Feb 23 • 20M

February 23, 2022: Amazon coming to Augusta County; Richardson presents $565 million budget to Albemarle Supervisors

Plus: Parking Advisory Panel opts not to remind Council of its desire to switch parking enforcement to a civilian contractor

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Sean Tubbs
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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Curling is Cool Day. Inconvenience Yourself Day. National Rationalization Day. These are some of the themes supposedly associated with February 23, 2022, another day with a little more light than the one day before. I suppose it is inconvenient that it’s way too warm and there’s no local ice rink to go curling. Instead, dig in for another installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a podcast and newsletter that seeks everyday to emulate the principles of World Understanding and Peace Day. 

On today’s program:
  • Albemarle County Executive Jeffrey Richardson presents a fiscal year budget for FY23 that’s 20 percent higher than the current year

  • Amazon will build a 1 million square foot fulfillment center in Fishersville 

  • Governor Youngkin signs four more bills into law

  • Charlottesville’s Parking Advisory Panel further discusses civilian enforcement of parking 

First two shout-outs go to good cheer and local media

Let’s begin today with two Patreon-fueled shout-outs. The first comes a long-time supporter who wants you to know:

"Today is a great day to spread good cheer: reach out to an old friend, compliment a stranger, or pause for a moment of gratitude to savor a delight."

The second comes from a more recent supporter who wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, the Crozet Gazette, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!

Amazon to open fulfillment center in Fishersville

Governor Glenn Youngkin has announced that the internet distribution company Amazon plans to open a 1 million square fulfillment center in Fishersville, creating 500 jobs where workers will specialize in packing and shipping bulky and large-sized items. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership have been working to secure the project. 

“It has been a great pleasure to work with the Amazon team and Augusta County to secure this major expansion by one of the world’s largest corporations,” said Shenandoah Valley Partnership Executive Director Jay A. Langston, Ph.D. “We are excited about the expanded logistics infrastructure that will exist as a result of Amazon’s location.”

Youngkin said the economy is a top priority for his administration. 

“Amazon’s new fulfillment center in Virginia is a testament to the Commonwealth’s exceptional infrastructure, competitive business costs, and long-term commitment that I’ve made to make sure we are developing talent and training workers to make Virginia the best state for business,” Youngkin said.  

Stock photo from Amazon showing the inside of a fulfillment center

Amazon has over 30,000 full-time and part-time employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia already and recently launched delivery stations in Louisa County and Waynesboro. They opened a robotic fulfillment center at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County and both a delivery center and a “cross-dock fulfillment center” in Stafford County last year. 

The announcement is a sign that economic development is bipartisan. Last year, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership worked with the Northam administration and the VEDP to locate:

Learn more about the announcement on Virginia Business.

A table on the Shenandoah Valley Partnership’s website comparing Virginia’s metropolitan areas (take a look!)
Youngkin signs four bills

This morning, Governor Youngkin signed four more bills that have passed both houses of the General Assembly. 

  • HB55 will require the State Registrar of Vital Records to provide a weekly update of recently deceased people to the Department of Elections “to promptly cancel the registration of a person on the list.” 

  • HB195 would allow a locality’s registrar to waive requirements for location of polling places if a suitable building cannot be found within legal parameters.

  • HB386 adds the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge to a list of those where D.C. and Maryland have jurisdiction to clear disable vehicles. 

  • HB971 would grant additional tax relief to Virginia businesses 

“Through this bill, Virginia expanded and made retroactive tax benefits related to Paycheck Protection Program loans and Rebuild Virginia grants to ensure COVID-19 aid granted to businesses would not be treated as taxable income,” reads a press release. “Altogether, this bill will save Virginia individual and business taxpayers $201 million in taxes.”

Governor Glenn Youngkin and The First Lady Suzanne Youngkin while signing bill HB386 (Credit: Office of the Governor)
Charlottesville Parking Advisory Panel discusses civilian enforcement of parking

Charlottesville in November 2020 was in a different place, with interim City Manager John Blair at the helm. At that time, the city’s Parking Advisory Panel endorsed a proposal to ask the City Council to transition enforcement of on-street parking limits from the police department to a civilian contractor. (Parking panel supports non-police enforcement, November 18, 2020)

Since then, Blair left the city. Chip Boyles was hired and resigned within nine months, shortly after he terminated former Police Chief RaShall Brackney. 

Charlottesville’s Parking Director Rick Siebert told the panel earlier this month that neither the policy or parking enforcement appears to be a priority at this time. 

“I’m aware the police have a lot of challenges right now but parking seems to have fallen pretty far down the list,” Siebert said. 

Now the interim City Manager is Michael C. Jones, and his primary focus is getting together Charlottesville’s budget for next fiscal year. 

“He has not been briefed on this issue at all,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director.

The panel discussed whether they should bring the matter up during the city’s budget development process. Siebert said there would be be no additional revenue, but panel chair Joan Fenton said switching to a civilian firm could free up resources in a department that is understaffed.

“And it would free up the [Community Service Officer] or somebody else to do other duties which they are short-handed for so perhaps it does make sense to present it as part of the budgeting,” Fenton said.

Engel said it was more of a policy issue than a budget one and suggested this was not the right time to approach Jones or Council.

“It might be the type of thing that a citizen could submit as an idea though rather than coming officially from one of you all,” said panel member Kirby Hutto. 

The panel then suggested resending its previous letter. Siebert urged them to be realistic until after the city’s FY23 budget is adopted later this spring.

“We only have an acting chief of police and this kind of policy issue is just not on anyone’s radar right now compared to trying to hash out what the city is going to do about its budget,” Siebert said. 

Siebert suggested trying again in May. The panel agreed to wait. 

Third 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.

Richardson presents $565M “Transform Albemarle” to Supervisors

A strong projection of revenues in Albemarle has led County Executive Jeffrey Richardon to present the Board of Supervisors with a budget for fiscal year 2023 that is twenty percent higher than the existing year. (download the budget)

“This fiscal year’s recommended budget is built to transform Albemarle,” Richardson said. 

The property tax rate will remain at 85.4 cents per $100 assessed value. Property assessments in Albemarle are up an average of 8.4 percent in 2022. Sales tax, food and beverage tax, and transient occupancy taxes are up 17.1 percent from FY21.

However, Richardson said not all signs are positive. 

“We are mindful that those indicators don’t highlight some of the challenges in the local economy,” Richardson said. “The prices that consumers are paying have risen, they’ve risen by 7.5 percent when comparing January 2022 to January 2021. Gas prices are up nearly 40 percent from where they were a year ago. Participants in the SNAP Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program remain higher than in pre pandemic 2019.” 

A snapshot of the revenue projections for FY23 is on page 36 of the budget (download)

Richardson said he has had direction from Supervisors to reduce the amount of the county’s budget that is based on the property tax. In fiscal year 2007, sixty percent of Albemarle’s revenue came from that source, but that has increased to 68.5 percent in the current year’s budget.

The budget is built on an increase in the food and beverage tax from two percent to six percent, and an increase in the transient lodging tax from three percent to eight percent. That would match the same rates in Charlottesville. 

“Thousands of people visit our community for vacations, sporting events, weddings, and to visit our natural and historic resources,” Richardson said. “We are also a regional hub for commercial activity. Increasing our taxes in these two areas means we can begin to shift revenues away from the people who live here and spread it out more broadly to those who are visiting our community.”

The budget also anticipates lowering the personal property tax rate by 86 cents due to a sharp increase in the valuation of used vehicles.

“We’ve been given the authority for a local cigarette tax which went into effect in January,” Richardson said. “A plastic bag tax which we will be exploring in the coming months. 

Richardson highlighted several areas of new spending in the budget. 

A Community Response Team will be created to respond to “individuals in crisis with a cross-functional team” consisting of social workers, police, and firefighters. The funding source is the cigarette tax authorized by the General Assembly in recent years. 

“Depending on the details of the call, this team will adapt their response to best meet the critical needs of the person, ensuring the safety of all parties involved,” Richardson said. “This program responds to a troubling growth in mental health call services that have unique needs.” 

The capital budget for fiscal year 2023 anticipates spending the highest one-year amount in county history. In fiscal year 2006, the figure was $23 million and the Albemarle population was around 91,400. Now the population is estimated at 114,424 and the recommended capital budget for next year represents a need to catch up.

“For fiscal year ‘23 the recommended capital budget is approximately $93 million and I would like to note that in 2010 and in 2011 these years were impacted by the Great Recession and in 2021 by the pause in the capital program due to the pandemic,” Richardson said.

A fire engine at Pantops Station 16 will be operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“Seven days a week to further support the strength of the fire rescue system and to reduce reliance on Charlottesville Fire for calls east of the City,” Richardson said 

The capital budget also has funding to increase space to address increasing enrollments in Albemarle public schools.

“The budget recommendations will over the next five years advance three new public school projects to address capacity needs within our school system,” Richardson said. “Two elementary schools. One in the northern feeder pattern and one from the south, and a second high school center.”

Biscuit Run Park will be opened with five miles of trails and athletic fields.

“This is a 1,200 acre natural park within the county’s development area and it will provide a park experience unlike any of our other parks, combining the natural features of our rural parks with athletic amenities that you’d expect in an urban park,” Richardson said. 

In recent years, Albemarle has been putting money into a line item to match other sources of funding. 

“This budget recommends continued investments in our transportation leveraging program which provides local funding to draw down state funding for road and bike and pedestrian improvements,” Richardson said. 

Some of the American Rescue Plan Act funding will be used to pay for the cost of some urban Albemarle properties to be connected to the sewer system.

“There is a connection cost that can be out of reach for many homeowners,” Richardson said. “The proposed program will provide fiscal support to low-income households in making that shift as the age of these homes and the infrastructure attached to them is reaching a tipping point where the failure of a septic system in the urban area presents a real environmental health hazard.” 

Other aspects of the budget: 

  • There’s a four percent market adjustment for staff

  • The county will pick up funding of the Yancey Community Center once a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation expires. 

  • The county will fund a microtransit project on Pantops and the Places-29 area

  • Work to implement the Housing Albemarle plan will be paid for through a combination of the budget surplus

The public hearing on Richardson’s recommended budget will be held virtually on March 2. Work sessions will be held throughout that month before a public hearing on the tax rate on April 27 and the version of the budget marked up by Supervisors. Approval is set for May 9. 

Supervisors had a few comments in advance of the public hearing next week. Several expressed concern that action in this year’s General Assembly may affect the budget. 

It will be the first budget for new Supervisor Jim Andrews (Samuel Miller). 

“A lot of times I’ve always been advised that when you try to figure out what’s a priority in any organization it’s not to ask what they’re doing but what they’re not doing,” Andrews said. 

Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) has been through over a dozen budget cycles so far, including during the Great Recession when the capital budget was slashed. 

“That reduction of $100 million in new projects three and four years in a row is why we have the backlog that we have,” Mallek said. “We are making a valiant effort at catch-up with available one-time money that is a once-in-a-lifetime generational thing to have at hand.”

Supervisor Donna Price (Scottsville) praised staff for reducing the personal property tax.

“We talk about using equity and inclusion in our decisions and your proposal here to reduce the personal property tax provides an across the county truly equitable calculation of relief for our community members,” Price said. “We do have so many people who are in tenancies and almost everyone has to rely on their vehicle for transportation because of the nature of our county being so rural in so many areas.” 

More to come in the very near future. 

The budget calendar for this year’s cycle