Charlottesville budget staff continues to warn Council of approaching debt limit

Charlottesville City Council will have a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year on Monday, April 5. On March 25 they held a work session on the proposed capital improvement program as well as what to do with some additional revenue that budget staff now anticipates receiving during the year that begins on July 1. 

For months, budget staff have been telling Council that the city is close to its capacity to raise additional debt. (link to presentation) (watch on city website)

“With the proposed CIP we are projecting a five year debt financing of roughly $121 million,” said senior budget management analyst Krissy Hammill. “WIth the bonds that we’ve previously committed but not issued, and the CIP before you, we are committing to a debt capacity of about $195 million.” 

A slide from Hammill’s presentation

To cover that amount, budget staff are anticipating increasing the property tax rate for a total of ten cents over five years to cover the additional debt service. The actual vote to do so will be made by Council next year, including any new Councilors that are elected this November. 

That $195 million Hammill mentioned includes about $18 million in bonds that have not yet been sold for the West Main Streetscape, which was split into four phases in order to obtain funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation. David Brown is the city’s public works director.

“The funding that’s being proposed right now covers Phase 1 but there is  $6.5 million that is needed to complete Phase 2,” Brown said. 

A third phase is recommended to be fully funded by VDOT with no match of local tax dollars, unlike in phase 1 and 2. Phase 4 is currently unfunded. City Manager Chip Boyles said VDOT is willing to delay the projects another year in order for them to be done at the same time, if the city comes up with the $6.5 million or scales back the project. 

One of the biggest costs of the program is to place utility lines underground. This has a $4.3 million cost in Phase 1 and a $5 million cost in Phase 2 according to a budget presented to Council last September. 

This image was shown to Council during their September 30, 2020 work session on West Main (preview story) (review story)

Another decision point was how to use some additional revenues freed up by other budget reductions and higher estimates for business licenses. About $1.3 million was found. A million is proposed for a two percent cost of living increase for city employees and another $60,000 would go to fully fund a deputy city manager position. Staff had recommended using the rest for personnel to support a climate action plan when one is drafted. Kristel Riddervold is the city’s environmental administrator.

“The anticipation is that when we have a climate action plan adopted, there will be a range of initiatives be it on the municipal side or the community support side that actually exceed the capacity staff has to deliver. 

A majority of Council supported the climate position, but Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker favored a “measurement and solutions” position intended to track how the city is achieving its goals. A committee had been expected to produce a report last summer but the work was delayed by the pandemic. 

City Manager Boyles said he would try to find a way to fund the measurement position as well. 

The public hearing for the budget will be held at Council’s meeting on Monday night. A wrap-up work session is scheduled for April 8 and the budget is expected to be adopted at a special meeting on April 13. 

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 April 1, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: