Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
March 6, 2024: Sanders recommends $251M FY25 budget based on two-cent real property tax increase

March 6, 2024: Sanders recommends $251M FY25 budget based on two-cent real property tax increase

Plus: Council direct the city manager and city attorney to settle a lawsuit with Albemarle County over the Ragged Mountain Natural Area

There are an even 300 days until the end of 2024 now that it is March 6. A lot of things have happened on this day in history, There are likely a lot of newly created holidays for this day, but Charlottesville Community Engagement is currently not using either frame to create these opening paragraphs, paragraphs whose function has never been beta-tested or shown to a test audience. I’m Sean Tubbs, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. 

On today’s show:

  • Charlottesville City Council has directed City Manager Sam Sanders to settle a lawsuit with Albemarle County related to the use of bikes at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area

  • Three new members have been appointed to the Charlottesville Housing Advisory Committee

  • On March 26, Council will resume discussions over decarbonization of the city’s utilities department 

  • Sanders recommends raising the real property tax, the meals tax, and the lodging tax to cover the cost of paying unionized and non-unionized city employees more money and benefits 

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First shout-out: Judy Woodruff to address Emily Couric Leadership Forum on April 30

In today’s first subscriber-supported public service announcement: On April 30, the Emily Couric Leadership Forum will award $250,000 in scholarships to area high school women in recognition of leadership excellence at its annual Luncheon at the Omni Resort in Charlottesville. The keynote speaker for the event is Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent for the PBS Newshour.  The group anticipates a sell out for this year’s luncheon, so this is a good time to buy a ticket. If they do sell out the event, there will be a wait list as well as a live stream.

Find out more and consider your own donation at the Emily Couric Leadership Forum’s website.

Albemarle and Charlottesville to settle lawsuit over bikes at Ragged Mountain Natural Area

A legal dispute between Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville over a decision to allow bikes to use trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area appears headed to a conclusion. 

At the very beginning of Council’s meeting on March 5, 2024, Councilor Lloyd Snook introduced a motion not on the agenda. 

“I’d like to move that Council authorize the City Attorney and the City Manager to enter into a settlement agreement fully resolving the case of Albemarle County versus the City of Charlottesville,” Snook said.

Council agreed and approved the motion but there was no further discussion. 

“Mr. Sanders, you can follow accordingly,” said Mayor Juandiego Wade. 

The current map of the Ragged Mountain Natural Area which is maintained by the City of Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Department. ()

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors sued Charlottesville City Council in April 2017 to stop the city from implementing a 3-2 decision by City Council the previous December to allow cyclists to use some trails at the city-owned Ragged Mountain Natural area. Albemarle County argued that a county ordinance prohibited such uses near reservoirs used for the water supply. 

The case had been sent to a settlement conference in 2018, but Circuit Court records indicate that a trial date was set on October 19, 2020. A hearing was scheduled for February 15, 2023. At that time, I asked county officials for a comment but none was given. 

Albemarle Supervisors will go into closed session this afternoon to discuss the matter.


Council appoints three new members to housing panel

The appointed body that has had a major influence on the creation of the new Development Code has three new members, but still has two vacancies. The Housing Advisory Committee is a twelve-person group with slots reserved for specific categories. 

Peppy Linden and Michael Parisi have both been named as the two at-large members. Linden spent 21 years as the executive director of the Virginia Discovery Museum. Parisi is the vice president of the Rose Hill Neighborhood Association. 

Developer Nicole Scro has been named to the Housing Advisory Committee in a position reserved for real estate professionals. She joins Planning Commissioner Philip d’Oronzio and Heather Griffith of Nest Realty in that category.

Council also reassigned Dan Rosensweig of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville from the real estate category to the “non-profit representation” category where he joins Sunshine Mathon, the executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance and John Sales, executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

Joy Johnson, a resident of Westhaven and an employee of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, is on the HAC as an “affordable housing beneficiary.” There are still two vacant positions in this category. 

Michael Payne is the City Council’s representative. 

At their last meeting on February 21, the Housing Advisory Committee discussed the creation of a land bank ordinance. These meetings are held in CitySpace and are not recorded. 

In other appointments:

  • Al Pola and Cameron McBride have been named to the Police Civilian Oversight Board. The city’s website does not list the members of this group. 

  • Jeffrey Aten has been reappointed to the Charlottesville Tree Commission and three new members have been appointed. They are Eric Bredder, Shanti Levy, Woody Parrish, and Manuel Lerdau. 

Council to hold work session on decarbonization study on March 26

One way to find out what’s happening with municipal government in Charlottesville is to review periodic reports from City Manager Sam Sanders. He also provides some comments at each meeting such as an update last night on a meeting for the study of planning for alternatives to the city’s natural gas distribution network. (read the written report)

“The decarbonization study work session is scheduled for [March] 26,” Sanders said. “It’s a special work session that’s been added. The Office of Sustainability, the utilities department, and the consultant Black & Veatch will all be present to walk Council through an update as to where we are.”

The study got underway last year and Council had a briefing last March. Sanders put the work on hold in January.

“Part of what you’ll hear in the March session will be an update to some public outreach events that we plan to have so that we can get more feedback and hopefully we can bring something forward in the way of recommendations by the late summer,” Sanders said.  

In April, the city will begin implementing a system similar to Albemarle County’s Human Services Alternative Response Team, or HART. 

“We’ll be rolling out a co-responder model where Human Services, the Police Department, and the Fire Department will be coming together and working on better strategies for how we respond,” Sanders said. 

In the written report, relatively new Deputy City Manager Eden Ratliff introduced himself and pointed to his experience in local government in Pennsylvania where unions for public workers are more common than in Virginia where they were only authorized by the General Assembly in 2020.

“Collective bargaining is a new concept to the city and has many implications for both cost of the work force as well as management of the work force,” Ratliff wrote. “I helped conduct a brief collective bargaining training for City Council as the City prepares to move to a unionized workforce in FY25 with fire, police, and transit unionizing.” 

According to city communications director Afton Schneider, the collective bargaining ordinance approved by Council recognizes up to six bargaining units with three currently recognized. The remaining slots are for the categories of labor and trades, administrative and technical, and professional workers.

“Currently the Teamsters have filed a petition to have the labor and trades bargaining unit recognized,” Schneider wrote. 

Other items from the written report:

  • On March 18, Charlottesville will consider funding requests for affordable housing projects. There were 17 applications through the Housing Operations Programs Support (HOPS)  and six received from the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund. 

  • Also on March 18, Council will consider a resolution to govern the financing of the second phase of the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s redevelopment of Friendship Court into Kindlewood. People have begun to move into the 62 units in phase one and there are to be 104 units in phase 2. 

  • The Housing Advisory Committee is working on recommendations for a land bank ordinance, but in the meantime, the city is working on developing procedures to govern land purchases. In the past year, Council has spent $5.9 million to acquire property along the Rivanna River to prevent a development and another $4 million to purchase property from the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

  • Appeals of property assessments are down sharply over last year according to the assessor’s office. The deadline passed on February 29 and as of a week before, there were only 40 applications. That’s compared to 345 in 2023. 

Sponsored message: Buy Local 

From Crozet to Barracks Road, the Downtown Mall to the Shops at Stonefield, and everywhere in between, Albemarle County and Charlottesville’s Offices of Economic Development encourage you to Buy Local as spring approaches. 

Buying locally supports our neighbors and community members and makes a big impact for our local economy. Local businesses are more likely to reinvest in our community and their goods and services contribute to the unique character of our community.

Learn more about how you can support local business at and on social media:

Sanders recommends FY25 built on two cent real property tax rate increase for 2024

The Charlottesville City Manager is recommending a two cent increase on the property tax rate as well as increases in both the meals tax and the lodging tax. 

Sam Sanders is recommending a budget based on $251,526,900 of revenues, a 10.11 percent increase over the current fiscal year. He said the document is based on Council’s adoption of Strategic Plan goals last September. (read that story)

“It is important for us to never lose sight that as we build a budget and do for the work, we’re doing it with this in mind,” Sanders said. “There are $23 million in new revenue for this fiscal year alone and your top funding priorities are collective bargaining, class and compensation, and investment in schools. 

Sanders said he attempted to build a budget without increasing tax rates, but felt he had direction from Council to pursue that option. If adopted as is, the meals tax would increase from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. The lodging tax would increase from 8 percent to 9 percent. The property tax rate would increase from $0.96 per $100 of assessed value to $0.98 cents per $100 of assessed value. 

“Raising taxes is never easy and never taken lightly,” Sanders said. “Because this proposal does rely on tax increases, I want to ensure both Council and the public at large that I followed through on some of the difficult decision I had initially provided to you as something that we could do with regard to internal budget planning as a trade-off on some of the increased tax revenues.”

A snapshot of revenues from previous Charlottesville budgets. View the budget for details. (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Sanders said he made $2.5 million worth of cuts to departments and reduced another $2 million by deferring the hiring of people for some vacant positions. (review the recommended budget here)

During his presentation, Sanders said the city will be a very different workplace when all six collective bargaining units are in place, and this will be a major change for the fiscal realities for the city. The budget has a two percent salary increase for all employees and a one percent cost of living increase for retirees on city pensions. 

The recommended budget only recommends funding $7 million of Charlottesville City Schools’ $9 million request. However, the capital improvement program includes $30 million for conversion of Walker Upper Elementary School to a Pre-K center. 

I’ll have more on what’s in the budget and Councilor’s reactions in the  next edition of the newsletter. 

Superintendent Gurley presents $9 million request from schools

Before Sanders presented his budget, the school system presented their funding request to the city. 

“Our enrollment is trending upward,” said Superintendent Royal Gurley. “We are heading back to pre-pandemic numbers.”

That may not last for long according to projections from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. Data released in mid-January project a total enrollment of 4,209 for the upcoming school year, down slightly from an actual enrollment of 4,220 this year. The Weldon Cooper Center projects that declining to 3,754 by 2028 though demographer Hamilton Lombard has told me that number does not reflect potential changes that may be caused by the new Development Code. (review the projections)

Gurley said the school system will receive around $3 million less from the Commonwealth of Virginia because of lower enrollment numbers during the pandemic. The Local Composite Index is used by the Virginia Department of Education to determine a community’s relative worth and another factor is the recent jump in property values. (review the DOE site)

“According to the state guidelines, the higher your LCI, the greater the locality’s ability to pay,” Gurley said.

A partial breakdown of the $9 million request from Charlottesville City Schools. Sanders’ budget provides $7 million. (view the presentation)

As such, the school system is asking Council to make up the difference. Gurley also said that the school system used one-time money to pay for a state-mandated two percent salary increase and requested the local government cover that expense as well.

The school budget also includes 21.5 new positions, many of which will be targeted to students who don’t speak English as a first language as well as anticipated enrollment growth. Again, the Weldon Cooper Center currently projects a decline over the next five years. 

As his presentation neared its conclusion, Gurley summarized the school system’s request.

“This includes an ask in the increase of the city appropriation for the FY25 budget of roughly $9 million,” Gurley said. 

Another factor in the request is the city’s acquisition of Albemarle County’s share of the Charlottesville Area Technical Education Center. Another unknown is what additional funding for education might be in the final budget to be approved by the General Assembly. 

Councilors discussed the possibility of revisiting local formulas that fund public education to provide more funding. 

“We need to be able to go out and tell the rest of the community, okay, the baseline has shifted, things are different now,” said City Councilor Brian Pinkston. “That means you are going to have to contribute more, Mr. and Mrs. taxpayer. That’s what we’ll do.” 

More from the budget presentation in the next edition of the newsletter. 

Reading material:

Preparing for the conclusion of #645

I say often that we live in a complex civilization and that a democracy requires accounts that can attempt to explain what people are saying. During my time being alive, I’ve seen fewer and fewer accounts as media organizations choose to prioritize the sensational. Spending time this week with my octogenarian parents as they watch national news is making me want to work harder, but I have to realize I can’t do it all.

Yet, what’s the point of being alive if not to constantly challenge yourself to work harder, to be better, and to not rest on your laurels? In any case, I am grateful that my time doing this work is covered by people who want to read or listen to it. If you’d like to join them, please consider signing up for a paid subscription through Substack. If you do, the internet company Ting will match your initial payment. 

This is an incredibly generous sponsorship, and you if you sign up for service and enter the promo code COMMUNITY you’re going to get:

  • Free installation

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Charlottesville Community Engagement
Charlottesville Community Engagement
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.