Mar 15 • 15M

March 15, 2022: Albemarle’s proposed FY23 budget features plastic bag tax, mental health response team, and full-time fire-rescue service at Pantops

Plus: An approved 12.5 megawatt solar project is moving forward in Albemarle

 
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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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Welcome to the Ides of March. Should you beware? I’d recommend always being somewhat skeptical, but willing to trust if there can be confirmation that your friends, Romans and countrypeople will lend you their ears and not their knives. This is Charlottesville Community Engagement for March 15, 2022. I’m your host Sean Tubbs, grateful that you’re here to lend me your ears or your eyes, depending on what format of the program you’ve decided to experience.

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On today’s program: 
  • Albemarle Supervisors take the first review of a $368 million operating budget

  • A very small fraction of that budget comes from a proposed 5 cent tax on plastic bags

  • Site plans are filed for two projects in Albemarle

  • Also, it’s the two-year anniversary of the first installment of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report, a show I produced to figure out what was happening. Go take a listen to that first episode, which was the basis of this newsletter!

Today’s first shout-out goes to LEAP

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Plastic bag tax included in Albemarle’s next budget 

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has now held two work sessions on a proposed $565 million budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. The budget goes by the name Transform Albemarle and for the first time anticipates a very small portion of revenues from a tax on plastic bags.

“It is proposed to be effective January 1, 2023,” said Andy Bowman, the chief of the Office of Management and Budget for Albemarle. 

Those revenues are projected to be $20,000, and Bowman said their use is limited. 

“And for this there are uses that are restricted by the state for environmental clean-up programs, pollution and litter mitigation programs, educational programs on environmental waste reduction, and also providing reusable bag to participants in the programs,” Bowman said.  

Five localities have already taken advantage of a law that passed the General Assembly in 2021 allowing them to collect a five cent tax for each disposable bag, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation. Albemarle will monitor Roanoke, Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Fairfax County and Arlington County to see how much revenue they bring in. Albemarle Supervisors will also have to approve an ordinance to enable the plastic bag tax. 

A category known as “other taxes” are projected to generate $74.1 million. (page 55 of the budget)

The budget also anticipates a decrease in the personal property tax rate as well as an increase in the food and beverage tax as well as the transient lodging tax. Supervisor Donna Price said this would help the county become less reliant on its biggest source of revenue. 

“I really appreciate the county looking to take action to reduce the 68 percent of total revenues coming from the real estate tax and in particular the transient occupancy tax going up three percent,” Price said. “Those are tourists who come to our area. The meals tax going up two percent is not limited solely to transients who may come through and our tourists, but it’s a relatively small amount.” 

The budget will also need to be updated to reflect the Virginia budget, which has not yet been finalized.  The General Assembly adjourned on Saturday without doing so and a special session will be called to finish up.

Albemarle Supervisors review $368.25 million operational budget 

When they were done talking about the revenues that make up the next budget, Bowman turned the Supervisor attention to the anticipated spending of $368.25 million. 

Forty-five percent is transferred to Albemarle County Public Schools. The next largest expenditure is for public safety at fourteen percent, followed by a 10 percent that goes to the capital fund mostly for debt service. 

Bowman went department by department to explain various aspects of the budget. One of the overarching themes is a need for workforce stabilization. Bowman said that seven percent of the county’s positions are currently unfilled. 

“We have included $2.8 million to fund a four percent salary increase that will be effective July 1 for our employees,” Bowman said. 

There’s another $500,000 for a study of how the county’s salaries compare to others, as well as another $1 million to implement that study. 

“The intent of this funding at this time is not to say specifically what will happen, but position the Board and the organization to move forward whenever that right time will be,” Bowman said. “The county does have need for a plan to evaluate its compensation.”

Supervisor Ned Gallaway said he feels the county needs to attend to the issue, citing that seven percent figure again.

“I mean 18 to 36 positions above usual turnover, and then we haven’t talked about retaining staff which the comp study is all about, frankly,” Gallaway said. 

Mia Coltrane became the new director of Human Resources for Albemarle in September, and she agreed the compensation study is intended to keep people working for the county 

“That’s one of the tasks of really getting a good pulse of every department  and where the energy needs to be focused,” Coltrane said. “We know public safety is one but as we’ve mentioned, it’s not just public safety. We’re seeing it across the board, even with [human resources].” 

The budget also anticipates the hiring of two temporary positions to help with community engagement on the Comprehensive Plan that is currently under review. Emily Kilroy is the Director of Communications and Public Engagement.

‘The staff that are working on the Comprehensive Plan, which is estimated to be about a three-year endeavor, are the same team that currently supports the seven community advisory committees,” Kilroy said. “In order for them to focus on the work of the Comprehensive Plan there was an identified need to look at staffing those differently. So the thought was let’s bring in temporary positions sort of in alignment with the timeline for the Comprehensive Plan onboard to support the needs of those communities.” 

Another position will be based out of the Yancey Community Center in the southern portion of Albemarle.

Details on the public safety portion of the budget begins on page 112 (download)

The recommended fiscal year 2023 budget continues a trend toward greater county spending on fire and rescue services. The FY21 actual budget saw $15.73 million spent in this category and that has increased to around $21.6 million in FY23. One reason for the increase this year is the addition of around the clock fire and rescue service operating out of the Pantops public safety station. 

“That is to further support and strengthen the fire rescue service there in the county’s development area,” Bowman said. “In the long term, this will also reduce our reliance on the city of Charlottesville for calls east of the city.” 

Albemarle is expected to pay Charlottesville around $240,000 for FY23, but Bowman said the contract between the two jurisdictions will soon be renegotiated.

There’s another $100,000 in the budget to reimburse volunteer medics and firefighters for fuel used in the call of duty. 

“Volunteerism has been a special challenge of late and it’s not anticipated to get any better so something that will help show our volunteers the support we have for them is greatly appreciated,” said Supervisor Price. 

The budget also covers the cost to establish a Community Response Team to respond to public safety calls with people trained to deal with people in mental health crises. 

“This is an effort led by the Department of Social Services with a police officer, a firefighter/EMT, and a social worker working to respond to calls to individuals in crisis and depending on the details of the call, the team would adapt their response to best meet the critical needs of the person to ensure the safety of all parties involved,” Bowman said. 

A portion of the funding comes from the cigarette tax that has begun to be collected in Albemarle. 

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the Community Response Team is a step in the right direction. 

“I am looking forward to an upcoming discussion among staff and the supervisors about how that team could be used to assist in our panhandling issues, many of who might fall into this category,” McKeel said. 

The recommended budget provides $275,000 in a reserve fund for a pilot project to run microtransit service on Pantops and U.S. 29 North.

Review the video of the first budget work session on the Board of Supervisors’ website. The second is not yet available, but the third is scheduled for Thursday at 8 a.m. (meeting info)

Today’s second 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 station’s 85th anniversary on April 1! Consider a donation at wtju.net/donate.

New convenience center for Southern Albemarle likely to be delayed

Work continues to design a new place for people in southern Albemarle to drop off household waste and recycling. Albemarle’s current budget included $1.1 million for a “convenience center” to be built in Keene. The idea had been to open the center this fall, but the county’s director of Facilities and Environmental Services said there will be a delay. 

“We are anticipating supply chain issues with some key elements including the trash compactors that will collect the tag-a-bag program as well as the containers themselves that collect the recyclables,” said Lance Stewart. “Everything’s made from steel.” 

The proposed FY23 budget proposed spending $180,500 for the first six months of operating at the new convenience center. The proposed capital improvement budget anticipates $1.62 million being spent in FY24 on a northern convenience center to serve U.S. 29 North. 

Site plans filed for 100 homes at River’s Edge and utility-scale solar project

Staff in the relevant Albemarle County departments have until April 21 to respond to two site plans for projects that have already been approved by the Board of Supervisors.

One of them is for 100 units along the North Fork of the Rivanna River at the northern edge of the county’s development area. The Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning for River’s Edge in August 2020 that will allow for 32 three-story buildings and two two-story buildings at a density of three dwelling units per acre. 

The other is for a utility scale solar facility on a 145 acre property that will generate 12.5 megawatts of electricity. The project on Route 53 southeast of Charlottesville will disturb about 90 of those acres. Supervisors approved a change to the zoning ordinance in June 2017 that allowed for solar panels to be installed in the rural area with a special use permit. 

Site plan for Rivanna Solar project (Credit: Adapture Renewables / Sierra Overhead Analytics) 

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