Apr 5, 2021 • 15M

April 5, 2021: Update on area budgets, cigarette tax; Charlottesville hires deputy city manager for racial equity; Climate Ambition Summit to begin

Four and five make April 5 and this is the 95th day of 2021.

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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out from an anonymous supporter: It may seem like we just had an election, but 2021 is once again a city, county, and state election year. Party primaries are coming soon on June 8, 2021. The deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration is Monday, May 17, 2021.

On today’s show:

  • Charlottesville hires a deputy manager for racial equity, diversion, and inclusion

  • Area counties consider a cigarette tax 

  • Charlottesville Police seeks help in addressing a string of shootings this weekend

  • The Environmental Resilience Institute at the University of Virginia begins the Climate Ambition Summit tomorrow

  • Albemarle launches a grant program aimed at agribusiness

Charlottesville has hired its first-ever Deputy City Manager for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Ashley Reynolds Marshall is currently the chief executive office of the YWCA of Central Virginia in Lynchburg. Marshall is a Roanoke native with degrees from Hollins University, William of Mary School of Law and Virginia Tech, where she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public administration and policy. The new position will oversee the Human Services and Social Service Departments as well as the Police Civilian Review Board and the Office of Human Rights. Marshall begins work on May 10, 2021. 

The city is also seeking a new city attorney, neighborhood services development director, social services director, and a deputy city manager for operations. 

Ashley Reynolds Marshall (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

The Charlottesville Police Department issued a press release this afternoon asking for community support in the wake of a series of shootings this month. The release lists four incidents where officers reported to shots fired. One man was shot Sunday evening in the 100 block of Hammond Street, a cul-de-sac in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood. 

“In addition to the major events over the weekend, CPD responded to 3 additional shots fired calls, 3 stolen vehicles, 29 disorders, and numerous mental health related calls,” the release continued

The cases are under investigation. 

Last Thursday, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission got an update on the possibility of a regional cigarette tax. The TJPDC is leading efforts to create a body that would collect and distribute the revenues to participating localities. 

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had received an update at their budget work session on March 22. Lori Allshouse is the director of budget and performance management for Albemarle County. 

“During the 2020 General Assembly, they authorized the county to impose a cigarette tax of up to 40 cents per pack for counties,” Allshouse said. “Up until this time, only Virginia cities, Virginia towns, and Arlington and Fairfax counties have been able to impose a cigarette tax,” Allshouse said. 

If Albemarle proceeds with going through the various steps to levy the tax, any revenues would go to the general fund. Those steps include adoption of an ordinance following a public hearing. The tax has also been reviewed by the county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI)

“As part of that process we began our consideration of this proposed tax by seeking first to understand who could be most affected by this tax and how could those impacts be experienced and mitigated,” Allshouse said. 

The Board will hold a work session on the equity impact assessment in August. Research on this topic found the cigarette tax would impact the poor and black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Jason Inofuentes is a project and policy associate in OEI who cited a University of Pittsburgh study on the effects of taxation and smoking rates.

“Where you see the highest decrease in smoking is in the highest incomes,” Inofuentes said. “There is overall some amount of decrease. There isn’t however any noticeable decrease in low-income communities.” 

Credit: Albemarle County

If implemented, the goal is to have all localities in the area impose the tax so no one locality has a competitive advantage. David Blount is the legislative liaison for the TJPDC and he addressed the Board of Commissioner on Thursday. 

“I think from here we see that following this meeting within the next week or so that we would send out some materials to every jurisdiction in our region, which would be the city and the five counties as well as the four towns in our region, but also casting the net a little bit wider to some of the counties that adjoin our member counties,” Blount said. 

Blount is asking localities to consider resolutions to express interest in participating and to authorize their staff to participate in the discussion.

“Certainly not asking anybody at this point to commit to anything, commit to participating, or commit to anything beyond just an interest,” Blount said. “I think by the time we get to summer time with June and July rolling around, we really want to be looking at what does this regional board look like? What are its functions? What is the make-up of the board? What is the legal makeup? Those types of things.” 

Greene County Supervisor Dale Herring representatives said his locality was interested. 

“I think what the TJPDC is doing is the direction we need to go on,” Herring said. 

Fluvanna’s representatives also said they were interested. Albemarle Supervisor Donna Price told the TJPDC that her county wants to pursue the regional approach. 

“We don’t anticipate that the revenue that is generated is going to be significant enough to result in a reduction of our property tax,” Price said. 

No referendum would be required if localities agree. More information as it becomes available. 

Credit: Albemarle County

Regional budget updates

At the end of the TJPDC meeting, Commissioners from all six localities had the chance to give updates. Jesse Rutherford is on the Nelson County Board of Supervisors.

“Real quick, just want to say we’re looking at lowering our machine and tools tax as well as lowering our personal property tax rates,” Rutherford said. 

The public hearing for the Nelson County’s $41.7 million budget is scheduled for May 4 with adoption expected on May 11. (budget website)

Tommy Barlow is on the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.

“We’re still struggling along with our budget trying to figure out what to do with that and get it resolved,” Barlow said.

Louisa’s proposed budget does not appear to be available on the county’s budget website. Adoption is expected on April 19. 

Albemarle has completed their cycle of five budget work sessions and adoption is scheduled for May 5.

“We were able to cancel the last work session that we were going to have on the budget,” Price said. “We’re looking at getting about $10 million in the first tranche of funds from the federal government in May and the same amount next year. We know that at some point the federal government can’t continue to be providing these funds but they really have been a lifesaver for us this year.” 

Fluvanna County will have its public hearing on its budget on April 14 with adoption scheduled for April 21. Their proposed budget is based on a property tax rate of $0.884 per $100 of assessed value, down from the current rate of $0.925. Tony O’Brien is a member of the Board of Supervisors. 

“In our budget we’ve included taking out a loan of about $25 million to work on a new administration building and update some of our fire and rescue vehicles as well as the sheriff and busses as well too,” O’Brien said. 

Herring gave an update on Greene County’s budget.

“Our tax rate will stay the same,” Herring said. “Our assessments did go up. We would have probably looked at lowering our [tax rate] this year if it wasn’t for our debt associated with our [Rapidan Service Authority] water authority.”

For more details on that issue, read Terry Beigie’s story on the on-going issue. The Greene County Board of Supervisors convened this afternoon to vote on a resolution requesting that Orange and Madison counties allow Greene to leave the Rapidan Service Authority. The RSA objects with a plan to impound White Run to create a new reservoir and did not allow Greene to use a facility fee that had been charged to cover the cost of the project. 

Schematic image for White Run Reservoir project

The application window opened today on a new grant program Albemarle County is offering to a specific industry affected by COVID-19. The Albemarle Agribusiness Resiliency Grant Program is aimed at farms and agricultural operations who have bit hit by the downturn. Awards of up to $10,000 are available for direct-market agribusinesses such as orchards, wineries, cideries and more. 

“One of our region’s greatest assets is the wealth of local farms, food businesses, and the resilience of our food system,” reads the pre-application. “COVID-19 has caused this system to be challenged in ways unimaginable.”

The window closes on April 21. 

Finally today, local governments in the area as well as the University of Virginia have set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. Tomorrow, the Environmental Resilience Institute at UVA begins a series of virtual events designed to help connect many of the pieces together. Karen McGlathery is the director of ERI.

“We decided to call it the Climate Ambition Summit because we have ambitious goals that we need to reach by 2050 if we’re going to have any chance of bending the curve with regard to climate change and climate warming,” McGlathery said. 

At 1:30 p.m. UVA Provost Liz Magill will interview Environmental Sciences Professor Scott Doney on what’s been learned in the last five years since the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Frontiers of Climate Science is essentially what we’re calling it,” McGlathery said. “Essentially what’s happened in the last five years in terms of climate research that can really help us develop realistic strategies to address climate change both in terms of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere but also taking it out of the atmosphere.” 

The next event on Friday at 2 p.m. explores Climate Risk and the Opportunity for Private Capital. A Climate Justice panel will be held on April 13 at 2 p.m. 

“So we’ll be thinking about [how] every climate change issue is an environmental justice issue so both on the local scale but also on the broader regional and national scale,” McGlathery said. 

The final event in the four-part series is another interview between a top UVA official and an expert in the field.

“The final event we have in the series is a conversation between President Jim Ryan and Dr. Arun Majumdar from Stanford University who was the head of the transition team for President Biden for the Department of Energy,” McGlathery said. “They’re going to be having a conversation about how we can as a society meet these ambitious net-zero carbon goals in the future.”

The events are open to the public and will be recorded, very much in keeping with how our lives have been lived in the past year. McGlathery said there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic.

“What the pandemic has taught us is that it’s possible to come together to address a broad societal issues that’s urgent and that seems almost insurmountable in the beginning, but the success of coming out with a vaccine in such a small time period shows that it’s possible to have a global strategy, to have an actual strategy,” McGlathery said. 

Visit the ERI website to learn more