March 16, 2023: Cooper changes candidacy to Charlottesville City Council; Departments heads address Council at budget work session
Plus: Sister City group offering $1,000 scholarships for travel
Be incredibly careful today, because for some reason March 16 is Everything You Do is Right Day. Such confidence is never the ethos of Charlottesville Community Engagement, a newsletter and podcast infused with more than a modicum of doubt. But this particular solar rotation is also Freedom of Information Day, and this program seeks to be a conduit to a sense of what’s happening. I’m Sean Tubbs.
On today’s show:
Dashad Cooper drops out of the House District 54 but joins the Charlottesville City Council race
Charlottesville’s Sister City Commission offering up travel scholarships
Charlottesville City Council hears from department heads at budget work session
First shout-out goes to Camp Albemarle
Today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting campalbemarleva.org/donate.
Dashad Cooper to run for Charlottesville City Council instead
And then there were three candidates running for the 54th House District. Fifeville resident Dashad Cooper has opted to run for the Democratic nomination for Charlottesville City Council.
Cooper had filed to be on the ballot for the General Assembly seat being vacated by Delegate Sally Hudson but updated his paperwork this week to potentially fill another vacancy.
So far, two of three Council incumbents have filed paperwork to run again, but Sena Magill resigned from Council earlier this year. The person appointed to fill her seat, Leah Puryear, has not said whether she will seek to occupy the seat for a four-year term. Councilors Michael Payne and Lloyd Snook are running for a second term.
Cooper leaving the House District 54 race leaves Bellamy Brown, Katrina Callsen, and Dave Norris as the three candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination for the June 20 primary. Former Charlottesville City Councilor David Brown has already withdrawn from the campaign.
Anyone else who wants to run has until April 6 to file if they want to be a political party’s nominee. The deadline to be an independent is June 20. Take a look at the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information.
A request for comment from Cooper was not returned by publication time.
Scholarships available for travel to a Sister City
Does travel to one of Charlottesville’s sister cities seem to be completely infeasible, but you really want to go? The Charlottesville Sister Cities Commission has $8,000 available for scholarships for one of their organized journeys.
“Individuals who participate in traveling delegations or students engaged in exchange programs or organized trips to one of Charlottesville's Sister Cities (Winneba, Ghana; Besançon, France; Poggio a Caiano, Italy; or our "Friendship City" Huehuetenango, Guatemala), typically have to pay out of pocket for their travel costs,” reads the staff report. “Since this often poses a financial barrier to participation for low-income or working class residents, high school students, [the Commission] created the travel scholarship program to help lower such barriers and enable a broader cross-section of community residents to realize the benefits of Sister City travel opportunities.”
City residents can apply for up to $1,000. The deadline to apply is March 29. Apply online.
Charlottesville City Council hears from department heads at budget work session
Charlottesville City Council continues to comb through the budget for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2023. As the city prepares itself for a future with more residential density, staying on top of the budget is a good way to track preparations.
One of the key subjects areas of Charlottesville Community Engagement is the budget process of Albemarle County and Charlottesville. There’s a whole set of stories on Information Charlottesville that captures this topic over time.
Council held their first work session on the budget on March 9, 2023. Here’s a summary of what I heard. (slides from the presentation)
Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers’ recommended budget is just over $226 million, $13 million higher than in the current fiscal year.
“Mostly from real estate taxes, $9 million,” Rogers said. “And the food and lodging sales taxes increased, for a total sum of $13 million.”
There’s no increase in any of the city’s tax rates, but assessments went up.
All of that additional revenue is being used in the budget with several new positions.
“Three battalion chiefs, a human rights investigator, a human rights administrator support, human resources recruiter which we desperately needs with the number of vacancies that we had,” Rogers said. “A deputy director of human resources. [Police Civilian Oversight Board] management analyst. Emergency management coordinator. Firefighters, fifteen firefighter positions that are not new. They’re on the payroll but we had a grant several years back so its now time for the general fund to begin absorbing that cost.”
Another new position is an employee to work with Deputy City Manager Ashley Marshall for a REDI position in the office that was created last July in the current budget and now includes several positions that had been free-standing. REDI stands for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
“Currently your Office of Equity and Inclusion is me, me, and me,” Marshall said. “And also along with our leads for the Downtown Job Center, our Home to Hope program, and our [Americans with Disabilities Act] coordinator. The REDI individual would help to provide an umbrella not only over the great programs those programs are already doing but would help working within the organization to make sure we are providing adequate and timely training opportunities for our staff, being able to have an additional set of eyes to review program proposals to make sure we are thinking of equity.”
Other positions were eliminated or reclassified, such as five vacant police officers.
This work session offered a chance from representatives of various departments to explain their budget.
That included Charlottesville’s interim fire chief, Michael Thomas who said that the department has responded to 5,600 calls for service in the first eight months of the current fiscal year. That number has been increasing since the fire department switched to “proximity dispatch” in fiscal year 2021.
“And at that time when it was implemented there was a 56 percent increase in our call volumes we were able to reduce the response times to the citizens by nine percent,” Thomas said.
There was also a report from the Department of Parks and Recreation and their $12.9 million budget for FY24.
“I believe that we are the gateway to the city,” said Deputy Director Riann Anthony. “We have a very portfolio. We have 28 parks within the city and counting. Next year, hopefully next year or the year after we will be adding another park.”
Anthony said there are 45 playgrounds, including those on school grounds. There are six miles of paved trails and over 30 miles of natural trails.
“We have four swimming pools, two indoor and two outdoor, plus four splash pads,” Anthony said.
As the summer approaches, Anthony said staffing issues have been resolved and the hope is to open both Washington Pool and Onesty pool seven days a week. The city has outsources staffing at Onesty to a third party. Anthony also said the department is looking for ways to add more classes and may partner with other organizations.
Sponsored message: Buy Local
Charlottesville Community Engagement’s continued existence means that many of you support local information. Want to support some local businesses as well? The Buy Local campaign is in full swing, and both the Albemarle and Charlottesville Offices of Economic Development want people to consider spending locally as they shop throughout the year.
The Buy Local campaign highlights small businesses within Charlottesville and Albemarle County through a multi-channel, multimedia promotional and educational campaign designed to reinforce how important supporting area small businesses is to the local economy.
Locally-owned, independent businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence in the City or County interested in being featured in the campaign should visit www.showlocallove.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council hears from Police Chief Kochis, CAT director Williams
Next up was Police Chief Michael Kochis who has been on the job for two months now. (CPD presentation)
“It’s been a busy few weeks and I’m really still getting to know the community and our officers and I’ll just start of by saying that I’ve been nothing but impressed at this police department,” Kochis said. “I’ll just start of by saying that I’ve been nothing but impressed at this police department and the men and women that we have. We have a good foundation. We have a lot of work to do but I’m very optimistic.”
Kochis said Sergeant Eric Thomas is now serving as the department’s community involvement coordinator to help build relationships with different groups in the city.
“One of the initial things he’s been charged with doing is to identify key stakeholders in the community, maybe around 15 or 20, to serve on our community action team or Chief’s advisory team where we would meet monthly and gather input from these key stakeholders as to what they want to see from our community outreach,” Kochis said.
As for the recent uptick in gun violence, Kochis said a detective has been assigned full time to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Safe Streets Task Force.
“And we have actually used those federal resources in the recent case of the homicide that occurred on Hardy Drive,” Kochis said.
Kochis said he recently sent some of his staff to the city of Alexandria to review the crisis response team that is used there in situations such as a school shooting.
“We have to be prepared to respond to those, and currently we are not,” Kochis said. “If something like that happens in this city tonight, Virginia State Police would be responding.”
In response to a question about those five eliminated police officers, Kochis said he also wants a staffing study to take place to find out how many officers his department needs.
Public works and transit
Next it was time for Public Works Director Stacy Smalls to go through the proposed $24.46 million budget for his department. That includes the engineering division.
“They are responsible for traffic and a lot of different requests we get about ‘hey, is this street safe? Can we get a stop sign here? Should we be doing a traffic diet?’ and things like that,” Small said. “We also have our VDOT project management team there that’s responsible for 116 federal, state, and local matching monies for the VDOT program that they are responsible for delivering.”
Finally, Garland Williams of Charlottesville Area Transit appeared and said they are currently 14 drivers short and any that are hired are going to pupil transportation.
“Transit is kind of sacrificing our recruitment efforts to make sure that we recruit school bus drivers first,” Williams said.
Williams said CAT will focus on restoring service to pre-pandemic levels.
“Pre-pandemic level we would have been running 25 buses at peak,” Williams said. “We’re running 18 today and we want to continue our efforts to restore that service. We want to improve service on the Route 6 to provide service to Crescent Hall and South First Street. Today it operates on a 60 minute schedule and we want to change that to a 30 minute model.”
Williams told Council about the microtransit service that CAT won the contract to provide in Albemarle County and were briefed on in February.
“The goal for us is to try to get it up and running in the late fall of this calendar year,” Williams said.
Transit is another focus area for Charlottesville Community Engagement. A lot of promises have been made in the last couple of years, but have they been kept? Scroll back through the archives of Information Charlottesville for accounts of many conversations from the past two and a half years. One thing you’ll note is that in 2021, new bus routes were drawn and went through the public process but have never been implemented for lack of drivers.
Tonight’s work session will be on nonprofit agencies funded through the Vibrant Communities Fund.
Albemarle County sets maximum tax rates for next year, Alice Berry, Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 15, 2023
UVA, Charlottesville, Albemarle collaborate to address gun violence trends, McGregor McCance, UVA Today, March 15, 2023
This headline marks the end of #510
Daylight saving time messed me up again. Or maybe it’s the frequent trips to Lynchburg? Perhaps spring is in the air? Either way I did not write this part before I recorded the script for the podcast. I recommend the podcast.
One in four people are paying, you know. That’s how I keep this going. If you would like to join them, sign up on Substack and Ting will match your first payment.
And maybe you want faster Internet?
If you sign up for Ting at this link and enter the promo code COMMUNITY, you’ll get:
A second month for free
A $75 gift card to the Downtown Mall