Jan 25 • 16M

January 25, 2022: Charlottesville sales tax referendum passes Senate; Albemarle may speed up redistricting process due to federal lawsuit against Virginia Board of Elections

Plus: Public housing residents owe thousands in back rent; CHRA officials seeking solutions

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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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We’re now over a month past the solstice and I can assure you that there’s more light in our day and there will be an end to winter. For now, there certainly is a lot of cold and it’s a shame there’s no way to conduct a harvest. I’m Sean Tubbs and I spend my time indoors with the curtains drawn pouring through meetings and agendas to bring you Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast that wants you to keep track of the sky.

 On today’s show:
  • Legislation to allow Charlottesville to hold a referendum on a one percent sales tax  increase for education has passed the Senate

  • Charlottesville needs more time to respond to a lawsuit from a former city manager

  • Albemarle County begins the redistricting process and may accelerate it due to a pending federal lawsuit that could force House of Delegates races this November

  • Charlottesville’s public housing body is briefed on back rent owed by a third of tenants, and the city wants proposals for three quarters of a million dollars in affordable housing money

First Patreon-fueled shout-out:

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Pandemic update

As Virginia policy on COVID mitigation strategies continues to change with a new Governor, the numbers continue to come in. Today the Virginia Department of Health reports another 10,699 new cases and the seven day-percent positivity is at 29.5 percent. While the trend this week is downward, these numbers are still higher than at most points during the pandemic. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 350 new cases reported today and the seven-day average for new positive tests is at 25.1 percent. There have been four new fatalities reported since Friday in the district. 

Augusta Health and the University of Virginia Health System are pleading with members of the public to get a COVID vaccination and a booster to reduce strain on the medical infrastructure. 

“After two years and four surges, COVID-19 has tragically claimed the lives and health of too many in our communities,” reads a joint press release from both entities. “Our care teams are exhausted, both physically and mentally.”

The release points out that the vast majority of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated and urges people to get the booster. It also asks people to continue wearing a mask in public but to upgrade to one that is medical grade as opposed to a cloth mask.

Richardson lawsuit update

The city of Charlottesville has asked for more time to respond to a federal lawsuit from former City Manager Tarron Richardson. Richardson filed a civil rights suit in November in the Western District of Virginia against Council and four individuals claiming he was discriminated against after members of Council broke a non-disparagement clause. He was also barred from publishing an op-ed in the Daily Progress. Charlottesville asked for an extension to respond to the argument, and Judge Norman K. Moon has given them until February 16.  

See also: Former City Manager Sues Charlottesville, November 24, 2021

Chamber of Commerce welcomes new members

Three new people have been added to the Board of Directors for the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

  • Eric Mayberry is the president of the Daily Progress as well as director of sales and local marketing. 

  • Jonathan Chasen is a private wealth financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors. 

  • Rebecca Ivins is a client solutions manager for Hourigan, a construction company that has worked on several projects in Charlottesville including the Dairy Central building, the CODE building, and the Apex building. 

Charlottesville sales tax bill clears Virginia Senate

Here’s a snapshot of where the General Assembly was at the close of business yesterday. 

The Senate has passed 37 bills, and the House of Delegates of Delegates has passed three, all three of which deal with insurance. So let’s focus today on the 40-member Chamber, where Senator Chap Petersen’s bill to permit hunting on Sunday passed the full Senate on a 29 to 11 vote (SB8). 

Both Charlottesville and Isle of Wight County are one step closer to being able to hold a referendum for a one percent sales tax increase to support education. SB37 for Isle of Wight County passed on a 27 to 12 vote. SB298 for Charlottesville passed on a 28 to 12 vote. Another bill would allow all localities in Virginia to hold such a referendum also passed on a 28 to 12 vote (SB472). 

Other bills that have passed the Senate:

  • Legislation to allow employers to offer rewards to people who get the COVID-19 vaccine through their health insurance wellness program has passed on a 19 to 17 vote (SB42)

  • A bill to direct the Department of Health to create a prescription drug awareness program in conjunction with the Board of Pharmacy passed unanimously. (SB14)

  • A locality’s planning commission would have up to 100 days to make a recommendation on a Comprehensive Plan amendment under a bill that passed the Senate on a 26 to 14 vote. (SB35)

  • Candidates for constitutional officers for localities would be required to identify their party registration if the House agrees to (SB39) and Governor Youngkin signs it. The Senate voted 25 to 15.  

  • The Senate unanimously approved a bill to float $101 million in bonds for projects at Virginia Tech and James Madison University (SB93).

  • Juvenile and Domestic Courts could waive the requirement for the ceremonial occasion when a minor gets a driver’s license if SB139 if the House agrees. The Senate passed it unanimously. (SB139)

  • Candidates for public office would have to file campaign finance reports electronically under SB222, which passed the Senate unanimously. 

  • Another bill to expand required disclosures for who pays for campaign advertisements also passed the Senate on a 23 to 15 vote (SB318). 

  • Finally for the Senate, a bill to allow Arlington County to appoint an independent police auditor passed on a 21 to 19 vote (SB388). 

Second Patreon-fueled shout out goes to WTJU

Algorithms know how to put songs and artists together based on genre or beats per minute. But only people can make connections that engage your mind and warm your heart. The music on WTJU 91.1 FM is chosen by dozens and dozens of volunteer hosts -- music lovers like you who live right here in the Charlottesville area. Listener donations keep WTJU alive and thriving. In this era of algorithm-driven everything, go against the grain. Support freeform community radio on WTJU and get ready for the Folk Marathon, beginning on February 7. Consider a donation at wtju.net/donate.

Public housing agency owed $100K in unpaid rent 

At last night’s meeting of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, one Commission noted that there is a great deal of unpaid rent on the agency’s books.

“We have roughly a third of our public housing residents not paying their rent,” said John Sales, the CRHA’s executive director. 

In all, the CRHA is owed about $100,000 in back rent but Sales said that’s not the only financial hit public housing takes as a result because a federal match cannot be made. 

“And CRHA is not receiving the rental subsidy on it which negatively impacts the overall financial standing of the housing authority,” Sales said. 

The CRHA has been redirecting other funds towards covering the shortfall with grant funding covering April, May and half of June from last year. Sales said continuing lack of rent payment continues to trouble the federal government.

“[The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] is calling it out at every meeting and asks where we are doing to address it,” Sales said. 

The CRHA’s fiscal year ends on March 31. Sales said the agency is hiring an eviction prevention coordinator and housing stabilization position soon to work with families.

“There is a policy now where the housing authority has to work with the families before moving forward with any eviction proceeding to at least get them to attempt to get the rent relief program,” Sales said. 

Sales said eviction is a last resort. The average rental payment is $247 a month and the monthly operating expense to run CRHA is currently $265,927. HUD considered CRHA to be a “troubled” agency and there will be an audit on March 16. 

At the meeting, former Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker was officially appointed to serve on the CRHA’s redevelopment committee in an at-large capacity.

City seeking affordable housing proposals 

Since 2007, Charlottesville has had an affordable housing fund to help create and preserve affordable housing units. Today they’ve begun the process of soliciting proposals for how to use $750,000 from the current fiscal year’s capital budget. The notice for funding availability (NOFA) refers to the affordable housing plan adopted by Council last March. 

“This Plan recommends that the City make a strong and recurring financial commitment to address housing needs in Charlottesville in order to increase the number of subsidized affordable homes by 1,100 homes, preserve existing 600 existing subdidized affordable homes, and stabilize 1,800 to 2,000 owner and renter households facing housing instability,” reads the application.

The application comes at a time when the firm HR&A continues to work on an audit of how the housing fund has been used. They gave a preliminary report to Council on December 20 that states the city has not tracked how the $38 million in local funds have been used to date. 

The current capital improvement program budget for this year includes $1.5 million for CHRA redevelopment, $900,000 for the supplemental rental assistance program, and over $3 million for the redevelopment of Friendship Court. The budget actually shows a line item of $925,000 for the housing fund this year. Questions are out but the answers will come in a future edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement

See also: Council briefed on affordable housing funds, December 31, 2021

Goldman lawsuit prompting Albemarle to consider expedited redistricting schedule

The redistricting process in Albemarle County got underway last night with an information session on how it will work out. Guidelines require magisterial districts to be contained with Virginia’s legislative and Congressional lines. Under the new maps approved in late December by the Virginia Supreme Court, Albemarle falls entirely within the new 11th Senate District.

“Albemarle County falls into two different Virginia House of Delegates districts, the 54th which is basically the urban ring around the city of Charlottesville and then the 55th which is the majority of the county,” said Anthony Bessette, the Senior Assistant County Attorney.

There’s a slight glitch when it comes to the new House of Representatives maps.

“Almost all of Albemarle County is in the 5th District but there is a tiny sliver up [north] that is in the 7th District,” Bessette said. 

There’s even a Twitter account for the sliver.

Since 2010, Albemarle’s population grew by 13,385 people according to the Census but the growth isn’t even.

“Rio and White Hall grew a great deal whereas on the other hand Scottsville did not grow at the same pace,” Bessette said. 

That means the Rio District and White Hall districts will need to be reduced in size and others will need to be expanded. In December, Supervisors approved preliminary guidelines that would keep their number at six. 

“The determination of whether to have six supervisors, five, four, seven, eight, etc, is a local decision that the Board of Supervisors gets to make,” Bessette said. 

Because of a federal lawsuit that may force an election for the House of Delegates this year, staff is now recommending an accelerated schedule in order to prepare for potential primaries in June. 

“Long story short on that is that timeline would see the process compressed further to begin on February 2 and end on March 23,” Bessette said. 

Attorney Paul Goldman has filed suit against the state Board of Elections arguing that the current districts for the House of Delegates are unconstitutional because they are out of date. Goldman filed a brief on January 18 in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and attorneys for the Board of Elections have until January 28 to file additional materials. 

Public comment on redistricting will be taken at their February 2 meeting. The maps that have been developed so far were not shown to the public at the information session. Registrar Jake Washburne said three maps are being proposed. 

“We are planning to send those to the Board of Supervisors so they can be placed on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for February 2,” Washburne said. 

 If you want to submit written comments:

Richard J. Washburne

General Registrar Albemarle County 

Department of Voter Registration and Elections 

1600 5th Street Charlottesville VA 22902 

rwashburne@albemarle.org

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