you guys have gotten this document all together and it’s dumped on our lap.”
At the end of the discussion, Rapp said he would try to come back with a way to speed up the timeline. A new proposal will come back to the Board of Supervisors at a later date.
An ad hoc group of environmental professionals working on a way to reduce the amount of glass that winds up in landfills resumed the conversation earlier this month. The work is an outcome of Albemarle County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee and Better World Betty. They have been asking area wineries and breweries to tell them how much glass they discard in an online survey that is open through February 1.
“There’s just a lot of glass to be had and we’re excited about the survey results that we’ve received,” said Teri Kent, the founder of Better World Betty.
The idea is to collect the information with an eye towards hiring a hauler who could collect glass from beverage providers and aggregate the material at a processing facility run by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. For this to work, the glass must be separated in the waste stream to avoid contamination.
“I am instinctively drawn to anything that will do something than what we’re doing with glass now which is just putting it in the landfill,” said Stan Joynes. “But I do have this question at the outset which is what is the end of this material?”
Philip McKalips is the solid waste manager at the RSWA. He said for many years, the agency collected glass and was able to find places for it to go but has recently formalized an arrangement.
“More recently we wanted to have more of a structured program, something that we could rely on functionally, and we set up an arrangement with Strategic Materials where they actually a hire a trucking company, they come on a regular process, out to our closed landfill, where we stockpile our recycled glass that comes in from our collection centers,” McKalips said.
From there, the glass goes to a facility in Wilson, North Carolina, where the materials are sorted.
“And then they either use it internally or sell it to other users,” McKalips said.
“All of the glass that’s going into the bins in the Northern Virginia communities of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax is now making its way down to Wilson and getting turned around into glass container plants,” DeFife said.
DeFife said much of what ends up in mixed recycling bins winds up in a landfill.
“Getting enough clean, you know, a critical mass of good quality glass can get that glass back into the supply chain,” DeFife said. He added that there is a market for a glass manufacturer somewhere in Virginia which would reduce travel time.
“But the economics of processing are very chicken and egg,” DeFife said. “Nobody is going to build a $10 million to $15 million glass processing plant if there’s no glass to go to it.”