Jul 1, 2022 • 17M

July 1, 2022: Injuries from firearms on the rise in Virginia; New laws take effect today; Piedmont Housing gets $2M from federal government for Friendship Court, Southwood

Plus: What should be in a bus shelter?

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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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For those who follow government budgets in Virginia, Happy 2023! Fiscal year 2023, that is. To my knowledge, there is no celebration but there likely will be a few hiccups here and there as new laws take effect and some cheering as municipal and state employees receive pay increases with the new budget. But for a massive celebration, you’ll have to head north to the border where it’s Canada Day. 

I’m Sean Tubbs, and I strive to make as many days as possible have a new installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement and so far I’m one for one for the fiscal year.

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On today’s program:

  • A brief look at new laws that go into effect today 

  • The Virginia Department of Health announces a dashboard to track firearm injuries in the Commonwealth

  • Charlottesville City Schools expect the bus driver shortage to worsen and are encouraging parents and guardians to think about alternative methods of transport

  • Charlottesville Area Transit looks at several different kinds of new bus shelters

  • Piedmont Housing Alliance gets another $2 million from the federal government to help subsidize Friendship Court and Southwood Apartments 

RCA seeks volunteers for clean-up of invasive vines 

In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance wants you to know about some upcoming opportunities to volunteer. For the mornings of both July 7 and July 9, RCA is seeking people to help clean up invasive vines in the Dunlora neighborhood near a recent buffer planting. Clearing out the vines will help protect newly planted trees and is part of  natural forest regeneration project conducted by the Virginia Department of Forestry. RCA will provide gloves and some cutting equipment, or you can bring your own but leave the chainsaws at home! Visit rivannariver.org to learn more! 

Fiscal Year 2023 begins: Some of what’s new

It’s the first day of the Fiscal Year 2023, and July 1 brings with it several changes in rules, regulations and rates. 

A whole host of new legislation has gone into effect, according to a status report put together by David Blount of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. (view his latest update

For more on new state laws, read this Associated Press article

The elimination of the 1.5 percent state sales tax on groceries does not go into effect until January 1. 

At the local level, Albemarle County’s food and beverage tax rate increases to six percent of the total bill and the transient occupancy rate increases to eight percent. Charlottesville’s meals tax rate increases a half-percentage point to six and a half percent. The one penny increase in the real estate property tax rate is already in effect, as that rate goes by the calendar year.

State agency launches dashboard to track firearms injuries in Virginia 

The number of firearm injuries in Virginia that resulted in emergency room visits increased by nine percent from 2020 to 2021. That’s according to a new dashboard unveiled yesterday by the Virginia Department of Health that tracks the information by age, sex, race, and ethnicity. 

The data is tracked by counting up the number of times key phrases are used when a patient gives a reason for a visit. The terms include: gun with wound, gunshot, buckshot, revolver, rifle, shotgun, firearm, pistol, handgun, been shot, I was shot, I got shot, or graze with bullet. 

A press release points out that:

  • Emergency room visits for firearms injuries have increased 72 percent from 2018 to 2021

  • Since the data set begins in January 2016, 86 percent of visits for firearm injuries are males 

  • In 2021, 65 percent of patients were Black 

  • In 2021, 31 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there have been 294 visits to emergency rooms for firearm injuries since 2016. 

The work is covered by a grant to the VDH from the Centers for Disease Control to help improve public health surveillance of firearm injuries, according to a release. For acronym fans, the CDC program is known as Firearm Injury Surveillance Through Emergency Rooms, or FASTER. 

The dashboard does not yet extend to hospitalizations and deaths, but that’s expected later this year. Those who are going to take a look at the data are reminded to review a list of limitations with what’s known as syndromic surveillance

Pandemic update: Still on the plateau

It’s another holiday weekend during the era of COVID-19 and Virginia remains on a plateau of a high number of cases. The seven day percent positivity for testing is 20.5 percent, up from 17.4 percent on June 23. Today the Virginia Department of Health reports another 3,393 new cases. That’s based on PCR tests and does not include at-home tests. 

“There is still a fair amount of disease in the community,” said Dr. Costi Sifri, the director of hospital epidemiologist at the University of Virginia Health System. “We’re certainly seeing that with our staff. In fact, there are a fair number of people that are out right now because they have COVID and its frustrating.”

Dr. Sifri said many have already had COVID and are vaccinated, but COVID-19 continues to mutate with new strains. However, vaccination has led to less severe cases.

“What we are not seeing is people getting critically ill like they were before so the fact that folks are vaccinated has made a huge difference in how the disease presents,” said Dr. Reid Adams, chief medical officer for UVA Health. 

According to the VDH, nearly 83 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated. There is a seven-day average of 3,000 doses administered a day. 

Dr. Sifri said this is a good time to get a booster if you have not done so. He also said a panel of the Food and Drug Administration is encouraging to continue vaccine manufacturers to continue development of new versions that can combat the latest variant of the Omicron strain. Dr. Sifri said people should not wait. 

“I would advocate if you are eligible for a booster and its been a long time since your body has seen the spike protein, it’s a good time now to get it to prevent infection,” Dr. Sifri said. 

Visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to schedule an appointment. 

Today’s COVID-19 snapshot from the Virginia Department of Health (dashboard)

Piedmont Housing Alliance gets $2 million in additional federal funding 

The U.S. Treasury Department has awarded $2 million to the Piedmont Housing Alliance through its Community Development Financial Institutions fund. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine made the announcement in late June. The funding comes specifically from the Treasury Department’s Capital Magnet Fund

In a release, Piedmont Housing Alliance said the funding would provide gap funding for the second phase of Friendship Court as well as the 206 apartments the agency is building at Southwood to satisfy the terms of funding Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville received from the Albemarle County and the Albemarle Economic Development Authority.

“High development and construction costs, high land and acquisition costs, and limited subsidy resources translate to significant funding gaps for affordable housing developments,” reads the release. “Without adequate subsidies, it is virtually impossible to build affordable housing.”

In the fiscal year that begins today, the city of Charlottesville is providing an additional $2.5 million to Piedmont Housing Alliance for the second phase of Friendship Court. Another $10.25 million in city funding for Friendship Court in FY24 through FY27. 

The adopted capital improvement program for Charlottesville also shows nearly $5 million in city subsidies for two other affordable housing projects, both located on Park Street and rezoned by City Council earlier this year. 

A snapshot from Piedmont Housing Alliance’s camera at the Friendship Court construction site (view the redevelopment page)

Today’s second shout-out: Frances Brand and Cvillepedia 101

In today’s house-fueled public service announcement, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society wants you to know about an upcoming exhibit at the Center at Belvedere featuring portraits of several historical figures active in the Charlottesville area in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Frances Brand was a folk artist who painted nearly 150 portraits of what she considered “firsts” including first Black Charlottesville Mayor Charles Barbour and Nancy O’Brien, the first woman to be Charlottesville Mayor. Brand’s work will be on display from July 5 to August 31 in the first public exhibit since 2004. 

And, if you’d like to help conduct community research into who some of the portraits are, cvillepedia is looking for volunteers! I will be leading four Cvillepedia 101 training sessions at the Center every Monday beginning July 11 at 2 p.m. Sign up at the Center’s website.

Charlottesville schools preparing for “worse” situation for bus drivers this fall

There are 54 days until Charlottesville City Schools begin for the next academic year. The school system is seeking assistance and input on alternative methods of getting students to school as an ongoing transportation crisis continues. 

“As we look to fall 2022, our school bus challenges appear to be worse, not better,” reads a website set up to provide information in advance.

The website states the city’s efforts to incentivize new drivers by increasing pay and offering bonuses are not working out. As such, the city wants to get parents ready for potential alternatives. 

  • Supporting walking in expanded walk zones

  • Encouraging use of public transportation

  • Collaborating with community partners to support biking

  • Adding mini-school buses (hopefully electric)

The first of several listening sessions will be held next Wednesday at Westhaven, with others scheduled later in the month at Friendship Court and Hearthwood Apartments. 

More information about the Transportation Talk and Walk Sessions being held this month 

Charlottesville Area Transit designing new bus shelters

As it seeks to find new drivers, Charlottesville Area Transit is also working to redesign its bus shelters. The agency has hired the firm Wendel Companies to come up with a customized template, and the Regional Transit Partnership got a briefing on the work last month.

“We’re really looking at how to look at transit holistically, how to encourage people to take transit,” said Jeana Stright of Wendel Companies. “Part of what makes people want to take public transportation is having a place to wait for the bus, having amenities while you are there, or having a system for what reflects their needs.” 

Option 1 uses some of the design features of the Downtown Transit Session. View the presentation to see all three 

Three concepts for the future shelters have been designed, one of which mimics the design of the Downtown Transit Station on Water Street. Stright recommends benches be present in all shelters, as well as space for wheelchairs. She also suggests one modular design with easy to replace parts due to the possibility of vandalism. 

“We are also looking at a way to incorporate local artists or local communities into the stops to be able to help yourself as you’re riding along on the bus as well, as you’re passing these different shelters, seeing different art, seeing different color schemes perhaps as part of that art panel, so that you can say ‘I’ve driven by that really cool fruit graphic,” Stright said. 

The partnership was asked to provide feedback. There was no specific information provided about how much each would cost, or how much of a budget CAT has to install the shelters. However, Stright said they have researched costs and all three options would be in the same basic price range. 

One member of the partnership said she was concerned about the practicality of some of the shelters. 

“I love all the designs but once again it’s a question of taxpayer’s dollars,” said Albemarle Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley. “And the artwork I think is great if we can afford it. But I like simple.”

Albemarle Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she has been working with CAT Director Garland Williams on the idea of incorporating artwork into some bus shelters. 

“That artwork would need to be funded privately by neighborhoods,” McKeel said. “We wouldn’t be using [tax] dollars. You know, the murals that got put up on Georgetown, and Barracks, and Hydraulic? Those were all privately funded so that’s what we’d be talking about.” 

McKeel said it was crucial that the shelters provide relief from the sun and rain. 

See also: Next steps outlined for Charlottesville Area Transit route changes at partnership meetings, June 24, 2022

Watch the partnership meeting:

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