Albemarle Board adopts $586.3 million budget

Stalemate continues on synthetic turf fields 

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors took eight actions yesterday to complete the process of development and adopting a budget for FY23. They began with the tax rates. (view the presentation)

“We have the real estate, mobile homes and public service tax rate of 85.4 cents (per $100 of assessed value) that is the calendar year 2022 rate,” said Andy Bowman, chief of the Office of Management and Budget in Albemarle. “For personal property rate, which also applies to machinery and tool taxes, the current rate is currently $4.28 cents per $100 and it is proposed to be reduced to $3.22 per $100 of assessed value.” 

The reduction is due to the increase in value of used vehicles due to reduced production. Many localities in Virginia opted to decrease this amount, though Charlottesville City Council opted to keep their rate at the higher one. 

In the next three items, Supervisors had to vote on an increase in the food and beverage tax from four percent to six percent and an increase in the transient lodging tax from five percent to eight percent.

“And finally the disposable plastic bag tax which would be five cents for each disposable bag and that would go into effect on January 1 of 2023,” Bowman said. 

Supervisors adopted those tax rates with no discussion. All of that took place at the seven work sessions held since the budget was introduced in late February. All of those tax rates add up to a budget that anticipated $586.282,008 in total revenues for FY 23.

“That is a number than is greater than the Board last saw, due to some changes primarily in the school budget,” Bowman said. 

A breakdown of revenues and expenditures in the FY23 budget (view the presentation)

Those changes include additional funds for the school system related to reclassification of federal funds as well as $12 million in funding for the school that came down from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Virginia has not yet adopted its budget as the divided General Assembly did not reach consensus on one. Bowman said that means there is about $5 million in funds in question currently set aside as a placeholder. 

“The current county budget includes $3.6 million in state funding that is currently in question with the impasse at the state budget,” Bowman said. “The Board of Supervisors previously asked the public schools what is the fallback plan if that state funding comes through? This plan is responsive to that direction so if the state keeps that $3.6 million intact, the school board would use that $3.6 million in one way. If that $3.6 million were to fall out of the state with an alternative approval for how that would be used. 

Stalemate continues on synthetic turf fields 

One issue that has come up during the budget process has been how to proceed with plans to update athletic fields managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. The original budget envisioned those being installed as grass fields at the future Biscuit Run Park, but at least three Supervisors sought to instead move forward with a previous plan to build synthetic turf fields at Darden Towe Park. 

Some such as Supervisor Ann Mallek continued to want to keep those fields natural. The topic was discussed extensively at the work session on April 27, and the county executive prepared a potential way to move forward.

“If the Board were to show a majority or a consensus today that we would like to explore increasing the quality of the fields at Darden Towe, the first step would be to go out and get an expert in the turf management world to come in and do an assessment,” said County Executive Jeffrey Richardson.

That process could take a year and might mean taking the fields off line for some time. Richardson said the first step would cost about $20,000 and he asked the Board if they supported that pathway forward. However, that proposal was not included in the budget before the Board. 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway asked what this study would give the county that it didn’t already know before. 

“What it gives us is a detailed plan of execution,” said Trevor Henry, the assistant county executive. “A nutrient plan, things like aeration, lime, fertilizer, a seeding schedule, weed and pest control, a mowing schedule, a watering schedule, and a rotation. Those would be some of the outcomes of that.” 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel made a motion to adopt the budget that did not include spending that $20,000 for the consultant. Supervisor Ann Mallek made a counter motion to amend the budget to include that funding. 

Supervisor McKeel wanted to move forward with synthetic turf as recommended by staff in 2019 to put lighting and artificial turf at Darden Towe. 

“In 2019, Albemarle County had nine organizations representing over 7,000 participants that were requesting rectangular field space,” McKeel said. “It was evident in ‘19 that Albemarle County not only lacked the available fields but lacked the ability to provide quality fields based on high usage.”

McKeel said artificial turf was not her first choice for grass athletic fields, but she supported their use at Darden Towe, which is considered an urban park. 

“A mudhole is not an environmental success, nor is asking people to play in goose poop an environmental success,” McKeel said. 

Supervisor Mallek said natural grass fields are safer for those who play on them. The topic was discussed extensively at the April 27 work session. 

Gallaway said he did not support the motion because it would delay what he said was a need to provide fields. He supported synthetic.

“We’ve had in front of us an option that would fix our system of fields that would increase capacity, that would increase quality everywhere, not just for the current fields but for the future fields that would come into the system,” Gallaway said. 

Supervisor Donna Price also did not support the motion.

“I call foul on that proposal and think we’re just simply kicking the can down the road,” Price said. “It’s been years that we’ve known our fields are inadequate and that we needed to do something like this.” 

Mallek’s proposal failed 3-3, which is a stalemate. That means the adopted budget does not include a decision point on how to proceed with athletic fields. . 

Other actions taken to complete the budget include a resolution for appropriation of $18 million for FY23 in FY22, a borrowing resolution, and a resolution to adopt the Capital Improvement Plan for FY23 through FY27. 

Now that the budget is complete, the process will next begin on creating a new strategic plan. 

Capital Improvement Plan for the next five years 

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 May 5, 2022 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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