We are now at day 32 of the year 2023, a milestone otherwise known as February. There’s no need to leap this year, but looking first is always advised no matter the circumstances. This is Charlottesville Community Engagement, an independent newsletter intended to bring you a few things about local and regional government for you to see for yourself. I’m Sean Tubbs.
On today’s show:
The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has been awarded over $850,000 to put together a comprehensive road safety plan
A survey has opened up for the city’s Economic Development strategic plan
Charlottesville staff gave an overview of the budget process last night
We’re a few days away from Crossover in the General Assembly and it’s time to review some of the legislation that has passed in each house
First shout-out: Rivanna Conservation Alliance
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, interested in helping a local organization keep our local river clean and protected? The Rivanna Conservation Alliance is holding an open house on Wednesday, February 15 at their offices on River Road in Charlottesville. Come by anytime between 4 and 7 p.m. to learn about their programs and the many ways you can get involved. Staff will be on hand to share information about monitoring, restoration, education, and stewardship activities. New and current volunteers are welcome! Light refreshments will be provided. Visit rivannariver.org to learn more.
TJPDC awarded $857,6000 for safe streets grant
The area’s regional planning body has been awarded a large grant from the federal government to create a strategy to make roads safer for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District is one of 18 entities that will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets and Roads for All program.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) established the new Safe Streets and Roads for All discretionary grant program to provide $5 billion over five years for regional, local, and Tribal initiatives to make the nation’s roadways safer for everyone,” reads a press release that went out this afternoon.
The project will prioritize potential safety projects in all six of the TJPDC localities to help reduce fatalities and injuries in both urban and rural settings. Those localities will also have to contribute a collective $214,000 in local matches.
At one point, Albemarle County was not going to participate in the project but Supervisors directed them to do so last September.
Two other projects in the Fifth District are:
$280,000 for the Central Virginia Planning District Commission Safety Action Plan
$160,000 for the West Piedmont Planning District Commission / Danville Metropolitan Planning Organization
The award to the TJPDC is the second largest in Virginia, second only to $992,000 for the Prince William County Comprehensive Safety Action Plan.
Another round of funding from the program is expected to be released in April.
Survey launches for Charlottesville economic development plan
The city of Charlottesville is creating a new plan to guide economic development activities and has hired the firm Resonance Consultancy to create the document. As part of that work, a survey has been launched to get input from the public.
“The City of Charlottesville is creating an Economic Development Strategic Plan to provide strategic direction for the City’s economic development efforts by identifying key opportunities for future growth and partnerships and recommend place-based development strategies for the City’s future development,” reads the introduction to the survey.
There are 22 questions in all. The plan is intended to be completed by July.
If you’re interested, here are the economic strategic plans for other communities.
Project ENABLE is the economic development plan for Albemarle County.
Fluvanna Forward is the strategic plan for economic development in Fluvanna County.
Louisa County has a community profile put together by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
The Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development put together a fact sheet for Nelson County.
Additionally, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission has entered into a contract with a firm to develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the region. That’s powered by an $80,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, as you can learn about on the TJPDC website.
Rogers and city staff go over budget process at public forum
We’re about a month away before interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers will release his recommended budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Last night, Rogers appeared at a forum to discuss the preparation for the document and the decisions that will soon need to be made.
“Our code requires the City Manager to submit the budget to City Council on March 6 and when the city manager submits the budget, it’s based on a number of inputs,” Rogers said.
These include requests from departments, which Rogers said always exceeds the available amount of anticipated funding. The budget must be balanced. That can mean cutting services or expenses, but Charlottesville in recent years has sought to increase revenue by increasing various taxes.
Rogers said for the second year in a row, the city will experience a large revenue increase due to a double-digit percentage rise in real property assessments. Rogers said that’s a sign of a strong housing market.
“Last year if you recall, the Council did increase the tax rate by one cent,” Rogers said. “That was the first time that that had happened, increasing taxes, in a number of years.”
But that’s just the real property tax rate. Council has increased the meals tax twice in the past four years to the current rate of 6.5 percent of a bill’s total.
Last year, Council chose to keep the personal property tax rate the same despite a dramatic increase in the valuation of used cars due to a shortage of new vehicles.
“We’re not back to where we were,” said Todd Divers, the Commissioner of the Revenue. “We’re about halfway back to where we were.”
Divers said the data is still coming in and it’s too early to provide firm numbers, as well as the numbers for transient occupancy taxes.
So that’s a bit on revenue. Krisy Hammill, the Director of Budget and Performance Management, went over expenditures including one factor to consider going forward.
“We are in an era where we have had a lot of federal dollars to supplement a lot of programs during COVID and otherwise and we are coming to end of those dollars as most of them have been allocated and used for other programs,” Hammill said. “And so now we are faced with decisions for what programs are sustained and which programs have to go away because that funding no longer exists.”
One other interesting fact. The city currently has 1,108 approved positions in the budget and about 20 percent of them are vacant. Rogers said localities across the nation are struggling to fill positions. To help retain personnel, the city granted a three percent cost of living increase in FY2023 to all employees at a cost of $1.8 million. Collective bargaining will likely increase the amount spent on personnel.
“Collective bargaining is a major issue, unknown in our budgeting process,” Rogers said. “We should be bargaining this spring and that will have an impact on personnel and working conditions in the city.”
A compensation study is also underway that Rogers said will likely result in more salary hikes for employees.
Another Council priority is investment in public transportation.
“Our expectation is that it’s a reliable, predictable transportation system and in order to achieve that we need both personnel and we need equipment,” Rogers said. “We need rolling stock. Those are going to be issues we’re going to have to grapple with in this next budget.”
Rogers said the city has struggled to fill driver positions. That’s one reason a series of route changes reviewed by Council in 2021 have not been implemented.
There’s also an affordable housing goal in Charlottesville to spend $10 million a year.
“We use a combination of the [Capital Improvement Program] as well as the general fund in terms of staffing, etcetera, in order to meet that number,” Rogers said. “We will keep focused on that.”
Council will have a work session on the budget on Thursday.
Sponsored message: Buy Local
Charlottesville Community Engagement’s continued existence means that many of you support local information. Want to support some local businesses as well? The Buy Local campaign is in full swing, and both the Albemarle and Charlottesville Offices of Economic Development want people to consider spending locally as they shop throughout the year.
The Buy Local campaign highlights small businesses within Charlottesville and Albemarle County through a multi-channel, multimedia promotional and educational campaign designed to reinforce how important supporting area small businesses is to the local economy.
Locally-owned, independent businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence in the City or County interested in being featured in the campaign should visit www.showlocallove.org or contact email@example.com.
General Assembly update: A look at bills that narrowly passed one Chamber
It’s been three weeks since the General Assembly convened for a 45-day session, and there are six days until Crossover. That’s the last day for each chamber to act on its own legislation. So, here’s a little snapshot of where things are, but please know this next sentence will be inaccurate before the end of this newsletter.
As of this moment, 219 bills have passed the House of Delegates and 200 have passed the Senate. Another 1,094 bills are pending in the House while 116 have failed. In the Senate, 237 bills have been dispensed with and another 615 are pending. This doesn’t include resolutions or joint resolutions.
The House of Delegates is controlled by the Republican Party with 52 legislators to the Democratic Party’s 48. In the Senate, the Democrats now have a 22 to 18 majority. Even with that division, some bills will pass out of both Chambers unanimously. More on those later in the session.
For now, let’s go through some of the bills that passed narrowly in the House of Delegates.
A bill to direct the Department of Education to require students to pass the civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test passed 54 to 44. (HB2405)
Governor Youngkin wants to reduce regulations in state bureaucracy. A bill to direct the Department of Planning and Budget to establish a program passed the House on a 53 to 47 vote. The bill is now before the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. (HB2437)
Another bill would require legislative approval over regulations estimated to cost over $500,000. This passed on a 53 to 46 vote. (HB1934)
A bill to lower the top income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5.5 percent passed on a 52 to 48 vote. This is now before the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. This would also raise the standard deduction for an individual to $9,000 and $18,000 for a married couple. (HB2319)
An effort to undo the Clean Economy Act passed in 2020 is still underway. A bill that would remove a requirement that Phase 1 and Phase 2 utilities retire bio-mass fired electric generating plants by December 31, 2028 passed on a 52 to 48 vote. (HB2026)
A bill to criminalize protest and picketing at a judge’s residence passed on a 51 to 46 vote. This is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (HB2015)
A bill to require localities to publish information about potential tax rates in a real property reassessment notice passed 56 to 43. This would be the lowered tax rate, “which would levy the same amount of real estate tax as the previous year.” (HB1942)
A bill to require members of a police civilian oversight board to go on a police ride-a-long within 90 days of being appointment passed on a 51 to 47 vote. This is also now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (HB1501)
A bill to extend the deadline to meet pollution reduction targets in the Chesapeake Bay from 2026 to 2030 passed on a 52 to 47 vote. This is now before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee. (HB1485)
The Senate Committee on Education and Health will now take up a House bill to direct the Department of Education to create model policies to allow for the removal of materials. The House passed HB1448 on a 51 to 47 vote. HB1379 would require school principals to catalog each item in a school library and designate whether it contains sexual material. That passed on a 51 to 45 vote.
Now let’s turn to the Senate.
A bill to extend disclaimer requirements to identify who is funding “electioneering campaigns” passed the Senate on a 21 to 17 vote. (SB854)
There was a 22 to 17 vote on a bill to specify that a person prohibited from owning a firearm can only transfer it to someone who is over the age of 21. (SB909)
A bill to reduce the maximum term of confinement for someone convicted of a misdemeanor passed on a 22 to 17 vote. The reduction would be from 365 days to 364 days. (SB929)
The Department of Emergency Management would be required to develop a response plan for extreme heat under SB936. That passed the Senate on a 24 to 15 vote.
A bill to make clear that a marriage between two consenting people is legal regardless of the sex of each party passed on a 25 to 12 vote. (SB1096)
A bill to require firearms to be locked away if a minor is present in a household passed 22 to 16. (SB1139)
Another bill would require standards of responsible conduct for members of the firearm industry. That made it out of the Senate on a 21 to 19 vote. (SB1167)
One to watch in this community is SB1287 which would enable Albemarle and Charlottesville to hold a referendum on a sales tax increase for local school construction. That made it out of the Senate on a 27 to 10 vote. Last year, an equivalent of this bill did not make it out of a House Education subcommittee. Read my account from last year.
Another bill would extend the referendum authority to all Virginia localities and that passed 26 to 10. (SB1408)
A bill to require communities over a certain size to include strategies for “healthy communities” in their Comprehensive Plan passed the Senate on a 25 to 15 vote. (SB1322)
Stay tuned for more, and make sure you’re looking at the reading material section at the end of every installment of this newsletter.
Charlottesville receives 20 applicants for empty council seat, Hawes Spencer, Charlottesville Daily Progress, January 30, 2023
Karsh Institute of Democracy appoints journalist Evan Smith as inaugural Practitioner Fellow, Georgia Beatty, January 30, 2023
Local property assessments rose 25% in two years, which means higher tax bills and more money for local governments, Erin O’Hare, Charlottesville Tomorrow, January 31, 2023
Albemarle supervisors to discuss housing on Wednesday, Charlottesville Daily Progress, January 31, 2023
Senate Democrats signal opposition to Youngkin pick for UVA board, Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury, January 31, 2023
Evens and odds for another non-prime number edition (#492):
Another edition is concluded, and well done everyone who makes it to this point. Today’s edition was intended to be a transit-only edition, but that’s coming later in the week. There’s so much to get to each and every week!
I neglected to thank Liz Cerami and Jenn Finazzo for their voiceover contributions yesterday. Jenn would like you to know about Fiori Floral Studio.
I would like to thank Michael Kilpatrick for his contributions today. The podcast is the superior way to experience this product, at least if you like the sound of people’s voices. I’m grateful for the volunteers who help me hear mine just a little less.
There are now close to 2,000 subscribers to this newsletter and a quarter are contributing. I’m not sure at all how this matches up with other information outlets, but I am grateful to continue producing as much information as I can each and every day. If you’d like to support the program, a paid subscription through Substack would be very welcome. I’ll even thank you with a personalized greeting, though sometimes correspondence is not the quickest.
I will always be quick to point out that Ting will match your initial Substack subscription. Yesterday debuted the haiku for this purpose which I’m going to repeat once more.
Substack payments rock!
They do keep me in business
Ting matches first payment
And if you would like to explore faster Internet, Ting is worth exploring.
If you sign up at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:
A second month for free
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As for other things? Wraki can thanked for the incidental music you hear, and the Fundamental Grang’s noisy punctuations are also something that can be heard. Now it’s time to begin thinking about the next edition, and then the one after that, and so on into an end point that is not yet known. Follow along and let’s see how far we can go!