Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
April 10, 2023: Albemarle Supervisors learn more about what's in funding requests for transit agencies; Charlottesville to increase fees for building permits
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April 10, 2023: Albemarle Supervisors learn more about what's in funding requests for transit agencies; Charlottesville to increase fees for building permits

Plus: Primary ballots are set for local races in the June 20 Democratic primaries

Many of us know what 10-4 is supposed to mean, but does 4-10 represent anything else other than a height? Perhaps it signals a punt? Neither of these things would make any sense to the handful of British readers of Charlottesville Community Engagement, who may think today is okay. I’m Sean Tubbs and perhaps it would have been better if I had just said that this is the 100th day of the year. 

On today’s program:

  • The ballots are set for local races in the June 20, 2023 Democratic primaries 

  • Charlottesville City Council agrees to raise building permit fees when a new system comes online later this month

  • Albemarle County Supervisors are briefed on requests from the area’s two major transit providers

You may learn something by subscribing to this newsletter and podcast. I’ll keep producing it if enough people keep paying!

First shout-out: Piedmont Master Gardeners seek items for Green Elephant Sale

In today’s first subscriber supported public service announcement:  If you are cleaning out your garage, basement or garden shed as spring approaches, the Piedmont Master Gardeners will gladly take any yard and garden equipment you no longer need.

PMG is now accepting donations of new and used tools, hoses, decorative items, outdoor furniture—virtually anything used to create, maintain and enjoy a garden. These “Green Elephants” will be offered for sale to the public during PMG’s Spring Plant Sale. Donated items may be dropped off at 402 Albemarle Square between 10 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays and Saturdays through the end of April. PMG is not able to accept plastic pots or opened chemicals. To arrange a pickup or for more information, contact the Piedmont Master Gardeners at greenelephant@piedmontmastergardeners.org.

As for that sale? Mark your calendar for Saturday, May 6, at Albemarle Square Shopping Center. 

Five Democrats on ballot for June 20 primary for City Council; All three Albemarle Democrats run unopposed in Supervisor race

The deadline has passed for candidates to qualify for the ballot in party races scheduled for June 20 in Virginia. There’s competition for Charlottesville City Council, but none at the primary level for the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

In all, five Democrats will be listed in the primary contest that’s scheduled for 71 days from now as confirmed by John McLaren, the chair of Charlottesville Democrats. 

They are:

Payne and Snook are the first City Councilors to run for re-election since 2017, when incumbent Fenwick lost in the primary that year. Before winning election as a Democrat in 2013, Fenwick had twice run as an independent. He also ran in the 2019 Democratic primary but placed fifth in a five-way race. 

In Albemarle County, Democrat Ann Mallek will face independent Brad Rykal in the November 7 election for the White Hall District Supervisor. Today Rykal sent out a press release indicating he would not take any campaign donations from developers or other special interests. 

In the Rivanna District, Democrat Bea LaPisto-Kirtley will not face a primary challenge unlike in 2019. The incumbent will face independent Thomas Fadeley. 

Democrat Michael Pruitt currently doesn’t have any opposition in the November race. Incumbent Donna Price opted to retire from government when her term expires on December 31. Independent candidates have until June 20 to qualify for the general election ballot.

There are no Republican candidates in any of the local government races, except Senate District 11. More on that in a moment.

Area legislative races are also now official as well.

In the race for District 54 in the House of Delegates, the candidates are Bellamy Brown, Katrina Callsen, and Dave Norris

In the race for District 55 in the House of Delegates, Amy Laufer and Kellen Squire are on the ballot. 

In the race for Senate District 11, Delegate Sally Hudson is challenging Senator Creigh Deeds for the Democratic nomination. Philip Hamilton is running as a Republican and J’riah Guerrero is running as an independent.

Charlottesville considering changes to fee structure for building permits

Later this month, the city of Charlottesville will begin to use new software to track various land use applications processed by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development Services. They’ll begin with building permits, but will need to adjust the price of various fees according to building official Charles Miller. 

“One thing that we found out on this new software is that the calculations can’t handle the old way that we did the fees so it had to be done, we had to redo it,” Miller said. 

The fee schedule has not been updated in Charlottesville since 2008. Miller said the current process relies on confusing mechanisms to calculate the cost for developers and landowners. He’s seeking to simplify the system as best he can while finding consistency. 

“We have three permit techs out front,” Miller said. “If I walk up there with a permit, the chances are I’m going to get three different answers and that’s just not acceptable.” 

Miller said state code allows localities to charge fees that are high enough to cover the full cost of paying people to process the applications, but that the city is “nowhere near” that level. He said one of his goals is to change that when the new system goes into place on April 30. 

Miller has only been in the job since last August and joined city government at a time when NDS was struggling to process permits. 

“When I got here back in August, our review time was horrible,” Miller said. “It was 80 days plus. And right now we’re down to roughly about two weeks.” 

The only speaker at the public hearing was John Sales, the executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

“This caught me kind of as a surprise,” Sales said. “I don’t know the impact this will have on low-income housing projects that are under development or that are being proposed because fees take a decent amount of our budget. We’re looking at very small margins and so I hope there’s some legislation or resolution later on down the road that addresses that concern.” 

This item will come back to Council on April 17 as part of their consent agenda. 

A partial list of the new building fee schedule (view the entire list) (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Second shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign 

Since the very beginning of this newsletter, one Patreon supporter who has been there since July 2020 has used his shout-out to draw your attention to the work of the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign. The campaign is a coalition of grassroots partners including motivated citizens and volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. You still have time to learn about what you need to plan to attract pollinators who’ll keep native species going. To learn more, visit plantvirginianatives.org to download Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens

Albemarle Supervisors hear from transit providers at budget work session 

My look back at meetings I’ve missed in recent months continues with a review of the Albemarle County Supervisors’ work session from March 22, 2023. That’s when representatives from both Jaunt and Charlottesville Area Transit appeared to present their budget requests. 

Budget decisions in Albemarle are supposed to follow the major tenets of the strategic plan agreed to by the Board of Supervisors on October 19, 2022. Investment in transit operations can be justified by two specific goals: 

  • 3.4 Implement long-range plans to embrace multimodal connectivity

  • 4.4 Integrate parks planning with multi-modal transportation planning across the County.

Ryan Davidson is the deputy chief of budget in Albemarle County. 

“Here in the county we don’t operate our own separate transit system but rather are part of a larger regional transit network,” Davidson said. “And while we utilize two major regional service providers, the focus of our discussion today will be on those two providers (CAT and Jaunt) but there are several other regional partners such as the Afton Express and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission which play important roles in the network as well. “

The TJPDC operates the Regional Transit Partnership which is intended to provide guidance to elected officials. Such guidance has recently taken the form of a Regional Transit Vision as well as an on-going transit governance study

At the moment, Albemarle has no direct control over decisions made by CAT but does appoint members to the Jaunt Board of Directors. 

“CAT provides the fixed route services for the county in the urban zone and will also oversee the microtransit pilot program for the county,” Davidson said. “Jaunt, as contracted by CAT, provides the mandated Americans with Disabilities Act services that are related to those fixed CAT routes, as well as providing the urban and rural on-demand services.” 

Next year’s recommended budget includes $175,000 toward the microtransit pilot. Bids are due on April 18 for firms to provide the software and other services to run it. (Planning continues for CAT to run microtransit in Albemarle County, February 14, 2023)

While this work session was about their current budget requests and not about any future structure, there is also $98,000 in funding to hire a consultant to analyze the Albemarle’s structural ability to pay for the costs of more transit.

“Transit is continuing to increase in complexity and quite frankly the county does not have one individual that is a service level subject matter expert for transit,” Davidson. “It’s spread between five or six of at the moment that have to pick up and put this down as the issues arise.” 

For fiscal year 2024, Albemarle is slated to pay $1.3 million to Charlottesville Area Transit, a $300,000 increase from the current year. Davidson said much of the increase is to make up for decreasing federal revenue as pandemic-era financing recedes. Jaunt requested more than the $2.3 million they are slated to receive in the current fiscal year, though staff set aside a $1 million reserve in the that could go back to the agency if they can justify it. 

“Staff wanted additional time to follow up and work with Jaunt and do our proper due diligence on that request,” Davidson said. 

The proposed FY24 budget for Charlottesville Area Transit. Williams said one of the biggest expenditure increases are higher salaries for CAT drivers and mechanics. (view the presentation)

When it came time to the presentations from the agencies, CAT Director Garland Williams went first. The agency is currently on reduced service and has been since the pandemic when it ran 13 routes Monday through Saturday and four routes on Sunday. 

“We did no coverage changes but in the evening service we went from ending around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. to about a 9 p.m. stop,” Williams said. “Since then in the last three months, we’ve actually increased our service time ending now to 10:30 p.m. Hopefully getting closer and closer back to the 12 a.m. time frame as we come out of COVID.” 

There’s currently no Sunday service but CAT hopes to restore it in fiscal year 2024. 

A previous round of service changes was taken through the public process in 2021 but has not yet been implemented due to ongoing driver shortages. The fiscal year 2024 budget seeks to finally put some of the route changes into place, but Williams offered no timeline to Supervisors. 

Service changes will include: 

Supervisor Donna Price said she was glad to see that service will be added to Mill Creek on Route 2 when the new system is implemented, but she made a pitch for even more service.

“Not asking for anything to change on that today but ask that you do continue, both Jaunt and CAT, to look at the increased development at Avinity, Spring Hill, and Avon south of Mill Creek with more still to come with Biscuit Run Park,” Price said. 

Next up at the meeting was the presentation from Jaunt to explain their increased request for fiscal year 2024. The agency recently had financial trouble related to the conduct of their former CEO, Brad Sheffield. Sheffield also served one term on the Board of Supervisors representing the Rio District. 

“There was a pretty alarming audit finding from the external auditor that audited Jaunt back in their Fiscal Year 2020 audit and subsequently the Department of Rail and Public Transportation did their own audit and came up with some other concerning things that were happening and much of that was related to fiduciary responsibility and the misapplication of funds,” said Nelsie Birch, Albemarle’s Chief Financial Officer. 

Birch said the use of rural funds to cover urban service masked the true cost of Jaunt service to Albemarle and that’s one reason why Jaunt’s request is higher. Albemarle now requires much more reporting from Jaunt, which is now run by CEO Ted Rieck.

“The changes in our cost have been reflected both in operations and capital and that totals out to the million dollar increase,” Rieck said. “The reasons these have gone up are numerous. First of all, we have increased demand. We’re coming out of COVID just like CAT is. We’ve had to increase our cost of labor. We gave our drivers a 20 percent increase about a year ago.” 

More on transit and the Albemarle budget in upcoming editions of the newsletters.

Reading material:

Closing time for #519:

This edition could have come out tomorrow, but then what would tomorrow do? I have so many stories to get to and appreciate your patience as I sift through a whole lot of previous meetings. I want to be thorough, and thankfully that’s what paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement are helping to pay for. I’m driven by a sense that there’s always something else to know and grateful for others wanting to read or listen to what I write.

Ting will match your initial payment if you opt to join them, either at the $5 a month, $50 a year, or $200 a year. There were three of those $200 payments in April. The goal is to keep growing and eventually to hire people I can train to help me keep an eye on what’s happening. 

If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:

  • Free installation

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  • A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall

Thanks to Wraki for incidental music in the podcast, which you can’t hear unless you listen to it. Check out the work on BandCamp!

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