April 12, 2022: City Council poised to increase real estate tax rate for first time in decades
Plus: The city responds to a lawsuit seeking voidance of the Comprehensive Plan
Today is April 12, 2022, and according to one source, it’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, National Licorice Day, and National Big Wind Day. April 12 is also commemorated across the world as Yuri’s night, marking the day in 1961 that the first person was sent into space. There have been 22,280 days since then, and this is yet another one of them. This is also another installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, about absolutely none of the above, except maybe the big wind. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
On today’s program:
The Virginia Department of Transportation always wants you to drive slowly through work zones, but this is week they really want you to be aware
Charlottesville responds to a lawsuit seeking nullification of the Comprehensive Plan
The Local Food Hub will pause drive-through markets this summer
City Council will vote tonight on a one-cent increase in the real estate tax rate
First shout-out goes to two important history programs
In today’s first subscriber-supported shoutout, two upcoming history programs. Tonight, at 7 p.m. a multitude of groups are hosting Dr. Anne C. Bailey of SUNY Binghamton presents Remembering the Victims of Charlottesville: The Healing of Charlottesville and a New Way Forward. The in-person registration is full for this Rememberance of Slave Auctions, but there’s still room on Facebook Live.
On Thursday at 7 p.m., the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society will host Regina Rush as she tells the story of her family’s journey from enforced servitude in Nelson County to becoming landowners in Albemarle County. After a quarter century of research, she’s published Rushes of Chestnut Grove: One Family’s Journey from Slavery to Freedom. This event is on Zoom or Facebook Live.
City responds to Comprehensive Plan lawsuit
The city of Charlottesville has responded in Charlottesville Circuit Court to a lawsuit filed in December by anonymous property owners seeking to void the Comprehensive Plan adopted by City Council last November. The plaintiffs assert the city did not follow state code resulting in a plan that is not “general in nature” and that failed to present a transportation plan to support new density allowed under the plan. (read the plaintiff’s suit)
The city filed two responses, including one requesting the Court order the identities of the plaintiffs to be revealed. The other is a demurrer which argues the plaintiffs have no right legal basis on which to have filed their case. (read the demurrer)
“Plaintiffs have no express right of action under Virginia 15.2-2223… to challenge the sufficiency of the Comprehensive Plan,” reads the first section of the demurrer.
The city’s response goes on to state that localities have the legal requirement to designate land use categories, and that the General Assembly has given leeway for localities to do so. The response argues that the Comprehensive Plan is a different process than updating the zoning ordinance, which is currently underway.
“The adoption of the Comprehensive Plan did not and cannot change the zoning district classification of any of the Plaintiff properties,” the response continues.
The second motion to request identification argues that the plaintiffs have not given sufficient reason for why their identities should be protected. (motion to reveal ID)
“Upon information and beliefs, Plaintiffs wish to proceed anonymously to avoid potential embarrassment or public criticism for opposing increased residential density—and more types and units of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income persons—within their neighborhoods,” reads the second motion.
The City Attorney’s office had no comment. The next step is for the matter to go before a judge for scheduling.
Local Food Hub pausing drive-through markets
Two years ago, the pandemic shut down much of the economy as people avoided direct contact with each other. The state of emergency was declared at the same time farmers and other agricultural producers were getting ready for market season, but in-person markets were banned to avoid places where people could congregate.
Soon after, the Local Food Hub sprang into action and organized a drive-through market at the site of the former K-Mart, as reported in the March 25, 2020 edition of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report.
“Over the past two years, we’ve operated 150+ markets, facilitated over a million dollars in sales, partnered with dozens of vendors, and served hundreds of community members,” reads a post on the Local Food Hub’s Facebook page.
Two years later as market season begins again, they’re planning to cease these events.
“As the world has reopened – and along with it, more opportunity for in-person, walk-up markets – a drive-through, preorder market doesn’t currently best meet the needs of vendors or customers,” the post continues.
The Local Food Hub plans to relaunch the drive-through markets in the fall or if another wave of COVID causes a return to social distancing.
VDOT holds work zone awareness week
Last year, the number of vehicular fatalities that occurred in work zones in Virginia increased to 28, up from 11 in 2020. This week, the Virginia Department of Transportation and similar agencies across the United States are marking Work Zone Awareness Week to remind motorists to slow down when traveling through road construction or repairs.
VDOT has been doing this every year since 1997 as a way to protect the thousands of people who work within close proximity to speeding throngs of vehicles.
The week kicks off today with a tour of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project, which will see a total of four more lanes at a cost of $3.8 billion. On Wednesday, people are asked to wear orange and post pictures on social media with #GoOrangeDay. On Friday, there’s a moment of silence at 10 a.m.
Second shout-out: RCA wants your photographs for a new contest!
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance wants wildlife and nature photographers to enter their first-ever photography contest! They want high-resolution photos related to the Rivanna watershed and the winning entries will be displayed at the 2022 Riverfest Celebration on May 1. The two categories are 16 and under, and those over the age of 17. You can send in two entries, and the work may be used to supplement Rivanna Conservation Alliance publications. For more information, visit rivannariver.org. And don’t forget, Riverfest starts on April 22 with a big celebration at Rivanna River Company on May 1!
Council to adopt budget tonight; poised to increase real estate tax rate by one cent
Charlottesville City Council will adopt a nearly $212.9 million budget for FY23 this evening that includes a real estate tax rate increase for the first time in decades. This happens at 5:30 p.m. (meeting info)
The personal property tax rate will remain at $4.20 per $100 of assessed value, and there will be a half percent increase in the meals tax.
“The reason we’re trying to raise revenue is in my mind is to invest in long-term capital projects which I think will benefit school children for decades,” said City Councilor Brian Pinkston toward the end of an April 7 budget work session.
The budget also anticipates using over $12 million in budget surpluses for the current fiscal year to cover the cost of additional spending.
The five members of City Council stated their final positions on the budget and the tax rate at a budget work session on Thursday night, April 7. They had previously met on March 31, April 1, and April 2 and gave direction to City Manager Michael C. Rogers via email in preparation for the final work session.
“The city manager had circulated a spreadsheet that we were able to feed back to the city manager what our thoughts were on the various decision points that we had to confront tonight,” said Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook at the very beginning of the meeting.
On March 31, Councilors were told of an anticipated $12.4 million surplus in the current fiscal year that might yield enough funding to cover the budget that interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers had recommended in early March without raising any taxes. That would also require the drawdown of $11.433 million in from a capital contingency fund.
On April 7, Snook said one of the decisions before Council was whether they wanted to fund items not in Rogers’ recommended budget. These include additional funding for Charlottesville Area Transit, more funds to address homelessness, city funding for a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue, nearly $5 million for Piedmont Housing Alliance for two separate projects on Park Street.
“And one of the decision points I think we will need to make tonight is are some of these where we ought to say we’re waiting for a plan but we have enough in mind that we think we can at least put a ballpark figure on it and let’s figure out a plan,” Snook said.
In February, Council authorized the advertising of a ten cent increase in the real estate tax rate to cover the costs of debt service associated with more capital spending, including $75 million for renovations of Buford Middle School associated with school reconfiguration. That action did not obligate them to actually increasing the rate, but provided a ceiling.
During a series of work sessions in March, staff suggested the surplus could be used but the actual number won’t be known until this upcoming December.
“We can look with some certainty and feel pretty good that at least most of that is real surplus,” Snook said. “You never want to count your chickens before they hatch but maybe some of these chickens are close enough to being hatched. Remember, we’re three quarters of the way through the fiscal year.”
The budget includes a three percent raise for all city employees effective July 1, full funding of the School Board’s request for operating funds, and several new administrative positions.
“And in the overall scheme of things, we are also funding the school reconfiguration project through our [Capital Improvement Program] at a $68.8 million level,” said Interim City Manager Michael Rogers said.
The School Board is comfortable with that amount, which is based on their use of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The City Council agreed to float $54 million in bonds to contribute to the project’s cost.
For most of the April 7 budget work session, Council went line by line through a spreadsheet to see if they supported various changes in the FY23 budget. They supported:
An additional $55,514 in the budget for an upgrade to the position of housing coordinator
An additional $81,355 to hire an additional buyer
$300,000 in additional funding for the Office of Equity and Inclusion for support for team members such a community health worker to help find homes for “unhoused individuals”
$60,528 for an additional person in the Commissioner of Revenue’s office
$150,000 for Climate Action Planning
$175,000 in additional capacity for affordable housing initiatives
$100,000 for MARCUS Alert system
$250,000 in additional support for real estate tax relief efforts
$325,000 for the public works department for engineering
$20,000 to pay Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the payment in lieu of taxes they are required to pay the city
$25,000 in additional funds for tree planting per a request from the Tree Commission
Council agreed to consider the use of FY22 surplus funds to the following purposes, but there will be further discussions before action would happen later this calendar year:
$150,000 to replace software used by the Department of Social Services for foster care
$100,000 for software for procurement
$1 million to purchase two new buses to ensure more service on Route 6
An additional $2 million for Charlottesville Area Transit to help get more routes to 30 minute service
$2.109 million to cover costs of 15 firefighters once a federal SAFER grant expires in March 2024
Potentially set aside $1 million for a fund to be used at the discretion of the next City Manager with consultation from Council
Potentially $700,000 for a third section of the Meadowcreek Trail
Council agreed to commit some of the $11.433 million CIP contingency fund to these two projects, but this would also take a separate Council action outside of the FY23 budget discussion:
$6.7 million for school reconfiguration
$4.733 million for two Piedmont Housing Alliance projects on Park Street
Next steps after adoption
A work session on April 18 will further flesh out how the $150,000 for Climate Action Planning would be spent. Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders explained some potential uses.
“Home energy audits is something that we’re doing right now and we could increase those and do more,” Sanders said. “The next time would be a pilot street light conversion that would be to test the notion of what we can do with the lighting choices we are making in the streetlight section.”
Sanders said other options could be a supplement to be paid to community members who choose electric vehicles, incentivizing solar installations, and initiatives that may come out of an ongoing study of fuel alternatives for Charlottesville Area Transit and school pupil transportation.
As for the funding for public works, Sanders said the funding would go to help increase capacity to allow for projects in the capital improvement plan to move forward.
“We need project management capacity, period,” Sanders said. “We need more hands to do the projects that we currently have in our inventory. We need a project manager dedicated to [the Americans with Disability Act.] We are not doing a good job in the ADA space and we know this and we’ve known this for a long time.”
Councilor Sena Magill said this topic has come up in her conversations in Washington D.C. to try to secure money from federal sources.
“It was made very clear that we have to have our house in order to apply for this stuff
Sanders said there will be another work session coming up on the city’s relationship with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“We are headed into a facilitated conversation with our district to look at rebooting the size and operations as they exist today,” Sanders said. “It will call for actually potentially canceling projects, turning some projects over to VDOT, and the team keeping some other projects.”
Sanders said the city is not ready to take advantage of any future infrastructure funding because of a poor record in delivering in what has already been funded.
Tax rate discussion
Toward the end of the April 7 work session, Council also discussed potentially increasing tax rates.
Councilor Brian Pinkston supported a one cent increase in the tax rate which would add $925,000 to the budget for additional spending. He also supported a half percent increase in the meals tax.
“I think it’s time for us to position the city for the future,” Pinkston said. “Maybe we could add another penny every year or two.”
Pinkston initially said he would support a reduction in the personal property tax rate but changed his mind.
Councilor Sena Magill did not support a reduction in the personal property tax rate, and she supported a one cent increase in the real estate tax to avoid relying on the surplus.
“A one cent real estate tax that goes straight into a fund to support the schools,” Magill said.
Magill did not support an increase in the meals tax.
Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade supported a one cent increase in the real estate, a reduction in the personal property tax rate, and a half-percent increase in the meals tax.
City Councilor Michael Payne said he would support a three cent increase in the real estate tax rate to apply to future capital spending.
“And I think we should just get over with it now and making a down payment on being able to afford what we’ve said we’re committed to but haven’t yet planned to fund,” Payne said.
Payne said he supported keeping the personal property tax rate at $4.20 per $100 of assessed value and increasing the meals tax.
Snook said he did not support an increase in the real estate tax rate given a sense that real property assessments will continue to increase.
“What I’ve seen of the real estate market so far in 2022 is that it has not slackened since 2021,” Snook said.
However, four Councilors agreed to the one cent increase up for a vote tonight.
Will there be any changes or surprises tonight at 5:30 p.m.? Stay tuned!
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