Charlottesville City Council hears from department heads at budget work session

Council hears from Police Chief Kochis, CAT director Williams

Charlottesville City Council continues to comb through the budget for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2023. As the city prepares itself for a future with more residential density, staying on top of the budget is a good way to track preparations. 

One of the key subjects areas of Charlottesville Community Engagement is the budget process of Albemarle County and Charlottesville. There’s a whole set of stories on Information Charlottesville that captures this topic over time. 

Charlottesville’s budget was introduced at the March 6 meeting, as I reported at the time with a second story from March 9

Council held their first work session on the budget on March 9, 2023. Here’s a summary of what I heard. (slides from the presentation)

Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers’ recommended budget is just over $226 million, $13 million higher than in the current fiscal year.

“Mostly from real estate taxes, $9 million,” Rogers said. “And the food and lodging sales taxes increased, for a total sum of $13 million.” 

A full list of new positions and reassigned positions from the March 9, 2023 City Council budget work session. All of the presentations for the FY24 budget are available on the city’s website at this link.

There’s no increase in any of the city’s tax rates, but assessments went up.

All of that additional revenue is being used in the budget with several new positions.

“Three battalion chiefs, a human rights investigator, a human rights administrator support, human resources recruiter which we desperately needs with the number of vacancies that we had,” Rogers said. “A deputy director of human resources. [Police Civilian Oversight Board] management analyst. Emergency management coordinator. Firefighters, fifteen firefighter positions that are not new. They’re on the payroll but we had a grant several years back so its now time for the general fund to begin absorbing that cost.” 

Another new position is an employee to work with Deputy City Manager Ashley Marshall for a REDI position in the office that was created last July in the current budget and now includes several positions that had been free-standing. REDI stands for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. 

“Currently your Office of Equity and Inclusion is me, me, and me,” Marshall said. “And also along with our leads for the Downtown Job Center, our Home to Hope program, and our [Americans with Disabilities Act] coordinator. The REDI individual would help to provide an umbrella not only over the great programs those programs are already doing but would help working within the organization to make sure we are providing adequate and timely training opportunities for our staff, being able to have an additional set of eyes to review program proposals to make sure we are thinking of equity.” 

Other positions were eliminated or reclassified, such as five vacant police officers. 

This work session offered a chance from representatives of various departments to explain their budget.

That included Charlottesville’s interim fire chief, Michael Thomas who said that the department has responded to 5,600 calls for service in the first eight months of the current fiscal year. That number has been increasing since the fire department switched to “proximity dispatch” in fiscal year 2021. 

“And at that time when it was implemented there was a 56 percent increase in our call volumes we were able to reduce the response times to the citizens by nine percent,” Thomas said. 

See also: 

There was also a report from the Department of Parks and Recreation and their $12.9 million budget for FY24. 

“I believe that we are the gateway to the city,” said Deputy Director Riann Anthony.  “We have a very portfolio. We have 28 parks within the city and counting. Next year, hopefully next year or the year after we will be adding another park.” 

Anthony said there are 45 playgrounds, including those on school grounds. There are six miles of paved trails and over 30 miles of natural trails. 

“We have four swimming pools, two indoor and two outdoor, plus four splash pads,” Anthony said. 

As the summer approaches, Anthony said staffing issues have been resolved and the hope is to open both Washington Pool and Onesty pool seven days a week. The city has outsources staffing at Onesty to a third party. Anthony also said the department is looking for ways to add more classes and may partner with other organizations. 

Next up was Police Chief Michael Kochis who has been on the job for two months now. (CPD presentation)

“It’s been a busy few weeks and I’m really still getting to know the community and our officers and I’ll just start of by saying that I’ve been nothing but impressed at this police department,” Kochis said.  “I’ll just start of by saying that I’ve been nothing but impressed at this police department and the men and women that we have. We have a good foundation. We have a lot of work to do but I’m very optimistic.” 

Kochis said Sergeant Eric Thomas is now serving as the department’s community involvement coordinator to help build relationships with different groups in the city. 

“One of the initial things he’s been charged with doing is to identify key stakeholders in the community, maybe around 15 or 20, to serve on our community action team or Chief’s advisory team where we would meet monthly and gather input from these key stakeholders as to what they want to see from our community outreach,” Kochis said. 

One of the slides in Chief Kochis’ presentation

As for the recent uptick in gun violence, Kochis said a detective has been assigned full time to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Safe Streets Task Force.

“And we have actually used those federal resources in the recent case of the homicide that occurred on Hardy Drive,” Kochis said. 

Kochis said he recently sent some of his staff to the city of Alexandria to review the crisis response team that is used there in situations such as a school shooting.

“We have to be prepared to respond to those, and currently we are not,” Kochis said. “If something like that happens in this city tonight, Virginia State Police would be responding.” 

In response to a question about those five eliminated police officers, Kochis said he also wants a staffing study to take place to find out how many officers his department needs. 

Public works and transit

Next it was time for Public Works Director Stacy Smalls to go through the proposed $24.46 million budget for his department. That includes the engineering division. 

“They are responsible for traffic and a lot of different requests we get about ‘hey, is this street safe? Can we get a stop sign here? Should we be doing a traffic diet?’ and things like that,” Small said. “We also have our VDOT project management team there that’s responsible for 116 federal, state, and local matching monies for the VDOT program that they are responsible for delivering.” 

Finally, Garland Williams of Charlottesville Area Transit appeared and said they are currently 14 drivers short and any that are hired are going to pupil transportation.

“Transit is kind of sacrificing our recruitment efforts to make sure that we recruit school bus drivers first,” Williams said.

Williams said CAT will focus on restoring service to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Pre-pandemic level we would have been running 25 buses at peak,” Williams said. “We’re running 18 today and we want to continue our efforts to restore that service. We want to improve service on the Route 6 to provide service to Crescent Hall and South First Street. Today it operates on a 60 minute schedule and we want to change that to a 30 minute model.” 

Williams told Council about the microtransit service that CAT won the contract to provide in Albemarle County and were briefed on in February.

“The goal for us is to try to get it up and running in the late fall of this calendar year,” Williams said. 

Transit is another focus area for Charlottesville Community Engagement. A lot of promises have been made in the last couple of years, but have they been kept? Scroll back through the archives of Information Charlottesville for accounts of many conversations from the past two and a half years. One thing you’ll note is that in 2021, new bus routes were drawn and went through the public process but have never been implemented for lack of drivers. 

Tonight’s work session will be on nonprofit agencies funded through the Vibrant Communities Fund. 

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 16, 2023 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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