March 8, 2023: Charlottesville approves new precinct boundaries; Rogers addresses gun violence, potential solutions
Welcome to an edition of the program totally devoted to summarizing one meeting
Today is March 8 or perhaps best known as International Women’s Day, which this year carries the theme #EmbraceEquity. Every day is a good day to celebrate women’s achievement and raise awareness about pay disparities and other forms of discrimination, but this is a day where there are likely events.
For some reason it’s also Be Nasty Day, Fill Our Staplers Day, and Learn What Your Name Means Day. Anyone can declare a day to be whatever they want it to be, but perhaps that latter one is worth contemplating. My name is Sean Tubbs and that means Charlottesville Community Engagement. What about yours?
On today’s program:
Charlottesville City Manager Rogers addresses recent gun violence in the community
A real property tax relief deadline in Charlottesville is extended to Friday
Charlottesville’s new City Councilor is appointed to a few committees
A compensation study in Charlottesville is delayed
Council officially approves new precincts
And a very brief introduction to recommended Charlottesville budget for FY24
First shout-out goes to the Rivanna Conservation Alliance
In today’s first Patreon-fueled shout-out, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance wants wildlife and nature photographers to enter their second annual photography contest! They want high-resolution photos related to the Rivanna watershed and the winning entries will be displayed at the 2023 Rivanna Riverfest on May 20. The two categories are 16 and under, and those over the age of 17. You can send in two entries, and the work may be used to supplement Rivanna Conservation Alliance publications. For more information, visit rivannariver.org.
A note on today’s installment
Even though I use the word “newsletter” to describe this product, I don’t call what I do “news” anymore. I’ve been a reporter for many years and spent many of them working on deadline to get something that happened one day out in the next day’s newspaper.
These days, there is a lot more to my work and I can’t always get to things quickly or first. I’m distracted by the end of an era in my personal life, so the next couple of weeks will be bumpy. In less than three years, Town Crier Productions has become an efficient information production machine. Everything will be back to normal in a week or so.
A small behind the scenes glimpse. Today is literally going to be as many segments as I can get from the March 6, 2023 meeting of Charlottesville City Council. Let’s go!
City Manager Rogers addresses gun violence, possible buy back program
There has been a wave of shootings and homicides in the community in the past six months. At the beginning of the meeting, interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers addressed the issue.
“Chief [Michael] Kochis and the men and women of the Charlottesville Police Department are working tirelessly to address the recent spike in gun violence and to bring justice to those who have been affected,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the police department has embarked on a strategy to rebuild trust in communities, including assigning a police sergeant as a “Community Involvement Coordinator.”
“The coordinator is currently putting together a gun buyback program as well as reviewing other programs that have seen success in other jurisdictions,” Rogers said,
There will be a Community Walk and Talk tomorrow in the Fifeville neighborhood beginning at 4 p.m.
Rogers also said the city is also looking to see if Charlottesville can provide an alert system similar to one the University of Virginia uses to notify people of ongoing situations.
“Currently we rely on social media and news outlets,” Rogers said. “I’ve asked our [Information Technology] director as well to look into extending the city alert system to residents. We’ll report back on this at a later meeting.”
Tax relief deadline extended
This is the week that Charlottesville’s draft budget for fiscal year 2024 has been published, and details are later in this newsletter. The major source of revenue for Charlottesville and most localities in Virginia is the real property tax.
City Councilor Michael Payne had an announcement at the beginning of the meeting for some in our community who may struggle to pay higher taxes. Charlottesville experienced two years in a row of double-digit assessments.
“The deadline to apply for real estate tax relief for the elderly or disabled has been extended to Friday, March 10,” Payne said.
The original deadline had been March 1. Under the program, qualifying households with less than $35,000 of annual gross income can receive up to 100 percent tax relief. The level is 80 percent for those with incomes between $35K and $45K, 60 percent for those from $45K and $55K, and 40 percent for those between $55K and $60K.
All of the information is on the website of the Commissioner of the Revenue.
Puryear assigned to Council committees
New City Councilor Leah Puryear attended her first meeting on February 28 when Council got together with the Planning Commission to review the draft of the first module of the new zoning code. My goal is to get a story out on that by March 13. At her first regular meeting, Puryear was assigned various committees.
“We’re going to appoint her to replace Councilor Magill on the legislative committee,” said Mayor Lloyd Snook. “Also on the Community Criminal Justice Board and one of the Virginia First Cities representatives.”
Puryear will also serve on the Charlottesville Community Scholarship program board.
“Ms. Puryear reminded us earlier this evening that she is actually one of the founders of the program so we’re going to give her a chance to see how the program has been developed over the years,” Puryear said.
To learn more about that program, visit https://www.cvillescholarship.com/
Snook said he will now be serving on the Historic Resources Committee, which had not had a sitting Councilor appointed.
In other appointment news, Council named Richard Fravel as an at-large member of the new Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund Committee. They accidentally appointed two people to that position last month, and had to rescind that action.
There are still three vacancies, all of whom will need to be beneficiaries of affordable housing funds. Applications are due on March 10. From the staff report we learn that the city has hired Taylor Harvey-Ryan as the city’s Housing Program Manager. That position had been vacant since August 2020.
Compensation study for Charlottesville employees is delayed
Like most localities in Virginia, Charlottesville is seeking ways to retain its employees by increasing salaries. For instance, fellow Senate District 11 jurisdiction Amherst County is anticipating a seven percent cost of living adjustment.
Charlottesville had expected a study by the firm Gallagher on compensation to be completed by the end of 2022 but that was delayed to mid February. Now there’s a further delay.
“The compensation study is a complex piece of work that involves 237 job classifications that are being studied and 26 comparative communities that we are soliciting needed salary and benefit information from,” said interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers.
Rogers offered no timetable for when the work would be complete and said there would be a progress report at a later meeting.
Second shout-out: The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign
Since the very beginning of this newsletter, one Patreon supporter who has been there since July 2020 has used his shout-out to draw your attention to the work of the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign. The campaign is a coalition of grassroots partners including motivated citizens and volunteers, partner organizations, and local governments who want to promote the use of native plants. We’re now close to the beginning of spring and this is the time to learn about what you need to plan to attract pollinators who’ll keep native species going. To learn more, visit plantvirginianatives.org to download Piedmont Native Plants: A Guide for Landscapes and Gardens.
Council votes to approve new precincts with two new polling places
Charlottesville City Council has voted to approve changes to the boundaries for voting precincts in the city, which includes two new precincts and the elimination of two others.
Under the new map, Alumni Hall and Tonsler Park would no longer be places to vote. Charlottesville High School and Jackson-Via Elementary School would be added.
“Both of these precincting places are wonderful,” said Anne Hemmenway, a former member of the Charlottesville Electoral Board who chaired the reprecincting committee. “Jackson-Via is very accessible to a large neighborhood around it. The voting area is large. The parking area is plentiful and they have a wonderful circle area for our people that vote curbside.”
Voting at Charlottesville High School will be in the atrium.
“We are losing two polling places that the community has gotten used to over the last ten years but we’re acquiring two that the city of Charlottesville will be extremely happy with,” Hemmenway said.
Tonsler has limited parking and is a small facility, and Alumni Hall is not owned by the city.
Charlottesville Registrar Taylor Yowell said she received three comments during the 30-day public feedback period.
“One was a resident of the Alumni Hall neighborhood and two were residents of the Tonsler Park precinct area,” Yowell said. “All three were concerned with changing precincts and removing walkability.”
Yowell said she feels that more people will be able to walk to Buford than Tonsler but she recognized that some people will be inconvenienced.
Deputy City Attorney Katrina Callsen—also a candidate for the Democratic nomination in new the 54th House District—acknowledged that schools named after people are likely to be changed. The Venable and Clark precincts are already out of synch with the elementary school in which the ballot box is physically located.
“We still think its better to move forward with the existing names of the schools for now but I did want you to know that we had done some research and we do not anticipate having to go through this process again when the names of the schools change,” Callsen said.
Now that Council has approved the new precincts, they will go into effect on April 7. Callsen said after that there is still a 30 day period where people can bring challenges if they have concerns. The intent is to have them in place before early voting begins for the June 20, 2023 primary.
Charlottesville Council sees School Board, local government budgets
Budget season is really a year-round event in Charlottesville, as my reporting can attest. But on Monday, Council was formally introduced to the spending plans for both Charlottesville local government and Charlottesville City Schools. The school system went first.
“Our proposed budget for FY24 is $107,128,647 and that is a budget change of $212,416,” said Superintendent Royal Gurley.
School Board Chair James Bryant thanked Council for their collaboration this year on addressing the school bus driver shortage and the recent purchase of Albemarle County’s share of the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.
“Working together, we can meet both the needs of high schoolers and adult learners,” Bryant said. “We can also work to address the city’s workforce development goals to meet the needs of our area employers.”
Bryant said he will return to Council in the near future with more details about the transition. No changes will occur at CATEC until July 1, 2024.
City Councilor Leah Puryear thanked Dr. Gurley and Bryant for their presentation. She spent sixteen years on the School Board alongside fellow Councilor Juandiego Wade.
“And this City Council understands that we must make this city whole for everyone,” Puryear said. “The children in our school division will be the children that sit here, that do your jobs, and do whatever else is done in this community.”
Then it was interim City Manager Michael C. Roger’s turn to introduce the budget for FY24.
“We are submitting to you tonight a balanced budget as required by charter of $226,239,155 which represents a 6.27 percent increase over the FY23 budget,” Rogers said.
There is no actual budget book available for people to read through. Instead, community members must navigate through an online portal.
“This is our first year with an online budget book,” said Krisy Hamill, the city’s director of budget and performance.
And it’s going to take me some time to go through the document as well because I’m not used to looking at it this way. As such, details on what’s in the budget in a future edition of the program. For now, know that there are no new tax rate increases anticipated. Much more in the near future.
Bonumose opens sugar-substitute manufacturing facility in Albemarle County, Keagan Hughes, NBC29, March 2, 2023
More affordable housing units may be coming to Southwood project, Madison McNamee, NBC29, March 6, 2023
City Schools naming committee recommends Johnson Elementary School become Cherry Avenue and Burnley-Moran become Blue Mountain, Tamica Jean-Charles, Charlottesville Tomorrow, March 6, 2023
Charlottesville business owner raises concerns after city official targets business, Alice Berry, Charlottesville Daily Progress, March 7, 2023
Albemarle may ease restrictions to help boost wireless service, Keagan Hughes, NBC29, March 7, 2023
Notes for #507
Change is tricky and inevitable. The plan had been to write in more detail about the budget today but the new format to go through it page by page is new and so I’ll get to that information in the next installment of the show. One in four of you are paying me to pay attention, and I owe you a lot more detail about what’s in the Charlottesville budget.
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