Charlottesville Council discusses capital budget at Feb. 3 work session

Later on today, the Charlottesville Planning Commission will meet with the Charlottesville Planning Commission to discuss the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1, 2021. Last week, Council discussed the proposed $160 million CIP for the next five years. When they adopt a budget in April, Council will only approve actual funding for FY22 but looking ahead to the full five-year period helps give budget planners perspective about what capacity the city has incur more debt to cover capital projects. 

“If you look at sort of a ten year history, you will see that in 2012 our CIP was at $80 million,” said Krissy Hammill, a senior budget analyst with the city. “It ebbed and flowed until about 2017 but we still hovered around the $80 million mark. Since 2018, the CIP from 2017 to now, this draft, our five-year CIP has basically doubled.” 

Hammill said Council increased the amounts for affordable housing from $8 million in the 2012 five-year plan to $38 million in the current draft. Additional spending was allocated for education and transportation. 

“Of those three priority areas, we’ve essentially added $94 million of funding to a plan, of course the big chunk being the $50 million for the school reconfiguration,” Hammill said. “But I think it shows that in some respects with regard to the CIP plan, we’ve put the money where our priorities were, but we’ve also done that without taking anything away.” 

A $6 million city contribution for a joint General District Court with Albemarle is in the plan as is $10 million for a parking garage at 9th and Market Street to support the expanded courts complex.   

The draft CIP contemplates issuing $121 million in bonds over the next five years to fund some of the projects, including about $74 million in projects already authorized by previous Councils. Hammil said that will come close to maxing out the city’s debt capacity for the foreseeable future. It will also cost the city more. 

“If we get to a point where we’re issuing $185 million or $195 million worth of debt, the debt service doubles,” Hammill said. “So you’re going to go from a debt service payment of roughly $11 million of $22 million.”

That will likely require a tax increase to cover that additional payment, or the equivalent reduction in spending. There is currently no tax increase anticipated for the next year, but Hammil said they would need to plan for one soon should they decide to proceed with the full capital improvement plan. 

Council made no major decisions at the work session last week but did offer glimpses of their thoughts in a discussion. 

Votes to defund the parking garage?

Councilor Payne said he would support deferring or canceling the $10 million for the parking garage and working to find another solution to guarantee parking for the courts complex. 

“I think we really need to at least initiate conversations on are there ways to meet that courts agreement outside of a new parking garage of that size and cost,” Payne said. “Not abandon that agreement. Meet it. Honor it. Honor our relationships and commitments with the county but see what we can do reduce that cost there.”  

Councilor Lloyd Snook said he was also willing to rethink the garage.

“I’ve been a real passionate defender of this parking garage but as someone who uses the parking garage that we have now, I’m looking around and seeing we don’t have a demand for parking right now,” Snook said. “Admittedly things are slow because of COVID, but we don’t know when that will end.” 

Payne said the city also needs to have a conversation about the full cost of middle school reconfiguration. Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she and Councilor Heather Hill sit on a committee with two school board members who are working on the issue while a cost estimate is developed. 

Walker said whatever the conversation, the focus must be on equity. She also said the city’s spending on housing must be tracked. The city is currently without a housing coordinator. 

“I don’t know where we are on replacing [John] Sales’ position,” Walker said. “I think it was Jeff Levien last time he was before us said there was still a vacant unit sitting in [Six Hundred West Main] because he could not find anyone to rent it.” 

Walker said she is also concerned about the future of the city’s investment in Piedmont Housing Alliance’s redevelopment of Friendship Court.

“We make decisions based on relationships and not based on what people would do,” Walker said. “We are taking taxpayer money and investing those dollars and we should have some strings attached.”

Council remains skeptical about West Main funding

Staff has recommended not proceeding with additional funding for the West Main Streetscape, which has a roughly $52 million cost estimate to implement a design plan that cost $2.85 million in city funds to create. One Councilor was ready to de-prioritize local funds being use to move forward. 

“I do see the value and vision,” Payne said. “I just can’t justify it as being a bigger priority than these other things,” Payne said. 

The West Main project was split into four phases in order to secure funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Local funding is required for Phase 1 and Phase 2, but a third phase is being recommended for nearly $10.9 million in funding in the next Smart Scale round. I asked the Virginia Department of Transportation plan what would happen if Council decides to cancel the first two phases. Phase 3 covers the area between the Drewary Brown Bridge and Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. 

“The Phase 3 application would not be automatically removed,” said VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter. “It is a standalone project. From the process perspective the City would need to pass a resolution requesting that its Phase 3 application be withdrawn from consideration for funding.”

Hatter said if the city does drop Phase 3, the funding would go to the next highest scoring project in Smart Scale, which is a roundabout at the intersection of Route 522 and Route 20 in Orange. 

Councilor Snook said he did not want to make a decision at the work session, and consensus was reached to do so at Council’s upcoming meeting next Monday. 

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 February 9, 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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