January 29, 2022: Regional population up 12.8 percent since 2010 Census; Council briefed on capital budget choices
Plus: House Finance Committee kills bills to allow sales tax referendum for public education
The end of the month beckons, but the end of the winter appears to be further away. How much faith will you place in the predictions of certain individuals in the species Marmota Monax? How do you plan to get through until the solstice arrives 50 days from the publication of this installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement? Either way, I’m your host Sean Tubbs, a specific individual of the species Diurna notario.
Editor’s note: The podcast version of this newsletter is delayed and will be posted later via a second message by Monday morning.
On today’s program:
Charlottesville’s assessments are in, and nearly every single residential property in the city has increased in value
Charlottesville City Council continues its review of the capital budget for the next fiscal year
Demographers state the communities of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District have increased by 12.8 percent in population since the 2010 Census
Two Patreon-fueled shout-outs!
Let’s begin today with two more 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, 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!
Pandemic still a threat as omicron surge continues decline
The omicron surge continues to wane with most of the various metrics trending downward. Yesterday the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reports 3,197 COVID patients currently hospitalized with 552 of them in intensive care units and 337 people on ventilators. Still, the situation is still critical.
“You know what we’ve seen with omicron is the highest numbers of cases that we’ve ever seen here at UVA in terms of patients admitted with COVID,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, the director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health. “We have the highest number of patients we’ve seen with pediatric hospitalization. We’ve also seen the highest number of patients on our acute care floors.”
That’s echoed by Wendy Horton, the chief executive officer of the UVA Medical Center.
“We have some really sick patients and I think sometimes it is a misnomer that omicron is not as severe,” Horton said.
Yesterday the Virginia Department of Health reported a seven day average of 10,556 cases a day, a figure that has been decreasing since hitting a peak two weeks ago. The seven-day average for positive tests is 28.3 percent, down from a peak on January 11 of 36 percent.
The number of fully vaccinated adults in Virginia is at 68.8 percent, a number that has now remained stagnant. The average number of shots per day is at 10,140. Yesterday, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares issued an opinion that public universities cannot require students to get COVID vaccinations unless the General Assembly passes a bill to do so. (release)
Dr. Sifri said more communication is needed to explain to people the likelihood of unknowns during a pandemic such as this one.
“There are new variants, there are new challenges, there are new therapies and new ways to combat it and as we learn more, we get an understanding of what works and what doesn’t work,” said Dr. Sifri. “So that challenge of communication and the evolution of understanding is difficult. It’s very difficult to understand why guidance changes but best as possible it is based on evidence.”
Charlottesville assessments up by over ten percent
The annual reassessment of property in Charlottesville is complete, and over 95 percent of residential property increased this year. In all, there are 15,164 taxable parcels in the city, and the overall increase for 2022 is 10.77 percent.
The overall average increase for residential property is 11.69 percent, with only 1.37 percent decreasing in value and 2.77 percent staying the same.
Commercial property increased an average of 2.79 percent. According to a release from the assessor, this includes apartments, retail, office, industrial, and vacant land. For more information, check the city assessor’s website. If you’re a property owner, check your mailbox. The new assessments are now listed on Charlottesville’s GIS site. Appeals must be filed by February 28, 2022. (application)
If you’re a property owner, how did you fare? What do you think? Drop a line in the comments.
Prepping for FY23 Capital Improvement Program
With those figures in, budget staff will come up with more of a picture about how much additional tax revenue will come in due to the assessments. That will provide more clarity on a potential increase in the rate to cover a capital improvement program that will include $75 million for school reconfiguration, more funding for affordable housing, and other increases that have been sanctioned by the most recent City Council prior to this one.
Before we go too far with that, a subcommittee of the House of Delegates’ Finance Committee has recommended denial of a bill from Delegate Sally Hudson (D-57) that would allow Charlottesville to hold a referendum on a one-percent sales tax increase. (HB545) They also recommended “laying on the table” for another bill that would have allowed all localities to do so (HB531). Both votes were on party lines. More General Assembly updates in a moment.
The current Council had a lengthy discussion about the capital budget at their retreat on Wednesday. Krisy Hammill is a senior budget analyst with the city.
“The current draft of that five-year plan totals $157 million of which roughly $124 million of that could be bonded,” Hammill said.
That means the city can float bonds for the project and pay back the money over time through debt service payments. The city continues to have a triple AAA bond rating which keeps interest payments lower .
One topic at the work session was whether Council wanted to continue to move forward with several items. and she gave an overview of projects previously approved that have not yet moved forward.
“Right now we have an authorized but not issued list of roughly $66 million,” Hammill said. “This is just a running list of projects that if you go back through prior [Capital Improvement Programs], this is a list of of projects that were designated in that bondable portion.
These range from $4.43 million in an account for undergrounding utilities, $6.7 million for the city’s share of the new General District Court, and $3 million by the 250 bypass fire station. Hammill said some of these projects are already in the works and Hammill said it’s not a safe bet to eliminate the line item.
Last year, Council signaled an unwillingness to proceed with a major project to build a parking garage at the corner of 7th Street and East Market. $1 million remains in the unspent area.
Mayor Lloyd Snook was elected to Council in 2019 and he related his experience so far.
“I will tell you from my own personal perspective that once we’ve said yes to it, I kind of forget about it,” Snook said. “I assume it’s going to get done.”
Snook said he was not sure of the utility of seeing the list. Hammill said decisions by previous Councils can always be revisited as new information is known.
“West Main Street is a perfect example of that,” Hammill said. “If we had looked at this list last year, it was a higher number because we had $18 million and a quarter on this list for West Main Street. We know that there was design work and some preliminary steps but for all intents and purposes, no work really happened there and we as we started talking about the school project and how could we get to where we need to be, that was a perfect project that sort of bubbled to the top that’s like hey! Here’s a big number we’re sitting on. Where are we with this project? Let’s reevaluate.”
Hammill said at this point in the process, Council has the opportunity to ask questions to continue to request more information before a final decision is made. Snook said he would like Council to be given more frequent updates on where capital projects stand. Hammill said staff is working toward that goal.
Hammill also said the draft capital budget includes some recommendations made by the Planning Commission.
“There was a recommendation to restore the funding for sidewalks,” Hammill said. “We did put money back in to level-fund that with 2022. One of the other recommendations was to add more money back in to mitigate the Ash tree removal process. That is now fully funded at the requested rate.”
Staff also reduced funding for the economic development strategic fund.
The draft CIP for the next five years anticipates about $185 million in capital spending. That will likely require an increase in the city’s debt service to about $23.1 million each year. That’s double the current amount, according to Kevin Rotty, a financial advisor` working with the city.
“We’re currently paying about $11.9 million in our FY22 budget,” Rotty said.
Additional revenues will be needed to cover up the difference. At the retreat, staff wasn’t prepared to recommend a tax rate.
There are also $126 million in requests that are not currently funded. They also said there won’t be any room for additional new projects for many years. Councilor Michael Payne posed this question.
“Our current proposed CIP would mean anything in the unfunded list such as [Piedmont Housing Alliance’s] affordable projects... wouldn’t even begin for be possible for us to begin funding until 2031?,” Payne said.
“I would say basically yes, that’s a good summary,” Hamill said.
“I would agree,” Rotty said. “Very good summary.”
Charlottesville’s budget cycle for FY23 continues next week with a joint session with the School Board on February 2 and a budget work session on February 3.
Weldon Cooper releases population estimates
The communities that make up the Thomas Jefferson Planning District have grown by an average of 12.8 percent since the 2010 Census according to the latest population estimates from the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia. This time around they are making an adjustment based on what they see as an undercount in the 2020 U.S. Census.
“Localities with relatively large college populations, including some Virginia localities, were often undercounted in the April 1st, 2020 Census Count,” reads a disclaimer on the website. “We have benchmarked the 2020 and 2021 population estimates on the Weldon Cooper Center estimates instead of the 2020 Census count for localities with populations that are comprised of over 20 percent college students.”
That includes Charlottesville, which Weldon Cooper puts at an estimate of 51,079 as of July 1, 2021. The U.S. Census put the figure at 46,553, but the count was taken at the beginning of the pandemic when University of Virginia students had all gone home. Weldon’s estimates for the past few years have been higher, with a 2020 estimate of 51,050. That’s a 14.9 percent growth rate since 2010.
Albemarle County had an estimated population of 114,424 for July 2021, a 13.7 percent increase since 2010.
Fluvanna added another 1,865 residents for an estimate of 27,556. That’s a 6.7 percent increase since 2010.
Greene County grew 12.8 percent with an estimate of 21,030 people.
Louisa County grew 13.9 percent with a population estimate of 38,364
Nelson County lost 200 people for a 1.4 percent decrease in population, with a 2021 estimate of 14.820.
A third Patreon-fueled shout-out!
The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Winter is here, but spring isn’t too far away. This is a great time to begin planning for the spring. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water. Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page and tell them Lonnie Murray sent you!
General Assembly update
We’re now over two weeks into the Virginia General Assembly, and the full extent of what’s happened so far is well beyond the scope of this newsletter. But here are some more highlights of where things stand.
Here are some pieces of legislation that have passed the House of Delegates.
A bill to allow veterans serving as school resource officers to carry a firearm as part of their duties was approved on a 52 to 46 vote and now has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health. (HB8)
A bill to allow Virginia school boards more leeway in dismissing teachers passed the House on a 52 to 47 and is also referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health. (HB9)
A bill to expand Scenic River provisions for the Maury River passed 87 to 12 and now goes to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee. (HB28)
State currently allows minors to be sent to juvenile boot camps but a bill to eliminate that provision passed 88 to 11. (HB228)
The Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade would be directed to examine the possibility of waiving fees for veterans starting up a small business under HB358, which passed 97-0 and has been referred to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
And some other details:
A bill to rename the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has failed in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. (SB735)
A bill to require the Department of Environmental Quality to develop a program to plan to mitigate harmful algae blooms has been continued on to next year’s General Assembly. (SB171)
Thanks for reading! As I said, the podcast for this one is delayed, but will be available via the feed sometime before Monday morning. I apologize for the inconvenience, but wanted to get the information out.