November 13, 2020: Council briefed on capacity for capital projects; Flood waters recede at Scottsville

  
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Do you have triskaidekaphobia? Then today is not the day for you, for it is November 13th, 2020, the second time this year that the 13th day of the month has fallen on a Friday. The last time was back in March, and we all know what happened next. So let’s be extra careful today after hearing this installment of the Charlottesville Community Engagement newscast and newsletter. I’m your host, Sean Tubbs. 

Today's Patreon-fueled shout-out is from a supporter who wants you to consider a donation for Monica Johnson, a Pro Strongwoman who will be competing in a charity powerlifting event on November 21 called Make Every Rep Count. Gregory Carey-Medlock is donating 30 cents for every pound Monica squats to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. You can choose between three other charities.  Learn more at Shenandoah Power. Sponsors accepted through November 14


There are another 1,235 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia today, and the seven-day average for positive tests remains at 6.5 percent for a second straight day. The seven day-average for new daily cases is 1,499. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are four new cases today. This is a good time to remind you that these numbers are always subject to change as new information comes in. For instance, Albemarle’s total number of cases dropped by one to 1,688 since the pandemic began. This could mean that the person’s locality was originally reported incorrectly. Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson all added one case each. The seven-day average for new daily cases in the district is 22 and the percent positivity has increased to 2.1 percent. 

The University of Virginia COVID-19 tracker shows 66 active cases with 47 of them students. These numbers have been increasing this week and watch for an update later on this afternoon.

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Flood waters have receded all across Virginia, and the Town of Scottsville has contended with the highest level the James River has reached since 2010. According to the National Weather Service, the river crested at 19.5 feet and will slowly lower throughout the next 24 hours. 

The town’s fire department reached the second stage of flood control alert and closed off the flood control walls at Perry Street. Scottsville has experienced many floods throughout its history, according to the Scottsville Museum. A levee has been in place since 1990.

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Charlottesville’s appointed officials sought fiscal clarity from Charlottesville’s elected officials during a budget work session last night that sought to gauge Council’s willingness to seek additional revenues to pay for major projects. John Blair is the interim city manager. 

“As you all know there are a number of large scale capital projects that have been talked about in various iterations through the past few years but what I’ve asked our budget team is to provide you with some numbers that are going to demonstrate using your debt capacity for various projects,” Blair said.  

Blair said that the city is close to its debt capacity and more projects will likely require tax increases, but he said that topic was not directly before them. Blair’s budget for FY2022 will not be unveiled until March. It will also be the first to be prepared under this Council. 

“Obviously I think a number of you have interest in various capital needs whether it be affordable housing, education, infrastructure,” Blair said. He also said this would send a message to would-be city managers about the kind of city this Council wants it to be. 

For now, the budget is in the very early stages of formation because exact revenues aren’t yet known.  Budget staff needed to know Council’s thoughts on whether to change a key policy to increase the amount of bonds that could be sold to pay for capital projects. Doing so will increase the amount the city needs to spend on debt service to pay back those who buy those bonds for a steady return. 

We have been in fiscal year 2021 since July 1, and a decision was made by Council earlier this year to continue with $25.8 million of projects in the capital budget, and they signaled support for a total five-year plan of $124.1 million. 

“We were going to fund $84 million of this five year plan with bonds, and if you recall, due to COVID, just about all of the cash that was originally intended to go to the CIP was held in a reserve with the general fund to offset any of the unknowns,” said Krissy Hammill, Senior Budget and Management Analyst for the city of Charlottesville. 

Practice has been to use a mixture of cash and bonds to pay for capital projects and since 2010, the average has been 37 percent. For this year’s capital budget, 93 percent will be paid for through bonds. Currently the city has about $90 million in government debt, $80 million of which is for bonds that have been approved for projects but not yet issued.

“That means that we typically issue bonds on a cash-needed basis so we don’t issue the bonds until the project is either imminent or underway because we do have spending requirements that once we issue the bonds we typically need to spend that money within 24 months,” Hammill said.

Hammill said the city has been building up a fund balance to help reduce the amount of cash that needs to go to debt service each year. But at some point, the city will need additional cash from property taxes to make up the difference. Hammill showed a hypothetical situation where $32 million in new bonds are floated each year through FY2027. That would increase the debt service steadily over time, from $11 million in F2022 to $19.2 million by FY2026. 

“You’ve basically built in the need for a penny of additional revenue, that’s equivalent to basically a penny a year,” Hammill said, adding that in further years, the need for additional revenues would continue to grow. 

To put it colloquially, Hammill effectively stated that the city can float an additional $52 million in bonds without maxing out the credit card. Potential projects include additional spending at the future parking garage, reconfiguration of city schools and continued investments in affordable housing. 

What did Council have to say? I’ll have a report out on that by tomorrow morning, potentially in a Saturday edition of this program. 

(take a look at the slides)

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The city of Charlottesville is looking for a new human resources director. City spokesman Brian Wheeler confirmed Thursday that Michele Vineyard will leave the position after just over a year. The job is advertised for between $100,000 and $156,178 and the position closes on November 30. Vineyard began work on October 21, 2019 at a salary of $145,000 according to an article that month in the Daily Progress.  Wheeler said she will continue to work with the city on a part-time basis to help with the transition to a new director.

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How can communities across the mid-Atlantic prepare for predicted bouts of irregular weather and erratic storms? The nonprofit group Resilient Virginia is seeking to draw awareness to the importance of creating plans to be ready for sudden shocks and stresses related to climate change. Annette Osso is the group's managing director. 

"As we know and we've seen the Commonwealth is facing increasing challenges from extreme weather events whether they be storms, flooding, sea level rise, tornadoes, and unpredictable weather patterns that impact economic and social life," Osso said November 9 during the latest presentation that is part of her group's 2020 Resiliency Academy

Speakers were from the Resilient Rural America Project, which creates educational modules for residents and decision-makers in rural areas on how to increase resilience. Dr. Gwen Griffith is the program director of the Model Forest Policy Program. 

"The rural lands and waters are vital to all of us, urban and rural alike, in terms of serving our needs," Griffith said. "Rural economics of course is a vital part. It's the underpinning of all of our other economic systems."

Griffith said those services include rivers that provide water to urban areas, and trees and lands that offset greenhouse gas emissions. 

"And those natural services are definitely being impacted as changes conditions are happening around the globe and right here in Virginia," Griffith said. "And the most common form of those changes is being seen as extreme weather impacts." 

Griffith said in the last five years, there has been $535 billion worth of disaster losses due to extreme weather. However, she said those dollars can sometimes be considered an investment if they can restore conditions in a way that mitigates future weather effects. 

"We know now that for example when you do flood mitigation for river flooding, you could have a return of as much of $7 in savings from every $1 you invest in that mitigation activity," Griffith said.   

Next up for Resilient Virginia is planning for the conference coming up next July.  

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The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library is further extending hours for curbside service at the Central Library and the Gordon Avenue Library. 

“We're pleased to offer more options for patrons picking up curbside items; adding an additional evening for those working during the day, and Monday morning for those who want to pick up earlier in the week,” said Camille Thompson, Gordon Avenue Library Branch Manager.

  • Central Library (curbside service only): Mondays 10am to 7pm; Tuesdays through Saturdays 10am to 5pm; Sundays 1pm to 5pm

  • Gordon Avenue Library (curbside service only): Mondays and Wednesdays 10am to 7pm; Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 10am to 4pm

There are also expanded hours at the Greene County Library and the Louisa County Library. For more information about hours and services, visit jmrl.org.

In addition, the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library will begin collecting donations for its annual book sale at the Gordon Avenue location only, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I’ll repeat - at the Gordon Avenue location only.

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Looking for a movie to go and see tomorrow night? The City of Charlottesville will show the 2013 film Free Birds about two turkeys who travel back in time to prevent the advent of Thanksgiving. Tickets for the event at Charlottesville High School are $20 a car load. (buy tickets)

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In meetings today, the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority will hold an emergency meeting on safety issues today at 2 p.m. to discuss recent violence, the police response, and the hiring of Millennium Security. (meeting link)

If you're looking for something to listen to, consider a radio play from Live Arts! They will debut ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA IN SPACE! The work on YouTube is written and directed by Alexander Bulova, a videographer, writer, and director living in Fairfax, Virginia. (learn more)

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One correction today. Yesterday I reported on State Farm deciding to vacate its operations center on Pantops. I incorrectly stated they owned the property when in fact it is held by an investment group called JDM II SF NATIONAL LLC which purchased many State Farms operations centers across the country in 2014, from another group that purchased them from State Farm in 2013. The property records in Albemarle’s GIS lists the same Bloomington, Indiana, address for the owner as the corporate office of the insurance company.

Before you go, if you’ve enjoyed this program and would like it to continue, please consider a financial contribution.