Feb 19 • 17M

February 19, 2022: Governor Youngkin wants to pay back Virginians $4.5 billion in "over taxation"

Plus: Charlottesville Police Department moves some crime-reporting to online-only

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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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We have already been through seven Saturdays in 2022, and this is the eighth. There are 45 left until 2023, but so much more has to happen before we get there. For now, it’s perhaps best to take a breath, take a look at the horizon, and figure out ways to make whatever time we have count. Charlottesville Community Engagement appears to be obsessed with counting, and determined to make sense of as many of the variables as possible. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

On today’s program:
  • Governor Youngkin wants to return $4.5 billion to Virginia taxpayers

  • The omicron chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane as temperatures warm and the days get longer

  • If you want to report some crimes to Charlottesville police, you’ll have to do it online

  • Nelson County’s administrator is set to retire after 24 years in the position 

  • A quick look at the General Assembly 

First shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle

Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”

Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting http://campalbemarleva.org/donate.

Pandemic update: Omicron cases continues to recede

A new approach to the public health response to the pandemic is now with us in Virginia, as a new administration continues to undo the previous one had taken to take public steps to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.  

On Friday, the waning of the omicron surge is reflected in the latest snapshot of numbers. The seven-day average was 2,846 a day on Friday, down from a high of 26,175 on January 8. As of today, Virginia hospitals report 1,334, down from a high of 3,948 on January 18. 

Dr. Costi Sifri, the director of hospital epidemiology at the University of Virginia, said omicron is the dominant strain at the moment. 

“The majority of people have some level of immunity to it,” Dr. Sifri said. “We can anticipate that we should continue to see this downward trend of cases. The open questions after this are: How long is that immunity? How robust is it? Is there a difference in it if you’ve been infected with omicron or if you maybe have had omicron infection and have been vaccinated? And finally, what other variants may read their heads?”

Another question is if there will need to be a booster for omicron. A lot of it depends on how long immunity will last. 

“And that’s going to be not clear and there may be some differences depending on different populations,” Dr. Sifri said. “If the at-risk factor is for severe infections, maybe that is going to be different if you don’t have those risk factors.” 

On March 1, new legislation goes into effect that will allow parents of public school students to opt out of mask mandates. Dr. Sifri said as omicron continues to wane, there are multiple mitigation measures such as vaccination. 

“I think it really is important to remember that the virus has humbled us along the way but we also understand that two years into this pandemic there is probably a right-sizing that needs to occur as we combat the challenges of this virus,” Dr. Sifri said. 

Dr. Sifri acknowledged that vaccination is still not available for people under the age of 5 and the immunocompromised are also more at risk. 

On Wednesday, the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board voted 7 to 3 to rescind workplace safety rules adopted in July 2020 to protect employees. That according to a report from Bloomberg Law. Governor Youngkin issued an executive order on January 15 directing the board to study the rules with an eye toward removing them. Read through the agenda to get a deeper sense of what was discussed. (meeting page)

The death toll from that surge has been slowly increasing. Fatalities from COVID often take some time to be fully recorded. On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reports there have been 18,016 deaths in Virginia over the past 23 months. On January 18, that number was at 15,822. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, the death toll stands at 386 for its six localities. 

When the second anniversary of the pandemic arrives, I’ll still be counting out the numbers. 

Youngkin wants to return tax money to Virginians

Governor Glenn Youngkin has sent a letter to the chairs of the General Assembly’s money committees that signals another different approach to government. 

“The bottom line is taxes paid to the government are soaring and the revised revenue forecasts estimates the Commonwealth will collect $1.25 billion more in the current fiscal year,” Youngkin wrote to Delegate Barry Knight and Senator Janet Howell. 

Knight chairs the House Appropriations Committee and Howell chairs the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

Youngkin said that is on top of the $3.3 billion that was added to the state’s revenue forecast in December under former Governor Ralph Northam. An agreement on the budget is needed by March 12, and Youngkin wants the General Assembly to “return” $4.5 billion to taxpayers. 

“The stunning amount of money being collected from taxpayers is the direct result of over taxation,” Youngkin wrote.  

In all, the economic forecast states that there is around $13.4 billion in unanticipated revenue, and Youngkin said that would still allow $9 billion to “invest in schools, teachers, law enforcement, behavioral health” and other priorities. 

Youngkin’s letter also casts doubt on the actual health of the economy and states that these revenue increases should not be seen in a positive light. He made several claims to back this point including:

There are a lot of statistics that can be used to describe the economy and the people who live and work in a civilization.

Virginia had a 2.9 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) between the second and third quarter of 2021, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The nationwide average was 2.3 percent and Virginia outperformed North Carolina, Kentucky, and South Carolina. 

The economic outlook in Governor Youngkin’s mid-session revenue review
Nelson County administrator stepping down 

Nelson County is now looking for people to run two of its top positions. The county is already looking for a new School Superintendent, but there’s vacancy at the top of the general government. 

County Administrator Stephen Carter will retire on July 31 after 24 years in the position. During that time, two elementary schools and a middle school were built, and the high school on U.S. 29 was renovated. According to a press release, other achievements include construction of the Piney River Water and Sewer project, construction of the Blue Ridge Railway Trail, and establishment of the universal broadband commitment and accompanying involvement in the Regional Internet Service Expansion (RISE) project. 

In addition, since 1998 the county has begun paying for some emergency rescue personnel to supplement volunteers, a business park was established in Colleen, and Nelson became the first rural tourism program in the Commonwealth to be accredited by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. 

Charlottesville Police Department to adjust service calls

Staffing shortages in the Charlottesville Police Department have led to a decision to change responses to some service calls. According to a release sent out yesterday, people will need to fill out an online form for several non-emergency requests including annoying phone calls, littering, lost property, suspicious activity, and vandalism. Some forms of larceny and fraud will also need to be reported online rather than through a phone call. 

“Officers will continue to respond to emergency calls and crimes in progress,” reads the release. “As it relates specifically to past larcenies, officers will still respond in person to larcenies of firearms and vehicles.” 

The release states the department is down 24 percent in personnel.

“Shift supervisors are making every effort to manage the resources available and prioritize calls for service based on the severity of the incident and impact on the community,” the release continues. 

Meanwhile, officers in the department do continue to make arrests. A review of open data in the past week shows arrests for violation of an emergency protective order, a domestic assault, credit card larceny, burglary, contempt of court, and a fourth incident of a specific individual driving while intoxicated. 

Shout-out to the National Sporting Library and Museum

In today’s subscriber-fueled shout-out, if you’re interested in learning more about the birds around us, the National Sporting Library and Museum has a virtual event for you coming up on February 24. Jennifer Ackerman, the author of the Genius of Birds, will explore the brilliance of birds and delve into the mysteries of the avian brain. Ackerman as she shares her global adventures into the genius of birds. Learn how birds make and use tools, teach each other skills, count, navigate, create art, perform astonishing feats of memory, communicate, and even pass along cultural traditions.  

The author will be joined by two top officials from the Wildlife Center of Virginia, an organization that has helped nearly 90,000 wild animals from every corner of Virginia. Center President Ed Clark and Senior Vice President Amanda Nicholson will bring along Ambassador Animals. The program is free and available via Zoom or Facebook like. Drop a line to info@nationalsporting.org for a link, or visit the National Sporting Library and Museum on Facebook. 

General Assembly check-in

There is less than a month to go before the close of the 2022 General Assembly. Since my last quick check-in, several more bills that passed the House of Delegates have passed the Senate, and Governor Youngkin has signed one additional piece of legislation. 

Bills that will go to Youngkin’s desk include:

  • HB165 would allow issuance of over $100 million in bonds for “revenue-producing capital projects” at Virginia Tech and James Madison University. 

  • Localities would be able to convey real estate with outstanding debts and liens to a land bank under HB298. Currently that land must go to a public auction. 

  • HB971 would bring Virginia’s taxation system into conformity with the Internal Revenue Service. 

Governor Youngkin has signed a bill (HB828) that expands eligibility for a program that helps subsidize producers of dairy products. 

Several bills have passed the House of Delegates and await action in the Senate.

  • A bill preventing public school teachers from teaching “divisive concepts” (HB787) passed the house on a 50 to 49 vote. It will now go before the Senate Committee on Education and Health. 

  • A bill that would prohibit drop-off boxes for absentee ballots passed the House on a 52 to 47 vote and will now go before the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. (HB34)

  • A bill to reduce the window for voting absentee in person passed the House on a 52 to 48 vote and is also before that Senate committee. (HB39)

  • A bill to get a patient’s written consent before an abortion passed the House 52 to 48 and is before Senate Committee on Education and Health. (HB212)

  • A bill to allow religious exemptions to vaccination mandates passed 52 to 45. (HB306)

  • A bill to exempt religious institutions from state declarations of emergency passed 51 to 46 and will go before the Senate General Laws and Technology committee. (HB775)

  • A bill to alter the rules for collective bargaining for public employees passed 53 to 47. (HB336)

  • A bill to allow public colleges and universities to create lab schools passed 52 to 48. (HB346)

  • A bill to exempt businesses under ten employees from Virginia’s minimum wage requirements passed 54 to 46 and will go to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. (HB1040)

  • A bill that would prohibit public schools from denying participation in extracurricular activities due to nonpayment of school meals passed 75 to 25. (HB583)

  • A bill to exempt food for human consumption and personal hygiene from sales tax passed the House on 80 to 20 vote. That now goes to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. (HB90)

  • A bill that would create a program to educate hotel operators and staff on anti-human trafficking measures passed unanimously. (HB258)

Bills from the Senate in the next edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.