Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
April 1, 2024: Group plans to hold rally at City Hall in favor of ceasefire resolution; Council to hold first reading of $251M budget for FY25

April 1, 2024: Group plans to hold rally at City Hall in favor of ceasefire resolution; Council to hold first reading of $251M budget for FY25

Plus: Council to hold second reading on funding for affordable housing projects and services

I will state clearly at the outset that this newsletter and podcast comes from Virginia, and not from either Indiana or North Carolina. The celebration of the beginning of the second quarter of the year often comes with merriment and mirth, but this April 1, 2024 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement comes at a time when there’s information to get out. I’m Sean Tubbs, because who else would I be? 

In today’s installment:

  • Council will hold first reading tonight on a proposed budget for FY25 based on three tax rate increases, and only a handful of people spoke at public hearings on March 21

  • A nonprofit group building a commercial kitchen to assist would-be restaurant entrepreneurs receives additional funding from the City of Charlottesville

  • Council will hold second reading tonight on funding for several affordable housing projects and services

  • The Charlottesville Jewish Organizing Collective is hopeful City Council will adopt a resolution tonight supporting a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza

Charlottesville Community Engagement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

First shout-out: Judy Woodruff to address Emily Couric Leadership Forum on April 30

In today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement: On April 30, the Emily Couric Leadership Forum will award $250,000 in scholarships to area high school women in recognition of leadership excellence at its annual Luncheon at the Omni Resort in Charlottesville. The keynote speaker for the event is Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  The group anticipates a sell out for this year’s luncheon, so this is a good time to buy a ticket. If they do sell out the event, there will be a wait list. 

Find out more and consider your own donation at their website.

Council to hold first reading of FY25 budget this evening

Today’s edition has a heavy emphasis on Charlottesville’s draft budget for FY25 in advance of the first reading scheduled for tonight. There are several items I still want to cover from the development process and wanted to share what I have learned. For background, I’ll refer you to several stories written so far.

With that as background, let’s jump right into the three public hearings for three tax rate increases that are before Council. City Manager Sam Sanders re-introduced the budget on March 18. 

“Per the City Charter, I as the City Manager am responsible for bringing forward a balanced budget,” Sander said. “In order to pull forward that balanced budget this year I met with Council in advance because of course the priorities that we have already identified, the funds were not available to make sure that all of them could be achieved.” 

Council held a work session on the budget on February 1 and Council signaled a willingness to increase tax rates above and beyond what a 4.07 percent average increase in property assessments. Sanders delivered.

“It’s a series of tax increases and tonight the public will have its opportunity to speak to Council,” Sanders said. 

Sanders budget recommended:

  • An increase in the transient lodging tax rate from 8 percent to 9 percent

  • An increase in the meals tax rate from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent

  • An increase in the real property tax rate from $0.96 per $100 of assessed value to $0.98. The public advertisement allows Council to approve up to $0.99 per $100. 

The three public hearings came after a public comment period in which speaker after speaker gave a passionate plea for Council to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. Many were still in Chambers waiting for Council to take up the matter and some had their children with them. 

“So I’m going to briefly touch on each one of the proposed tax increases and then we are required to have an individual public hearing since there are three different tax rates that are being adjusted,” Sanders said. 

Some of the agencies what will receive funding in FY25

That prompted a question from Mayor Juandiego Wade.

“So, Sam, you’re going to do an introduction to each?” Wade asked. 

“I’ll do all three and then I’ll say something before you open and close each public hearing,” Sanders said. “That way we’ll meet our legal obligation.” 

Sanders paused while people in the audience carried on their business. 

Then the City Manager explained that there are three Council priorities that are requiring him to increase the tax rates. 

“The first being the integration of collective bargaining,” Sanders said. “That is allowing all of our various employees to be able to pursue collective bargaining. With FY25 we will recognize three unions in police, fire, and transit.” 

The other priority is modernizing the city’s payment structure for city employees and the third is additional support for Charlottesville City Schools above and beyond the existing formula that governs the local taxes they receive. 

“There was a $12 million request made by the schools,” Sanders said. “When I prepared the budget, I included a $6 million allocation for schools. In the conversation with Council and reaching the conclusion that we would advertise an increased tax rate, that number was increased to $7 million.” 

When the public hearing was opened up for the real estate tax rate, former Planning Commissioner and former School Board member John Santoski said while Council has the ability to raise taxes to fund their priorities, many in the community are “baffled” by increased tax rates when assessments have led to surpluses each year. 

“You know, we’re paying for a Buford renovation, we’re paying for affordable housing, we’re now going to be paying for what could be quite expensive unionization,” Santoski said. “I grew up in the northeast, trust me. Public service unions have bankrupted many a city in the that of Pennsylvania into bankruptcy over the years. Not saying that it’s not a good thing, but you City Councilors won’t be here when that starts to happen ten or fifteen years down the road so be very, very careful.” 

Another speaker urged Council to raise the taxes to provide more revenue for services, but also to pay teachers more money.

“Many of them can’t live in the city and so the moral, just, as well as practical way is to pay them enough which obviously is to pay them enough which obviously will cost money and one of the key ways in order to make this a reality is by raising real estate taxes which compared to many places in the country are relatively low,” said Dr. Emily Yen. 

Another speaker, Jeffrey Fogel, said he has long advocated for substantial increases in the real property rate tax but also called for more people to become eligible for relief. 

“But we live in a very, very rich community and the shame is that property taxes cannot be made progressive the way income taxes are so that people in relative stratas of our society pay their fair share.” 

I didn’t make it to Council’s March 28, 2024 public hearing on the capital improvement program. It doesn’t appear any other reporters did, either.

They were the only three speakers for that public hearing for the real estate tax rate.  

No one spoke at the public hearing for the lodging tax increase. 

There were two speakers who took the opportunity to make a comment on the meals tax rate increase. One of them was Roy Van Doorn. He said the increase would cut into the ability of restaurants to make a profit.  

“According to the National Restaurant Association, the average independent table service restaurant has a net profit to the entrepreneuer of between three and five percent,” Van Doorn said. “Yet the city now proposes to tax the revenue of every restaurant customer at a rate of seven and a half percent. That means the city in most cases will derive more revenue from the operations of restaurants than most of the independent table service restaurants.”

Van Doorn said restaurants are already contending with higher rent, higher labor costs, and higher food costs. Three meals tax rate increases in four years was making it harder to keep independent businesses afloat. 

“It seems to me that the city has forgotten that restaurants suffered more damage than any other business group from COVID,” Van Doorn said. 

The other speaker about the meals tax was Russ Cromberg manages restaurants for the University of Virginia Foundation. He urged Council to do more to promote tourism to increase the volume of sales rather than the percentage the city gains from taxes. 

Council will hold the first reading on the budget tonight followed by a work session on Thursday to make any last minute adjustments. Then there will be a second reading and adoption scheduled for a special meeting on April 9.

Council reallocates another $90K in federal funds to BEACON kitchen

The City of Charlottesville’s approach to the use of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is shifting, with Council agreeing twice in the past two months to reprogram money from public infrastructure to private infrastructure.

In February, Council reallocated $215,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank to pay for new refrigeration equipment and other capital expenses. About three quarters of the funding, or $156,247.20, had been slated for sidewalk improvements in the RIdge Street neighborhood. 

This time around, the New Hill Development Corporation received nearly $90,000 to help pay for larger public utility connections for the BEACON commercial kitchen under construction in the Belmont neighborhood.  This time around the money comes from funding that was set aside in the last CDBG cycle for public infrastructure but not used, according to Anthony Warn of the Office of Community Solutions. 

“We began to scan the community to try to find projects that were related to community benefit activities that were related to public facilities and infrastructure as defined by HUD,” Warn said. 

An artist’s rendering of the BEACON Commercial Kitchen under construction in Kathy’s Shopping Center in Belmont. Learn more about the project on the New Hill Development Corporation’s website.

Warn said New Hill Development Corporation did not anticipate the additional expenses incurred after the city reviewed the final site plan for the commercial kitchen. 

Council previously awarded $500,000 to the project from the city’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds, but recently the nonprofit group learned they had designed the project with insufficient capacity to handle the amount of water they’ll use and wastewater they will generate. 

“Those increases drove up the price,” Warn said. “This money will help to bridge the gap between the money that is currently available to facilitate this project and the money that is needed. It will directly go to installing the increased water, sewer, and electrical lines that connect to municipal utilities.”

Mayor Juandiego Wade said he was glad to support the project.

“I think that this is going to be just incredible opportunities for many of the incubator, for many of businesses so I’m really excited about this and glad we could see these funds proposed for this project,” Wade said. 

Yolunda Harrell, chief executive officer of New Hill Development Corporation, said that many localities often waive the connection fees for affordable housing projects.

“That does not occur with affordable economic development,” Harrell said. “And so those tap fees, we do incur that cost. There was obviously water and sewer and gas already running but what was not known at that time was the volume of what our load was going to put into the infrastructure.” 

Harrell said the total additional cost overrun is about $250,000 above the original budget. 

No one spoke at the public hearing. 

Before the vote, City Manager Sam Sanders said the City of Charlottesville does not waive connection fees. Gary O’Connell, the director of the Albemarle County Service Authority also said in an email that all new development pays to connect to the system. 


Second shout-out: Plant Virginia Natives

We’re two weeks into spring, it’s April, and I can state as I type this that I’ve got a crew in my backyard preparing what has been an overgrown area into something where I can plant items. So I’m particularly excited today for the second-shout:  Plant Virginia Natives

Plant Virginia Natives is part of a partnership with ten regional campaigns for ten different ecosystems across Virginia, from the Northern Piedmont to the Eastern Shore. Take a look at the full map below for the campaign for native species where you are in the Commonwealth. For the Charlottesville area, download a free copy of the handbook: Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens. As I plan for spring, I’m going to take a look because after almost four years of one Patreon supporter selecting this as his shout-out, I’m excited to get to work myself!

Council holds first of two readings on housing allocations

In 2007, the City of Charlottesville created the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund to provide a steady trickle of funding to support a variety of programs related to the cost of subsidizing places for people to live.

In 2024, that trickle has become a reliable source with Council morally committed to providing at least $10 million in funds every year for affordable housing. 

On March 18, Council held the first of two readings for allocations from two pots of money. One is the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund (CAHF) and another is the Housing Operations and Program Support program (HOPS). 

“The CAHF received and was budgeted for $835,000 whereas the HOPS received $585,000,” said Antoine Williams, the city’s housing manager. 

The CAHF received six applications and the following  programs were recommended for funded after a screening process (read the resolution):

  • Albemarle Housing Improvement Program was recommended to receive $117,196 for their Charlottesville Critical Rehabilitation Program

  • Community Services Housing was recommended to receive $74,054 for rehabilitation repairs to their existing properties 

  • Habitat for Humanity was recommended to receive $393,750 for a home ownership program known as Habitat Core 2024

  • The Piedmont Housing Alliance was slated to receive $250,000 toward development of their project at 501 Cherry Avenue 

There were 17 applications for the HOPS program and the following were recommended for approval. 

  • $35,000 for the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless for the System of Care Coordination Program. A total of $50,000 was requested for this purpose. 

  • $28,000 for the Blue Ridge Area Coalition for the Homeless for their Homeless Information Line program. The request was for $40,000. 

  • $55,034 for Community Services Housing’s Community Services Housing program. The request was for $78,620. 

  • $65,250 for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville’s homeownership program. The request was for $75,000. 

  • $70,000 for PACEM’s Case Management Program. The request was for $100,000.

  • $148,000 for Piedmont Housing Alliance’s Charlottesville Affordable Housing Program. The request was for $185,000.  

  • $95,716 for The Haven’s Vital Housing Services Program. The request was for $150,000. 

  • $88,000 for the Haven’s Day Shelter Program. The request was for $110,000.

Councilors noted the absence of funding for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. CRHA had asked for $550,000 for a homeownership program from the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund and $150,000 for resident services from the HOPS program. 

City Councilor Michael Payne is a voting member of the CRHA Board of Commissioners who felt the CRHA should automatically receive funding from the city. 

“The city has made massive investments in the housing authority for capital projects,” Payne said. “We haven’t matched that with investment in staff. We know no matter what this is an organization that is going to manage hundreds of units.  We appoint their entire Board. I feel we’ve got to figure out something to ensure that they are having enough investment in their staff to take on all these new capital projects and new work.” 

The item is on the consent agenda for tonight’s meeting for second reading. 

Council to take second vote on ceasefire

A group that led the campaign to fill City Council Chambers on March 18 with proponents of a ceasefire resolution will try again today as the elected body will hold a second vote.

“Hundreds of ceasefire proponents are expected inside and around Charlottesville’s city hall this afternoon as the City Council again takes up a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. support for the war,” reads a press release from the Charlottesville Jewish Organizing Collective. 

Soon after Council voted 3-2 against the resolution on March 18, Planning Commissioner Karim Habbab resigned in protest. The group plans a rally at 5:30 p.m. this evening outside City Hall. 

Reading material:

End notes for #656

This time around I coupled the audio and print versions, something that likely won’t happen again this week. I also have to admit I’ve let myself down by not getting this information out more timely. I believe people should have access to timely reporting about what’s going on, and  I’m hoping to build that.

I also had hoped to do another April Fool’s edition to have fun, but I don’t do this work to have fun. I also sense this is not a year to joke around, and maybe the time of mirth and merriment is over. Most of my attempts at humor are expressions of nervousness at being alive in a time of such uncertainty.

I do know that my own certainty improves with paid subscriptions to this newsletter so I can think about how I might get a bit faster at producing some of this material. For nearly three years now, Ting has matched the initial payment of new subscribers, something that allows me to continue on my way reporting what I can, when I can get to it.

I’m so grateful for this sponsorship. Need high speed Internet? If you sign up for service and enter the promo code COMMUNITY you’re going to get:

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