August 2, 2021: Council discusses tax increases to help cover $60 million Buford upgrades; CAAR releases 2nd quarter sales report
And thus, Week 31 of Year 2021 begins...
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out is for the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign, an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water. Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you!
On today’s program:
An update on COVID numbers in Virginia and masking policies in area schools
Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors takes a look at the housing market
City Council considers next year’s budget, approves additional funding for additional study on affordable housing
Over the weekend, Virginia added another 3,555 cases and the seven-day daily average is now 1,108 cases a day and the percent positivity is six percent. The average number of vaccinations a day has increased to an average of 12,414 a day from 11,438 a week ago. The percentage of Virginians totally vaccinated has increased to 54.1 percent.
If you have questions about what’s happening, you’ll have the chance to ask health officials questions at a town hall that the Blue Ridge Health District will hold on Thursday, August 5, at 1 p.m. You can ask in advance by sending them a message by Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. Panelists will include Dr. Denise Bonds of the health district and pediatricians Dr. Paige Perriello and Dr. Jeffrey Vergales. Register on Zoom.
When Nelson County opens its public schools later this summer, masks will be required for all students, staff, and visitors. That message was included in a letter the school system sent to parents that included a survey about preferences going forward. That also includes students on school buses. (letter)
Albemarle County will also require masks indoors when school begins on August 23.
“Our mitigation strategies throughout this pandemic have served the health interests of our students, families and staff very well,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s Chief Operating Officer. “Since March 2020, we have had nearly 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students, staff, and on-site contractors. Yet, there are very few instances in which it is suspected that transmission of the virus occurred on school property,” she said.
Families in Albemarle can still continue to request a virtual option, and the school division even now has a principal devoted to that option. Some changes have been made. Temperature checks will not be required to enter buildings and school buses will operate at full capacity due to the installation of air purifying HEPA filters.
Meanwhile, the Amherst County School Board voted Thursday to make mask-wearing optional.
The town administrator of Scottsville declared a state of emergency on Friday retroactive to late Wednesday night, when a powerful thunderstorm raged through the town.
“There was significant heavy rain which flooded several buildings,” reads the declaration from Matt Lawless. “Large hail damaged vehicles, buildings, and crops. High winds damaged buildings and were especially damaging to trees and utility poles.”
The declaration was made after the fact because Scottsville was without power for most of the day Thursday and parts of Friday. (Virginia code on local emergencies)
“In accordance with this Declaration, the Town will participate in the Regional Emergency Operations Plan,” the document continues. “The Town will furnish aid and assistance under the regional plan.”
Lawless said the damage to town government is about $5,000, and details on other damages are still coming in. The Scottsville library remains closed today due to damage, though curbside service is available.
Scottsville Town Council will need to ratify the Declaration at their meeting on August 16. (Declaration)
An Albemarle County company is among eight Virginia firms that have recently graduated from a statewide economic development program intended to boost their international exports. Greenberry’s Franchising Corporation is a growing suite of coffee retailers that went through the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program put on by the Virginia Economic Development partnership.
“The success of Virginia businesses both at home and abroad is key to maintaining strong, resilient state and local economies,” said Governor Northam in a release. “The VALET program equips growth-minded companies with the resources they need to stay competitive in today’s global marketplace and expand trade opportunities in a post-pandemic world. I congratulate these eight graduates on their impressive export sales and remain confident that they will continue to contribute to the economic vitality of our Commonwealth in the years to come.”
The Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors has reviewed sales from the second quarter this year and found that home prices are up, as is volume of transactions. According to the report, there were 1,533 homes sold in their coverage area April through June, a thirty percent increase over the same period in 2020. Median sales prices were 13 percent over last year to $376,000, up from $295,500 in the same period four years ago.
CAAR also reports the number of listings were down by 48 percent. In addition to Charlottesville, CAAR covers Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties. Sales in Nelson County were up 85 percent over 2020. You can get the report from the CAAR website at caar.com.
You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement and it’s time now for another reader-supported announcement.
The nonprofit group Resilient Virginia works to inform decision makers and officials about how to prepare for a changing world. They’re holding their annual event virtually this year, and registration prices go up at the end of this week. The Resilient Recovery Conference will take place the mornings of August 25, August 26, and August 27. Take a look at the details of the event as well as pricing at resilientvirginia.org.
Tonight, Charlottesville City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. and the rest of today’s show looks back at recent conversation from a work session last week.
Council held the second reading of an appropriation of $165,000 to conduct a review of the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund and to further define how the upcoming rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance will be “inclusionary” in order to carry out the goals of the affordable housing plan adobe by Council in March. The additional funding will go to broaden the scope of the overall Cville Plans Together initiative. (read the Affordable Housing Plan)
Councilor Lloyd Snook said he supported the effort, but sought clarity about what the deliverable product would be for the additional review.
“I would hope that before things get too far along, somebody in the city government whether its someone in the city government whether it’s the City Manager’s office, whether it’s in [the Department of Neighborhood Development Services], I’m not sure who, would sit down with Rhodeside & Harwell and figure out what specifically we’re going to get in the way of an evaluation of these incentives,” Snook said.
To continue the story, let’s go back to the July 21st meeting of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee, an appointed group that consists of representatives from a wide spectrum of stakeholders. A new member who joined the group at that meeting is also running for City Council. (watch the HAC video)
“Thank you, Juandiego Wade with the city of Charlottesville School Board,” Wade said.
Two other people new to the HAC and new to Charlottesville city government are two new top deputies to City Manager Chip Boyles. Ashley Marshall has been Deputy City Manager for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion since May, and Sam Sanders has been Deputy City Manager for Operations for a little over two weeks.
Sanders will oversee the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, and will play a lead role in overseeing the rest of the Cville Plans Together initiative. More specifically, Sanders will help implement the affordable housing plan adopted by Council. One of the three main points of the plan is to “adopt progressive and inclusionary zoning reforms.”
The HAC’s discussion at their July 21 meeting covered how to implement that affordable housing plan. Phil d’Oronzio is the body’s chair.
“Now that we have an agreed-upon in principle affordable housing plan, now what do we do?” d’Oronzio said.
Deputy City Manager Sanders had the opportunity to go first.
“The number one priority that I was given the day I walked in and honestly I’ll tell you 45 days before I arrived, number one priority is filling the [Director of Neighborhood Development Services] position,” Sanders said.
Sanders said a candidate had been selected, so we could hear soon who that might be. The theme this new person will be charged with implementing is Reimagining NDS. Another key vacancy is the housing coordinator position, who will be charged with tracking the metrics by which the affordable housing plan will be measured.
“But I guess the key thing we have to point out as it related to the affordable housing plan is that we don’t have the money yet,” Sanders said. “There’s a $10 million allocation that we’re all excited about being able to say that we’re going to receive it every year, but it has not yet been realized yet but it’s going to take that happening before the real implementation can begin.”
The housing coordinator position has been vacant for a year, since John Sales left to become executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Sanders said the city needs staff in the housing office to do the work. The plan itself calls for a culture change.
“There is a culture in which City staff can be at odds with the development community and the advocacy community, which limits the effectiveness of housing and development policies,” reads page 70 of the plan.
Sanders said the reason for the $165,000 is to pay consultant HR&A Advisors to go back to work on Charlottesville affordable housing policy. The scope for the adopted plan did not include a review of how the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund has worked to date. That review has not been done in recent years.
“It needed to be done because it was one of my questions.” Sanders said. “I said, hey, give me a summary of what we’ve done. And the response was: we can’t.”
So now, back to City Council’s meeting from July 28 and a reminder they were talking about whether to approve the $165,000. Here’s Councilor Lloyd Snook again.
“I just want to make sure that it gets guided before we get a final product,” Snook said.
Sanders explained to Council the two areas of work that the additional scope will cover. Here’s the bit about the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund and the review of the past ten years.
“Basically looking at who we gave money to, how much did we give to them, when did we give it to them, and what were the expectations,” Sanders said. “And then there will be the analysis of what were the deliverables that we were able to track through whatever reporting whether they did or not. In addition to looking through what our internal records are, they will be doing site visits.”
The second task is to flesh out the inclusionary zoning aspects of the upcoming rewrite of the zoning ordinance. The topic is currently covered on pages 94 through 96 in the housing plan adopted by Council in March. Now the consultants will turn the ideas into specific code.
“The goal of it was to have the consultants help us design what an inclusionary zoning program could look like,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the program would be customized for Charlottesville to fit the city’s needs and that Council would have the final say. Council approved the resolution to move forward with that work and then moved on to a conversation about the strategic plan as well as introductory work into the Fiscal Year 2023 budget development process.
As of today, there are 333 days until July 1, 2022, when that budget will begin.
It may seem a long way off, but there are some big ticket items that the city is planning on financing in upcoming years. Here’s City Manager Chip Boyles.
“The financial items are so large and with that we’ll be talking about the reconfiguration of the school and a couple of capital improvement plan projects that decisions do have to be made on in the very near future,” Boyles said.
Council put their strategic planning process on hold at the end of last year shortly before Boyles was hired as City Manager. Boyles said he needs some input about how to prepare the budget for next year, but there is not time this year for a full update of the plan so he asked for an extension of the existing plan in the short-term, while allowing for some amendments such as elevating the role equity will play in the fiscal year 23 budget.
There’s strategic planning, and then there’s logistical planning. In the current five-year capital improvement program budget, Council included a placeholder of $50 million to cover the cost of the first step of a reconfiguration of Charlottesville schools. Krissy Hammil is a senior budget management analyst for the city of Charlottesville. Earlier this year, she told Council repeatedly that doing so would be based on an assumption of increases in the city’s property tax rate. (read my November 2020 story)
“One of the things that is kind of a continuing conversation that we started last year is the school reconfiguration project and the need for the tax increase for the debt service that will be associated with that,” Hammil said.
Hammil said that level of funding anticipates an eventual ten cent increase in the tax rate to cover the additional debt service. The capital improvement program is at its limit, and the school system now wants $60 million for the first phase of reconfiguration.
Hammil said the current capital program also assumes the city will proceed with the West Main Streetscape, a multi-phased project that requires city funds to match state and federal money that’s already been awarded.
“West Main is still a decision point that will need to be discussed,” Hammil said. “Currently there is $18 and a quarter million dollars that are programmed in for bonds that have been authorized for that project. If we are now moving the school reconfiguration to $60 million then $10 million of that will need to be reprogrammed from the West Main project and moved to the school project.”
Hammil also said that if the school reconfiguration project is moved up to FY2024, the ten cent tax increase will have to happen all at once rather than be phased in over multiple years.
Another source of funding for the future is a potential sales tax increase with proceeds dedicated to school improvements. Such a rise would require a referendum, something that not yet been scheduled. There’s a second phase planned in the future to upgrade Walker.
In the meantime, Councilor Payne said he would support reducing funds for the West Main Streetscape.
“I just don’t see any realistic way to be able to afford school reconfiguration and our other priorities unless we’re cutting that,” Payne said. “The only way I could maybe see it being possible as if there is some sort of an infrastructure bill passed by Congress and there’s some way we’re able to take advantage of that.”
Boyles said staff will be meeting with VDOT to determine the last possible time when the city can indicate whether the first phase of West Main will be conducted. To recap, study for the streetscape got underway in September 2013 with work overseen by the firm Rhodeside & Harwell. The project is divided into four geographical phases, three of which have received different levels of funding from VDOT. In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $10.8 million for the third phase of the project and no local match is required.
“The time is clicking on the very first funding that we received from Smart Scale and while they initially have agreed to us being able to delay that so we could combine the three phases all together into one contract, they are still limited in to how far they could push that out,” Boyles said.
That meeting with VDOT is scheduled for this Friday.
Council ended up making no firm decision on West Main, similar to their conversation in February. Read my story from then to learn more. By the end of this meeting, Council asked for more information about how the sales tax referendum might be implemented. Here’s City Councillor Heather Hill.
“Part of the beauty of this sales tax is that it is actually is very deliberate and its for capital improvements for schools up to a certain number of years,” Hill said.