Charlottesville City Council has begun a six-week process through which they will shape City Manager Maurice Jones’ recommended $179.3 million budget into their own.
Jones formally presented his budget to Council on Monday.
“This is the official beginning of our budget season,” Jones said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she is still learning how the budget process works but has been paying close attention over the last three years.
“I think we have a lot of work to go do to make sure the community as a whole benefits from the investments that we make,” she said.
Walker added that her review of the budget will be influenced by the work of Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
“Even with the school being the primary driver, our school system is doing well in a lot of areas but it’s not doing really well based on race and class,” Walker said. “We can’t ignore the school-to-prison pipeline that we have in this area.”
The budget process continues with a work session today to be held in CitySpace beginning at 5:00 p.m.
Jones’ $179.3 million budget is a 4.48 percent increase over the current year.
The property tax rate is proposed to remain at 95 cents per $100 of assessed value. All other tax rates would also remain the same.
The annual contribution to the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund has been increased to $3.4 million. The five-year total in the capital improvement program is $17 million.
The city has increased its annual contribution to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority for their eventual redevelopment efforts to $500,000 a year through fiscal year 2023. The current budget allocated $250,000 for this purpose.
Jones also recommends increasing the funding for a city program that provides tax relief grants to qualifying homeowners. The grant amount for homeowners with incomes below $25,000 will be raised from $375 to $450. The amount for homeowners with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 would be increased from $525 to $625.
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will receive another $500,000 from the City Council’s Strategic Initiatives Fund. The program got a grant of $450,000 in the current fiscal year.
“It was originally to help pay for common area fees and rent for the Heritage Center because that was something that was a real concern for them,” Jones said in an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow. “After year two of that funding is in place, probably towards the end of the next fiscal year, we’ll have conversations with them about how it positively affected them and allow them to do other types of programming there.”
City employees would get a three percent raise.
“As a comparison, Albemarle County is providing a 2 percent cost of living adjustment plus 0.7 percent merit pay for eligible employees,” reads the city’s budget summary.
The proposed fiscal year budget for 2019 includes several new positions.
An additional Assistant City Attorney would be hired at a cost of $122,000. The description of the position is to “provide support for the legal representation of city departments, commissions and elected officials.”
A part-time community outreach position in the Office of Human Rights Office will be converted to full-time. That will be an additional cost of $38,000 a year.
Another $72,000 will go toward a Minority Business Development Coordinator. The position will focus on increasing city procurement with firms owned by minorities and women.
The budget also sets aside $100,000 to pay for positions that have been recommended through a supplemental efficiency study conducted for the Department of Neighborhood Development Services.
The public works department is phasing out five positions that are currently vacant, resulting in $282,000 in money that won’t have to be spent.
Another $225,000 will be used to make changes related to the way the Clerk of Council’s office works. The clerk would be reclassified as Chief of Staff and would “serve as lead aide on implementing Council projects. Two new positions would be created. One would conduct policy research for Councilors and the other would assist Council with community engagement and media relations.
The parks department would get two new full-time employees to run the McIntire Skate Park at a cost of $116,000. Construction of the facility got underway this week and is expected to be completed later this year.
The city is expecting $15,696,360 from the county in the next fiscal year as part of the revenue-sharing agreement that has been in place since 1982.
A bill introduced by Delegate Steve Landes (R-Weyer’s Cave) that would require such agreements to be renegotiated has passed both houses of the General Assembly.
Jones had no comment on HB1148 or about what would happen if the city were to suddenly lose the funding.
The school system will receive a $2.7 million in new operational funding. An additional $1 million will go to the school’s capital program for strategic initiatives.
Charlottesville Area Transit will reduce service on Route 9 from 17 hours a day to 13 hours a day. This bus runs between the Downtown Transit Center and the Brooks Family YMCA in McIntire Park but ridership has not been strong. The YMCA does not contribute to the service.
“We’ll be driven by the data on that,” Jones said. “We simply don’t have the ridership at this point. We’ll continue to take a look at that as we do with all of our routes throughout the city to determine what types of services we’re offering.”
The budget also transfers $149,000 from the general fund to a fund set aside to run operations at the golf course at Pen Park.
“We’ve had some discussions about that almost every budget cycle for the five, six or seven years or so,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a drop in the number of people who are playing. Thankfully we saw a little bit of an increase last year so that will certainly help.”
Softball teams participating in the city-run league will see their fees rise from $540 to $630. Youth in city-run basketball leagues will see their individual fees increase from $20 to $30. Non-resident players will see their fees increase from $30 to $45.
The capital budget for parks calls for $750,000 to implement a master plan for Tonsler Park, $295,000 to renovate the tennis courts at Pen Park and $150,000 to renovate the basketball courts at Washington Park. Another $50,000 will be spent on a cultural landscape study for the Downtown Mall.
Another $100,000 from the strategic initiatives fund will pay for a pilot participatory budgeting program.
The budget would spend $94,000 on lighting of dark intersections downtown. Jones said that would pay for installation and not for a study.
Jones’ summary letter for the budget states that more people are working in Charlottesville than ever before.
“Within the ten square miles of Charlottesville, there are now 39,572 jobs,” Jones wrote. “This is the highest number ever recorded for Charlottesville and represents a nine percent increase during the last decade.”
Many of those jobs are held by people who live outside the city and commute by car.
“We’ve taken some significant steps in the last few years to help address infrastructure needs with getting people in and out of the city,” Jones said, citing the John Warner Parkway and its interchange as well as the recent completion of the Hillsdale Drive extension.
The capital budget includes $1.3 million in the next year for undergrounding utilities with a three-year total of $4.43 million. The five-year capital plan also includes $1.9 million in new sidewalks, $10.25 million for the West Main Streetscape.
“In addition to that we have $10 million in parking that’s designated to help with parking in downtown and that could be either somewhere near the downtown mall or on West Main Street. That has not been decided yet by Council.”
The budgeted amount for parking meter revenue is drastically reduced from the current fiscal year. In January, Council opted to end a six-month pilot of parking meters after public outcry. Jones said the future of the parking enterprise fund will have to be revisited.
“Now we’ve got to rethink how we’re doing that,” Jones said. “We’ve already had to make some adjustments based on the fact that we’ve pulled the pilot out. For instance, the pricing at the Market Street garage. We kept the one-hour free parking but we raised the price from $1.50 an hour to $2 an hour beyond that to offset some of the losses we’ve taken by not having the meters in.”
In addition to today’s work session, the Council will discuss and review the budget at multiple meetings. Additional work sessions will be held on March 15 and March 29. In between those dates, Council will have a public hearing on Jones’ recommended budget on March 19 followed by a community budget forum on March 29.
Council will hold a second public hearing on the budget on April 2 followed by an additional work session on April 5 if necessary. They are scheduled to adopt the budget on April 10.