For the first time since 2019, members of the community in Albemarle County had the opportunity to give public comments about the draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year in Lane Auditorium.
“It was reality shocking that we had a couple of years when no one showed up for the budget hearings so it’s nice to see folks,” said Jack Jouett District Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
The pandemic closed the space to meetings for three years, but several people took advantage of the resumed normality to give feedback on the proposed $551.5 million budget for fiscal year 2024.
But first, County Executive Jeff Richardson gave a condensed briefing that included this fact.
“Real property assessment values year over year are up approximately 13.5 percent,” Richardson said.
That amount results in about $25 million in new revenues and Richardson is recommending using some of that money for infrastructure projects identified in the capital improvement program. Richardson said a very large portion of the county’s revenues this year will go to support Goal 5 of the strategic plan – Education and Learning.
“The goal is to support exceptional educational opportunities,” Richardson said. “The single biggest expenditure in our budget each year is the transfer to Albemarle County public schools.”
The capital program also sets aside funding for two new elementary schools and a High School Center, as well as an expansion at Mountain View Elementary. For a full recap of the budget, read my story from February 25, 2023.
One of the speakers d uring the public hearing was Paul Newland of the Rio District. He said this year’s assessments reflect a real estate market that has behaved erratically in the past year.
“Albemarle County experienced an eight percent rise in home prices during the past year, a significant increase,” Newland said. “This was probably driven by an extremely low interest rate, about three percent for most of the year. It is now at seven percent and home sales have decreased over 25 percent since the first of the year. The market is clearly not as robust as it was during this short period of time reflected by our assessments.”
Newland said inflation is adding to economic hardship for retirees on fixed incomes, and increased property taxes. He urged the Board of Supervisors to scrutinize the draft budget to find cuts so that the real property tax rate could be reduced.
Gustavo Espinoza of the Legal Aid Justice Center said he spent the pandemic organizing residents of the Jack Jouett and Rio districts with eviction prevention and rent relief. With dwindling state and federal funds, he advocated for more local spending.
“I’ve witnessed the urgent need for both emergency rental assistance and for long term affordable housing and so I’m asking, please invest more money in both of those items in the budget,” Espinoza said.
Lydia Brunk of the Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America also advocated for spending for low-income tenants facing eviction.
“I am increasingly aware of the fact that tenants are paying increasing amounts of money for poorly maintained houses and have increasingly scarce resources to turn to in an emergency,” Brunk said. “We’ve spoken to tenants who are paying $1,700 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with issues like mold or broken plumbing that don’t get addressed.”
Don Long of the White Hall District appeared on behalf of the Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle and asked for investment in more places for people to play sports.
“I was excited to see two additional fields in the new budget but I wanted to encourage the board to really consider additional fields and additional field maintenance into the budget,” Long said. “We are dramatically underserved in terms of the numbers of fields for our population for soccer and for other sports.”
Those fields would be built at Biscuit Run park at a cost of $3.8 million for design in FY24 and construction in FY25.
And that was it for the public comment. Supervisors will begin their review of the budget on Wednesday with a work session at 3 p.m. Some of them had some parting comments after the public hearing.
“Pay attention to what your Supervisors do during the budget because you will learn what their priorities are,” said Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District.
Supervisor Jim Andrews of the Samuel Miller District reminded the audience that the materials are available for anyone with access to the internet.
“This big book that each of us has up here is available online, and the presentations are available online all through the albemarle.org website under finance and budget,” Andrews said.
Supervisor Donna Price of the Scottsville District asked for specific information to be ready for the work sessions.
“When assessments are calculated, how they are calculated, and what flexibility the county has with regard to how those assessments are determined because we’ve gotten a lot of questions about that,” Price said.
Stay tuned for more from the Albemarle budget in future editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement.
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 March 6, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.