Albemarle employees may get $1K bonus

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Albemarle School Board met last Thursday to begin the public side of the budget cycle. In Virginia, school boards do not have the power to raise their own money, so legislative bodies have to factor in school needs when setting a tax rate.  

“We’re here to kind of kick off and get started with the things that roll right into our budget season which is right upon us,” said Albemarle Supervisor Ned Gallaway. 

“We are pleased to be with the supervisors as we start out with this budget season,” said Graham Paige, the chair of the Albemarle School Board. 

Recently, Albemarle unpaused several capital projects that were delayed due to the uncertainty involving the pandemic’s effect on the local economy. These include an addition at Crozet Elementary School. But, the main topic for Thursday’s meeting is a major factor that Albemarle’s budget staff need to consider as they tally up projected expenditures. Matt Haas is the Superintendent of Albemarle Public Schools. 

“I’m really grateful for this opportunity to be here with the Albemarle County School Board, the Board of Supervisors and our staff to have a conversation with what I think we all might consider is a high priority, compensation for our employees,” Haas said. 

Albemarle Superintendent Matt Haas

Haas said this previous year has been very difficult for schools around the world as normal was turned upside down. There’s a lot of work that goes into providing the services associated with public schools. 

“Since then our employees, our teachers, our nurses, teaching assistants, building services staff, principals, bus drivers, aides, our child nutrition staff, and our leadership team have come together [and] treated every day as an opportunity to learn and improve, both virus mitigation and safety, providing for student and family needs in terms of meals and essentials and amazingly, high-quality teaching and learning, whether it is provided online or out at the school,” Haas said. 

This year, school employees did not get a raise due to the county’s decision to play it safe fiscally. A projected increase to a minimum wage of $15 an hour was also shelved. Still, Haas sounded optimistic.

“As you know, it’s a new year, “ Haas said. “Although some of the events we have witnessed since January 1 might make it seem like we’re still experiencing 2020, we’re now actually in 2021 and due to the smart moves of our local government and school finance staff, we are in better position than I thought we might have been right now.” 

But, are conditions favorable enough to increase compensation? On January 20, the Board of Supervisors were told that overall tax assessments in Albemarle were up 1.4 percent, which could bring in additional revenue depending on the property tax rate. Andy Bowman in the county’s budget office sounded a realistic tone. 

“T his will be the slowest growth in our reassessments since the Great Recession and that will be especially impactful in the revenue picture next year,” Bowman said. “As the Boards may know, a little more than half of the county’s operating revenue comes from real estate taxes.”

Bowman said the budget office sees the economy as uncertain and unstable at this time. 

“We are seeing that the county revenues are stabilizing but we have not stabilized,” Bowman said. “And as the pandemic continues, we are not through that, either.” 

However, Bowman said budget staff have identified a source of revenue to provide for a one-time funding for several ways to shore up the county, including employee compensation using the term “stablizing the county’s workforce”. 

The budgets are still being prepared and will be presented in mid to late February. 

A third of the school’s budget comes from the state, and the rest comes from local taxes. That means the school’s budget depends on what is proposed in Virginia’s budget. Maya Kumazawa is the budget and planning director for Albemarle Schools. She said the system will receive more money than expected in the current fiscal year. 

“There are a few things listed in FY21 that add up to approximately $5 million that we are anticipated to receive in the current year above what we have adopted, so this would fall under one-time funding as Mr. Bowman described,” Kumazawa said. “In addition for next year, the Governor’s proposed budget includes a two-percent one-time bonus for SOQ funded positions which is likely to turn into a raise pending more information about revenue forecasts.” 

The elected officials were told that other major employers have already made the jump to $15 an hour. Dana Robb is with Albemarle’s human resources department.  

“We are still seeing trends of some local employers moving towards [$15 an hour] or have, such as the city of Charlottesville, University of Virginia, and Sentara Martha Jefferson,” Robb said. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia is also increasing its minimum wage to $15 gradually through 2026. 

So, what’s the one-time proposal? Lorna Gerome is   Albemarle’s human resources director and she said the county was proposing…

“To provide a lump-sum payment of $1,000 for all regular full-time employees and some portion of that for part-time,” Gerome said. “This would come out of existing year-end fund balance and we would be able to do it this spring.” 

For local government, that would use a maximum of $850,000 of the county’s surplus. For the school government, that would be a maximum of a $2.7 million drawdown of their fund balance of $8.6 million. 

The idea of the one-time payment had general support from both elected bodies. Here’s Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley of the Rivanna District. 

“I think this $1,000 lump sum payment is a way of saying ‘we see you, we recognize you, this is what we can do for now and we appreciate all you have done for us in making sure that local government runs for all of the people of Albemarle,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. 

Others, however, were concerned that the county has not been able to increase salaries. Dave Oberg represents the White Hall District. 

“From my perspective, I appreciate the thought of hey, look, we’re going to give a bonus,” Oberg said. “I get that. But the problem is that I think there’s a danger that assuages our guilt. We didn’t give you the raise that we thought we would give you, but we’re giving you a bonus. And I just think that’s a problem.” 

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 16, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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