Mar 17, 2021 • 18M

March 17, 2021: BRHD vaccine center to move to former J.C. Penney space; Albemarle and Charlottesville updated on budgets

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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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On today’s show:

  • The Blue Ridge Health District will move its vaccination clinic to Fashion Square Mall 

  • Albemarle and Charlottesville both get updates on budgets

  • Charlottesville Fire Department seeks to reduce risks through neighborhood assessments

  • Initial site plan filed for parking lot for future Biscuit Run park

  • Exit 124’s conversion to a “diverging-diamond” is underway

  • An update on displacement at the Red Carpet Inn

The pandemic has a knack for breathing new life into commercial spaces that have gone dormant if only for a temporary basis. Beginning next week, the Blue Ridge Health District will provide shots at the former J.C. Penney space in Fashion Square Mall. They have been doing so in the parking lot of the former K-Mart. The UVA Health System is providing shots at the former Big Lots.

The Health District continues to go through health care workers eligible under Phase1A. Dr. Denise Bonds is the director. 

“There’s a few individuals we still haven’t reached yet, and then of course there are new individuals that have just taken jobs within that area and we will continue to prioritize those individuals,” Bonds said. “We are still working through our 1B essential workers and as I said we’re moving into manufacturing and farm and agriculture. We are vaccinating individuals who are 65 and older and those who are 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions.”

Bonds said the district and UVA have administered nearly 100,000 doses. Next week they are expecting 11,650 doses, with 5,800 of those first shots and 2,000 the one-shot Johnson and Johnson version. 

The move to the J.C. Penney will allow the district to have up to 30 people administering vaccines at a time. Ryan McKay is the policy director for the Blue Ridge Health District, which has outgrown the tent. 

“While that tent has been serving a tremendous purpose and service to the community, it does present some challenges for us we operate,” McKay said. “When we have larger volumes of people, it puts people outside as opposed to inside. It sort of limits the amount of vaccinators we can have and the number of chairs we can provide for observation areas.” 

The J.C. Penney space offers 100,000 square feet of room and will begin operations on March 23 starting four days a week. 

“Provided that the vaccine allocation increased, we could administer up to 2,000 doses per day out of that location,” McKay said. 

Source: Blue Ridge Health District

Everyone who wants a vaccine is now being asked to go ahead and register with the Commonwealth at Kathryn Goodman is the communications manager for the Blue Ridge Health District.  

‘We want everybody to pre-register right now,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t matter what phase you are in or when you will qualify. We want everyone registered in the state system.”

Today, Governor Ralph Northam announced that schools and universities will be able to hold in-person graduation events later this spring. Events held outdoors will be capped at 30 percent of capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is less. Events held indoors may have up to 500 people or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less. According to a press release sent out today, Virginia school systems will receive $1.9 billion in direct funds from the American Rescue Plan adopted by Congress earlier this month. 

Source: Blue Ridge Health District

Charlottesville City Council met for more than six hours Monday and covered a lot of ground that I won’t fully get to in this newsletter. Council first got an update on the city’s financial forecast. Staff continue to monitor a potential $9 million shortfall in the current fiscal year with decreased meals and lodging taxes. Ryan Davidson is one of Charlottesville’s two senior budget analysts. He said one solution may be to use funding from the American Rescue Plan, but staff have not yet gone through all of the fine print. 

“We’re still going through what that means for us and restrictions and where it can be used but we do anticipate using some of this but we still need to figure out how we’re going to get, but we do anticipate using some of this to manage the shortfall,” Davidson said.  

Next month’s report will include an updated forecast based on having three quarters of fiscal year 2021 in the books.  

The Albemarle County also held a budget work session on Monday. At the beginning, Chief Financial Officer Nelsie Birch suggested dedicating a future work session to how Albemarle’s portion of the ARP funding would be used. That will give her and her staff to get more information. 

“I still at this point don’t actually know the amount of money we’re going to be receiving,” Birch said. “It’s somewhere around $21 million.”

More from Albemarle in a moment. 

Council also got a report from the fire department on their new approach toward Community Risk Reduction, which is intended to lower service calls through various preventative measures. Joe Powers was hired from Henrico County to be the first deputy chief for community risk reduction. 

“We’re one of the few fire departments across the United States that has invested in community risk reduction at an executive level,” Powers said. “From a traditional standpoint, we’ve always heard of fire prevention as a part of the fire department. We’re changing that mindset and taking it from a section of the fire department and making it an organizational process.”

Part of the work involves reviewing neighborhoods, looking for specific threats, and then tailoring targeted messages. 

“The entire city doesn’t need a program on cooking fires or pedestrians crossing the street,” Powers said. “Maybe it’s certain intersections or certain neighborhoods.”

A lot of the work has to do with gathering data that can help the department move away from one-size-fits-all approach to community education efforts. Another name for it is neighborhood risk assessment. 

“We also need to understand where our structure fires, but more so we need to know where asthma is occurring, allergic reactions, hazardous material calls, and cardiac arrests because all of those risks in areas of the city can be mitigated with our partners and in the fire department,” Powers said. 

I’ll have more from the City Council meeting in a future installment. 

The department has conducted risk assessments of individual neighborhoods such as this one for 10th and Page (full presentation)

Albemarle Supervisors went through the county school system’s request as well as capital projects at their work session Monday.  Graham Paige is the chair of the Albemarle School Board.

“We are projecting the current revenues of $205.8 million which is an increase of $12 million over the current fiscal year,” Paige said. “The majority of that increase, that $6.9 million, is a general fund transfer from local government which as you know is increasing in response to higher real estate assessments and other local tax revenues that so far have been impacted by COVID-19 less than anticipated.” 

Paige said the school board’s request is balanced, but if revenues come in higher than expected, the hope is that income can go to pay for a salary increase. The request includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

One factor in the size of the school budget is the number of pupils. Katrina Callsen is the vice chair of the Albemarle School Board.

“Next school year we are projecting an increase of more than 800 students over current enrollment,” Callsen said. “So moving from the 13,208 to 14,046.” 

Albemarle school staff will continue to adjust its budget as more information about state revenues comes in. They’ll adopt their budget in May, after Supervisors have adopted the county’s overall budget.

Supervisor Bea LaPisto Kirtley took the opportunity to ask about summer school. There is a plan to hold a morning session and afternoon session for learning recovery. Superintendent Matt Haas also said the school system is reaching out to community partners to help provide some of the lessons and assistance with logistics.

“We are putting out a request for proposals from our community partners that work with our students and often they have been great partners with the school system for field trips,” Haas said. 

That request for proposals carries the title “Summer Programming for Students and closes on April 2

Source: Albemarle County

Supervisors were also briefed on the $56.9 million capital budget for FY22. Several projects were paused in the current budget due to projected decline in revenues related to the pandemic as well as concerns about the uncertainty of the bond market. Albemarle’s chief of budget, Andy Bowman, said the bond market has stabilized, even if the rest of the economy has not yet done so. Interest rates are also lower than they were when the pandemic began, which will save the county money on debt service.

“Working with our financial adviser, we were able to reduce our projected interest rates and that results in a savings of about $400,000,” Bowman said.

Four new requests are proposed to be funded in the FY22 capital budget.

“They are additional funding for economic development public/private partnerships,” Bowman said. “We also have $3 million in additional funding for the transportation leveraging program, another $6.3 million for Mountain View Elementary School expansion and site improvements, and the final project was a trailhead for the Moores Creek trail that will then make a connection to a greater trail network in the future.” 

Supervisor Ned Gallaway of the Rio District noted that opposition to development projects often draws upon concerns of overcrowded schools. 

“There is going to be a coming concern for elementary school seats up 29 north that has to be on discussion at some point,” Gallaway said. 

Today, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors appropriated one-time money from reserve funds for two projects. One is for a $1.1 million solid waste “convenience center” to serve southern Albemarle and the other was to have been $3 million to expand broadband projects.  However, the Board reduced that to $350,000 for now to see if funding from the ARP can be used for this purpose. (this paragraph was updated after publication)

There’s another $3 million being set aside in a reserve known as the Business Process Optimization intended to build new systems for the Community Development Department. Kristy Shifflet is the county’s project management director.

“In FY21 we’ve begun building a roadmap, really how might we replace a new community development system as well as an enterprise resource planning, or ERP, effort in order to update our business systems for the modern workplace,” Shifflet said. “We understand this is a large undertaking but our technology in these areas are aging and limited.”

The new system could help speed up review of land use applications. (review Albemarle’s recommended FY22 budget

Albemarle will hold another budget work session on March 18 and will set the tax rate for the current calendar. The current property tax rate is $0.854 per $100 of assessed value, and staff has not recommended an increase. 

You’re reading Charlottesville Community Engagement. In this subscriber-supported public service announcement, the days of live music at clubs are in our future, but if you feel safe and want to check out people playing together in a safe environment, the Charlottesville Jazz Society has a running list of events coming up on their website. The Charlottesville Jazz Society is dedicated to the promotion, preservation and perpetuation of all jazz. Check them out in the link in the newsletter.  

The eventual opening of a county park at the state-owned Biscuit Run property is one step closer to reality. The initial site plan for the first phase of Biscuit Run park has been filed with the Albemarle Community Development Department. The improvements are for a parking area with 75 spaces as well as an entrance from Route 20. The project has a capital budget of $2 million and is the first of many phases to add amenities to the 1,200 acre park, according to the Winter 2021 report from the Department of Facilities and Environmental Services.  Future phases have not yet been programmed in the capital budget. 

Source: Albemarle County

Another planned infrastructure project is moving forward into a more intensive construction phase. The conversion of Interstate 64’s Exit 124 to a “diverging diamond” increases the amount of vehicles that can travel through the signalized interchange. 

“The diverging diamond interchange briefly shifts vehicles to the opposite side of the road, eliminating traditional left turns that must cross over oncoming traffic,” reads a press release. “The new interchange will improve safety by reducing the number of spots where vehicles could collide and can handle more than 600 left-turn movements per hour, twice the capacity of a conventional interchange.”

The speed-limit on U.S. 250 in the area has been reduced to 25 miles per hour. The project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2022 and is one of six projects being constructed by Curtis Contracting. Funding came from the second round of the Smart Scale process from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Curtis Contracting has already completed work at I-64’s Fontaine Avenue interchange and a connector road between Berkmar Drive and Rio Mills Road is nearly finished.

Curtis Contracting will also build roundabouts at both the intersection of U.S. 250 and Route 151 and Profitt Road and Route 20.

Source: Virginia Department of Transportation

And finally today, Albemarle’s communications and public engagement director appeared at today’s Supervisors’ meeting to address concerns related to a recent rezoning applied for by the Piedmont Housing Alliance, Virginia Supportive Housing and the Thomas Jefferson Coalition for the Homeless. 

On February 17, Supervisors approved a change for the land where the Red Carpet Inn operates on U.S. 29 for a project that will eventually see between 80 to 140 housing units for people with low incomes. However, news reports have recently surfaced that existing residents of the Red Carpet Inn will be displaced. Emily Kilroy explained that there was a communication error. 

“The Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless has shared that as media reports came out about the family that had been living at the Red Carpet Inn on more of  a long-term basis, that when they became aware of the communication issue, they reached out to get a list of all the long-term tenants that have been living there,” Kilroy said. “There were ten households that were impacted with the closure of the Red Carpet Inn and they have made contact with all ten of those households. Seven of them have reached back out for support and they are working on an individual basis to find the best solution for their needs to get those individuals rehoused elsewhere in the community.”