March 12, 2021: Albemarle Supervisors begin detailed review of $466 million budget; Virginia Festival of the Book begins tomorrow
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On today’s show:
Albemarle Supervisors hold their first work session on the proposed $466 million budget for FY22
Virginia Festival of the Book kicks off tomorrow
Albemarle expands in-person instruction on Monday, and schools are still looking for input on name of Murray Elementary School
Charlottesville City School returned to in-person learning for kindergarten through 6th grade this week, and next week Albemarle County will move forward to its next phase of in-person learning. Graham Paige is the chair of the Albemarle School Board.
“We will open in stage 4 on March 15,” Paige said. “This move was approved by the Board on February 11 and in this stage, pre-K through third graders will be able to receive four days of school instruction and grades four to 12 will have two days of in-school instruction. We expect approximately 7,600 students will receive in-person instruction with nearly 6,000 other students opting to receive virtual.”
Paige said a survey showed that only 60 percent of respondents said they had suitable Internet access to participate fully in virtual learning. A soft opening took place this week to help new students get to know their learn their new school.
Paige said the future name of Virginia L. Murray Elementary School will soon be decided this week, and it could perhaps remain the same. The school system is reviewing names. Respondents to a recent survey suggested keeping the name.
“While the large majority of survey participants supported retaining the school’s current name, the most popular suggestion for a new name was Ivy Elementary School in reference to the school’s location in the western part of the county,” Paige said.
In other school news, Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins has announced she will retire effective May 31. We’ll have more from that announcement on a future program.
The Virginia Festival of the Book gets underway tomorrow one year after canceling the last one in the early days of the pandemic. Jane Kulow is the director of the event, which will be held entirely online this year.
“This will be our 27th outing,” Kulow said. “This year’s festival runs two full weeks. Saturday, March 13 to Friday March 26, 2021. It is all virtual, it is all free, and it includes books in all genres and for all ages.”
Unlike in previous years, events will be held one at a time which means someone could theoretically watch every single hour live.
“We believe we’ve found a way to offer some of our best features, and make the festival more accessible than ever,” Kulow said. “We invite you and everyone to explore the schedule and find events to attend.”
Kulow spoke to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors on March 3.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have begun their detailed review of the recommended $466 million budget for fiscal year 2022. The season has been slightly extended this year with adoption scheduled for May 5 after a series of work sessions. On Wednesday, the Board began with a look at the operating budget and began recommending potential things to add or to cut. Andy Bowman is the chief of budget.
“Fiscal year 22 is really going to be a transitional budget,” Bowman said. “Our economy is stabilizing but it has not stabilized. Our community is adapting as our circumstances change and people are impacted by the pandemic in very different ways.”
On Monday, they’ll talk about the school budget and next Thursday they’ll talk about public safety. At the Thursday meeting, they will also set a maximum tax rate for advertisement if they decide to increase from the current $0.854 per $100 of assessed value. County Executive Jeff Richardson’s recommended budget proposes no increase.
But on Wednesday, Bowman told the supervisors that the transitional budget is intended to prepare for a post-pandemic world.
“So even this is a transitionary budget, we had to reflect in making recommendations on what are those things we can do to build a bridge now to make sure that we are an even more resilient organization and community when we reach the other side of our future?”
This year’s budget is 17 percent higher than the current fiscal year, and Bowman said a lot of that is due to a larger capital improvement plan.
“The board may recall at the state of the Fiscal Year 21 budget, many capital projects have been put on hold and some of those have been restarted and that certainly plays into that as well,” Bowman said.
Since Richardson unveiled his budget in late February, the General Assembly adopted a state budget. Bowman said staff are continuing to review how that might affect Albemarle’s budget, so there may still be adjustments based on new revenues. They’re also reviewing the American Rescue Plan to find out that affect the budget.
“In my mind, I think of this as almost another round of the CARES coronavirus relief funds that were received in the last calendar year,” Bowman said.
The recommended budget does not include any of those federal funds, and budget staff are checking to see what the rules for their usage will be. Virginia is expected to receive $6.8 billion for state and local aid from the ARP, according to the Associated Press.
The county is putting $3 million in one-time funds toward expanding broadband in Albemarle and by creating an Office of Broadband Access. Supervisors directed staff to go in that direction in a joint meeting with the Albemarle Broadband Authority on February 17. Trevor Henry is the assistant county executive.
“We all experienced the tsunami of internet need that occurred over the past year and really we have all been in that mode since a year ago,” Henry said.
Henry said that even households that thought they had good access to broadband taxed their connections when almost every group event went online.
“And so the work that has come since a year ago has only intensified the critical needs and we have a lot of opportunities in front of us now to do some meaningful work,” Henry said. “We have programs at the federal, state and local level.”
Some of the work will be to pay for the “last mile” where clusters of structures are near a fiber line but their owners may not be able to afford to make the connection. Details of the program will come back to the board later this spring. But to make it work, staff will also need to be hired.
“The addition of an operations person, an administrator, will help us set up purchase orders, taking care of all of the billing, taking citizen requests, responding, tracking that data,” Henry said. “Those kinds of metrics, making sure that the action items on all of the various meetings related to broadband get tracked and captured and we’re working to executive them.”
Albemarle will also work on an effort to help people pay for the service once.
Supervisors were all supportive of the recommendations to move forward.
Both Louisa and Nelson have announced plans to move toward universal broadband through public-private partnerships with electric cooperatives. Earlier this month, the Louisa Board of Supervisors announced a $15 million investment. There’s a meeting today facilitated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to see how the model being used in Louisa and Nelson can be expanded to cover what’s known as the “middle mile.” Legislation to allow Dominion and Appalachian Power to expand their broadband efforts passed the General Assembly this year and awaits action by Governor Ralph Northam. (HB1923)
The work session also covered public safety. Supervisor Diantha McKeel observed that new legislation requires localities to change the way service calls related to mental health crises are handled.
“I know there’s some discussion about creating a team between so the police don’t have to respond by themselves to many of our mental health calls,” McKeel said. “There’s nothing in the budget Andy right now around that initiative.”
Bowman confirmed that and suggested Police Chief Ron Lantz will be giving an update on that in the near future.
Another new expense in the budget is the hiring of five people to staff the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company during the day with fire and rescue service by the fall of 2022.
“Currently there are no county staff down there, they are entirely volunteer,” Bowman said. “We received a letter from them in the fall requesting supplemental staffing during the weekday daytime.
The budget also includes purchase of an ambulance for the North Garden department. Bowman said that over the past four budgets, the county has added 32 full-time equivalents to fire and rescue. Some of those positions have been supported by grants from the federal government and to increase coverage to meet the needs of a growing population.
A more in-depth discussion of public safety budgetary issues will be held at the March 18 work session. On March 22, they will talk in detail about transit. Charlottesville Area Transit had requested $1.47 million but the draft budget only recommends a million. Albemarle would contribute $6,137 a year for the new Afton Express and $2.18 million for Jaunt.
CAT provided an update on proposed route changes at the February 24 Regional Transit Partnership.
“In fiscal year 21, there are two studies that are taking through the Regional Transit Partnership,” Bowman said. “One of those is a longer-term regional transit vision plan and the other one is funded in 21 looking at some Albemarle specific transit services and we’ll be looking to what comes from that report for FY23 and beyond.”
Supervisors wanted more information on several things, including current response times for North Garden, the status of daytime staffing of the Earlysville Volunteer Fire Company, the and cost of operating the future Biscuit Run county park.
This patron-supported public service announcement is from an anonymous supporter. Do you want to support your public library by picking up a mystery bag of books? The Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library are resuming their Pop-up Book Sale this Sunday at the Gordon Avenue library. For $5, you can pick up a sealed, pre-selected bag, choosing from mystery, popular fiction, literary fiction, classic literature, biographies, sci-fi / fantasy. The JMRL Pop-Up sale begins this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gordon Avenue Library.