What recourse do we have except to simply pursue this August 5 in the best manner possible? On this Blogger Day, I celebrate with another installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast intended to shed light on various happenings in and around the area. I’m the writer and host, Sean Tubbs. What are you writing these days?
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On today’s program:
The former Commissioner of Revenue in Greene County has been sentenced to three months in federal prison for attempted witness tampering
Unemployment drops to pre-pandemic levels
Charlottesville seeks input on what kind of person should be the next police chief
Albemarle Supervisors endorse a plan for improvements on Rio Road but one member says that doesn’t mean final decisions have been made
Charlottesville City Council is briefed on the preparation for the next fiscal year
First shout-out goes to the Charlottesville Jazz Society
In today’s first subscriber supported public service announcement, are you looking for something new to listen to in the form of live music? The Charlottesville Jazz Society has you covered with an ongoing list of dozens of events coming up at venues across the area. That ranges from rumba guitar duo Berta & Vincent at Glass House Winery this Saturday afternoon to the Charles Owen Trio at Potter’s Craft Cider on Saturday, August 28. The Charlottesville Jazz Society is your source to plot out your musical journey and you can get started at cvillejazz.org. Thanks to a subscriber for being on both Patreon and Substack to qualify for this shout-out.
Greene’s former Commissioner of Revenue sentenced in witness tampering case
The former Commissioner of Revenue in Greene County has been sentenced to three months in federal prison for intervening in an investigation of his son’s drug distribution charges. Larry Snow, 73, pleaded guilty in May to one count of attempted witness tampering for trying to dissuade a confidential informant.
“According to court documents, Larry Snow used his access as the former Commissioner of Revenue to a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) database as part of an effort to retaliate against and tamper with the confidential informant, Person A, after Person A aided law enforcement in controlled purchases of methamphetamine and heroin from Bryant Snow,” according to a release from the United State Attorney for Western District of Virginia.
Specifically, the elder Snow sought to print out material identifying the informant for his son to use to intimidate and to discredit that person while incarcerated at Central Virginia Regional Jail.
Snow resigned in May 2022 as Commissioner of the Revenue in Greene, having been elected in 2019 while under indictment.
National employment returns to pre-pandemic levels
There were 528,000 nonfarm jobs added across the United States of America in July, according to the latest employment figures released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is at 3.5 percent.
“Both total nonfarm employment and the unemployment rate have returned to their February 2020 pre-pandemic levels,” reads a release that was sent out this morning.
The report also notes that the number of permanent job losers is now lower than February 2020. The long-term unemployed is defined as those jobless for more than 27 weeks, and that figure is also below pre-pandemic levels.
Other statistics in the release are worth noting. In July, 7.1 percent of the workforce continued to telecommute due to the pandemic. The labor force participation rate is defined as “the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively looking for work.” That figure was at 62.1 percent in July, lower than the February 2020 figure of 63.4 percent.
The next employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be out September 2.
Charlottesville seeking input on police chief search
How much experience should the next Charlottesville Police Chief have? What leadership qualities would you like to see? What should the police department leader’s top priority be?
Those are some of the questions in a survey that the firm POLIHIRE is conducting as part of their contract to conduct a search for the next chief. The survey is open through August 15 and is available in English and Spanish. (fill out the survey)
The person hired will replace Acting Chief of Police LaTroy A. Durrette who has been in the position since former City Manager Chip Boyles fired RaShall Brackney after three years on the job.
Brackney sued the city and several individuals for race, color, and gender discrimination, as well as interference with contract, unlawful retaliation, violation of the state’s whistleblower statute, and more. According to a series of waivers filed in the case, all defendants have until sixty days after July 1 to respond to the case.
Albemarle Supervisors endorse Rio Road Corridor Plan
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has officially endorsed a plan that offers guidance for how future intersection improvements on Rio Road may look in the future.
“This is a planning level document that establishes a vision for improvements along the corridor with sufficient analysis of the conceptual design to understand whether the proposed concepts can address future and existing conditions and can meet [Virginia Department of Transportation] and other relevant engineering standards,” said David Benish, development process manager for Albemarle County.
The county hired the civil engineering firm Line + Grade to develop the plans. Supervisors were last briefed on the work last October and the Planning Commission saw the draft in May. The work was split into two sections to reflect two different roadway characters.
“Phase one is very much an arterial roadway [with] five lanes with a continuous left-hand turn lane in the middle,” said Dan Hyer with Line + Grade. “Whereas phase two still resembles in many locations the local collector that it is. It’s very much a local road.”
Hyer said the work involved analyzing crash data such as at the intersection of Hillsdale Drive and Rio Road. Eighty-nine percent of crashes at the location are left-hand turns. As such, recommended changes are to eliminate that movement at Hillsdale, Old Brook and Northfield.
“The solution that we have recommended basically absolves all left-hand turn movements by replacing the two intersections with a singular dog-bone or bean-shaped roundabout,” Hyer said.
Belvedere Drive and Rio Road would be turned into a “Continuous Green-T” intersection and Albemarle has applied for funding. A roundabout is funded at John Warner Parkway and Rio Road and that will soon get under design.
The second phase of the project is broken into three segments, with the northern one including two planned developments. The Board of Supervisors approved the 328 Rio Point apartment complex last December, and an application has been filed for 43 town homes just to the south in a project called Rio Commons.
“And we think that if those developments can work with this plan that the corridor can transform in a positive way and that some of the risks that we’ve identified can be mitigated through the build-out of these developments,” Hyer said.
Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District was the lone vote against the Rio Point development last December. He said he was concerned about more people in the area.
“As we approve the sidewalks and the access down to the Parkway, we’re only creating more pedestrian activity and that’s going to introduce a vehicular piece which is going to be really dangerous so I think we need to get our heads around that sooner rather than later,” Gallaway said.
Gallaway said his endorsement of the plan did not mean that he supported the specific recommendations involved. He said there is a competing plan to reroute Hillsdale Drive that would take away the need for the bean-shaped roundabout.
“We know that that intersection is completely problematic and needs a solution but it just may not be the solution that’s in the study so if we vote to approve the study, it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily voting to approve that project,” Gallaway said.
As for phase two, Gallaway said he would like to see more traffic calming to slow down the speed of traffic, similar to the bump-outs on Park Street in the City of Charlottesville between the U.S. 250 bypass and downtown.
Gallaway said he was grateful staff was able to work to get the corridor study done. The vote to endorse the plan was unanimous and it will now be considered as part of the update of the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan, otherwise known as AC44.
Second shout-out: Save the date for Rivanna Conservation Alliance’s Community Watershed clean-up
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: Mark your calendar for RCA’s third annual Rivanna River Round-Up community watershed cleanup coming up on Saturday, September 24. The RCA organized the first round-up in September 2020 as a safe way for the community to give back to the river during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last two years, a total of 245 volunteers have cleaned up 67 miles of streams, nearby trails and the Rivanna River, removing 192 tires and 213 large bags of trash from the waterways. Details will soon be made available and you can get those by signing up for the Rivanna Conservation Alliance newsletter at rivannariver.org.
You can get your own shout-out for a $25 a month Patreon contribution! For more information, visit Information Charlottesville.
Charlottesville City Council briefed on planning for next year’s budget
Fiscal Year 2023 is just over a month old, but the budget process in Virginia never really stops as local governments seek to provide services. In April, Council adopted a $212.9 million general fund budget that was 10.76 percent higher than the one for the year before. That’s built on increased assessments for both real estate and personal property as well as a one-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. That was the first such increase in several decades.
There are about 30 weeks until whoever is City Manager in March 2023 presents a recommended budget and 36 weeks until Council is expected to adopt their amended document. Council got a briefing this past Monday and learned about some of the factors coming up and some suggested the schedule be moved up. (view the presentation)
Will the budget continue to grow at a double-digit level, or will it be more modest? How much will it cost to implement pay and benefit increases that may come through a collective bargaining ordinance? What about the cost of inflation? While the answers aren’t yet known, the foundation is being laid for whatever will end up happening.
At the end of August, city departments will be sent packets to request funds for capital projects and these will be due by the early October. There’s at least one change to that process.
“We’re going to include a Planning Commission member on the review team,” said Krissy Hammill, the city’s director of budget and performance analysis.
Requests from nonprofits and outside agencies are due sometime in mid-October and recommendations from the Vibrant Community team will be completed in mid-January. Also around that time will be another change to the budget process.
“It’s called the city manager budget forum,” Hammill said. “The date for this will be January 10 and it will be held at Carver Recreation Center. This will be an opportunity for the city manager to make a presentation and to engage in public discussion.”
Hammill said the growth in the budget for next year is expected to be more modest than the 10.76 percent increase from FY22 to FY23. She’s also keeping an eye on inflation.
“We already know that there are cost increases that we’re seeing both just in general things as well as capital projects due to supply chain issues and inflation,” Hammill said. “We’re not sure of what exactly what the revenue impact would be for a potential recession if there to be one.”
There will likely be higher compensation costs for city employees due to collective bargaining as well as a need to carry on the ongoing costs of positions funded using one-time money.
Between now and the budget adoption, Council may have an updated strategic plan paid for through the city’s use of American Rescue Plan Act funding.
“The time is right,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers. “In doing the strategic plan right, we’ll get a consultant to engage you individually and collectively over the next few months and by the time we get to April, we ought to have a new direction or at least some themes.”
City Councilor Michael Payne said he wanted to make sure there is funding to address a human resources phenomenon known as compression, funding for climate, and for city investment in nonprofits to build subsidized housing.
“How can we get our adopted Affordable Housing Plan and that $10 million a year into a more stable place in terms of how we’ll fund it at $10 million a year which is what the plan calls for,” Payne said.
Payne also wants to make sure there is funding to invest in public transportation.
Rogers said a compensation study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“That will tell us where we are compared to other jurisdictions in the region in terms of our salaries,” Rogers said. “It will define a competitiveness gap.”
The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors were briefed on their compensation study on Wednesday.
Rogers said the August 15 Council work session will feature a presentation of the collective bargaining ordinance followed by a first reading on September 6 with adoption currently anticipated on September 19.
“And we expect that there will be a push to begin to recognize collective bargaining units after that,” Rogers said.
Another direction to budget staff is to reexamine a policy where 40 percent of new revenues created by additional real estate taxes goes to Charlottesville City Schools.
Some on the current Council have called for that agreement to be revisited, and Rogers said budget staff would look into it and begin preliminary discussions with the school system.
“And at some point the Council probably should have that meeting with schools to discuss an issue like this,” Rogers said.
As for increased spending on public transit, Rogers said current planning by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District is relevant. A governance study for how to implement a proposed Regional Transit Vision is about to get underway.
“The long term play is probably the discussion about a regional transit agency, and what are the dynamics that need to be in place for us to move that forward,” Rogers said. “It’s been talked about a long time.”
The current calendar calls for the second public hearing on the budget to be held on April 3, 2023 and for adoption at a special meeting on April 11.
City Councilor Sena Magill said she wanted to adjust the schedule so that the final public hearing does not happen during the week City Schools are on spring break.
“And it’s just one more way that it makes it harder for some people to serve on Council,” Magill said.
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he would like to see the budget process moved up further so that Council could have more influence. The budget is introduced to the public the first week of every March.
“There are places, particularly in Northern Virginia, where Council is involved in budget discussions by mid-December,” Snook said. “They’re not waiting until February or March and the practical effect of what we do is that our opportunity for actually commenting on things is compressed into about four weeks.”
Snook said he would like to see the budget introduced in early February. Rogers said he would look into seeing if that could be accomplished, but it would leave for no break at all for budget staff.
Hammill suggested holding budget development work sessions when needed. One such work session that comes to mind is the one last September when Council signaled its willingness to transfer a financial commitment for the West Main Streetscape toward school reconfiguration. That gave staff direction as they built the FY23 budget.
Payne pointed out that Albemarle County has adopted their budget in May for the past two years. Rogers and Hammill said they would return with more options.
Housekeeping notes for edition #416
When will the next installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement? Good question. I can tell you there will be a Week Ahead out on Sunday as well as the Government Glance which is a look at what’s coming up in all of the localities across the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia.
Reporting for today’s installment included a look-up on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records to learn a little more about the lawsuit filed by the former Police Chief. Today’s search only cost $2, but this is the kind of cost it takes to produce informational content that intends to keep you up to date.
So, if you’re like to support this program which includes expenses like court reporting, consider a paid subscription through Substack. If do so, Ting will match your initial payment! And, if you sign up for their services through this link you’ll get a free standard install, your 2nd month free, and a $75 downtown mall gift card! Enter the promo code COMMUNITY for full effect.
Music comes from the D.C. entity that currently goes by the name Wraki, selected randomly from a bin of basement-recorded cassette tapes. You can support that work by purchasing the album Regret Everything for whatever you would like to pay.
Now, off to prepare for a trip to a different location in which I will continue to produce a couple editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement. It’s my pleasure to do so and I do hope you will help support me to keep this going for a long time come.