November 29, 2021: Charlottesville PC briefed on next capital budget
As of the typing of these words, there are 22 days until the solstice when our portion of the world will slowly begin illuminating a little more each day. This is the 333rd day of this year. What significance might there be in the number 4,444? Stick around for enough editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement, and that figure may one day show up. I’m your host Sean Tubbs, tracking the trivial and monitoring the memorable.
On today’s show:
Charlottesville’s Planning Commission gets a look at the preliminary capital budget for fiscal year 23
University Transit Service buses return to full capacity
More news about the transition team of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin
Let’s begin today with two Patreon-fueled shout-outs. The first comes a long-time supporter who wants you to know:
"Today is a great day to spread good cheer: reach out to an old friend, compliment a stranger, or pause for a moment of gratitude to savor a delight."
The second comes from a more recent supporter who wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, WINA, or some other place I’ve not mentioned - the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!
As the week begins, the Virginia Department of Health reports a seven-day average of 1,377 new cases and the seven-day percent positivity is at 6.1 percent. On Friday, the VDH reported the first fatality of a child from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome.
In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 55 new cases today and a seven-day percent positivity of 5.8 percent. There have been two more fatalities reported since Wednesday.
Last week, the Jefferson Madison Regional Library entered into a partnership with the Virginia Department of Health to distribute at-home COVID-19 testing kits. The pilot program offers rapid antigen tests that are guided by a virtual assistant.
“The test kits must be used away from the library, via an internet-connected device with a camera (including smart phones) with digital test results available within 15 minutes,” reads a press release. “Library staff cannot assist with administering tests, and tests cannot be taken inside any JMRL location.”
Today marks the first day in a year and a half that passengers on University Transit Service buses will board from the front door. UTS has ended rules that required riders to board from the middle door. Capacity restrictions have also been dropped, meaning buses will be able to fill to standing. However, masks and facial coverings are still mandatory.
The University Transit Service will also restore service to stops at Garrett Hall and Monroe Hall whenever UTS is serving McCormick Road. Those stops had been dropped to help UTS manage the capacity restrictions. Visit the UTS website to learn more about specific details.
To learn more about transit, consider attending the Regional Transit Partnership’s meeting on Thursday at 4 p.m. On the agenda is a look at the Regional Transit Vision plan that is in development by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. (agenda)
Jaunt buses returned to 100 percent capacity earlier this year.
There are a few local names on what Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin is calling his transition landing teams.
The “landing teams that will coordinate with the cabinet secretaries from the current administration and conduct due diligence across all agencies so that the Youngkin administration will hit the ground running and begin delivering on its promises on Day One,” reads a press release from Wednesday.
Senator Emmet Hanger (R-24) will serve on the Agriculture and Forestry team and Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) is on the Education team. Bell will also serve on the Public Safety and Homeland Security team. Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17) will be on the Veterans and Defense Affairs team. For the full list, take a look at the full press release.
In today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement: The Charlottesville Jazz Society at cvillejazz.org is dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and perpetuation of all that jazz, and there’s no time like now to find a time to get out and watch people love to play. The Charlottesville Jazz Society keeps a running list of what’s coming up at cvillejazz.org. Sign up for their newsletter today.
The Charlottesville Planning Commission got a look last week at a preliminary budget for the capital improvement program for the fiscal years 2023 through 2027. Council will vote next spring to approve the first year of spending, but decisions for future years would be for future versions of Council. (November 23 presentation) (watch the meeting)
But first, what is a capital improvement program? Krissy Hammill is a Senior Budget and Management Analyst for the City of Charlottesville.
“It’s basically a five-year financing plan that contains infrastructure type projects that usually cost more than $50,000,” Hammill said. “They’re generally non-recurring and non-operational and they generally have a useful life of five years or more.”
Major items are usually funded by debt the city takes on in the form of bond sales. Investors front the money in exchange for a steady and guaranteed return. Like Albemarle County, Charlottesville has a AAA bond rating that is both attractive to investors and has a low interest rate. The latter results in a lower debt-service payment for the city.
“We are actually part of a very small group of localities that have that rating,” Hammill said. “It is the premiere marker of a locality’s financial stability in strength.”
In recent years, Council has increased the amount of spending on affordable housing initiatives, directly funding redevelopment of public housing and Friendship Court. In the past budget cycle, Council expressed a willingness to fund the configuration of City Schools.
“We had a placeholder for that project at $50 million and based on Council’s direction from a meeting in October, that has now been increased from $50 million to $75 million,” Hammill said. “The funding has been moved up from FY25 to FY24. We also know that in doing this there will need to be additional revenue enhancements to pay for the additional debt service that will be required.”
Revenue enhancements can be translated as “tax increase” and Hammill has previously told Council and the public that the equivalent of a 15 cent increase on the property tax rate may be required to cover the cost. There’s the possibility of the next General Assembly allowing Charlottesville voters to decide on a sales-tax increase with proceeds going toward schools.
Even with that possibility, the city may not be able to make any new investments for some time.
“We know that our debt capacity will be exhausted for some period of time,” Hammill said.
In the current fiscal year, debt service is just under five percent of the $192.2 million General Fund Budget. That amount does not include the amount of general fund cash used for capital projects. That number will increase.
“The plan put before you has debt service basically doubling from just over ten million to just over $20 million within a very short period of time, about four years,” Hammill said.
A draft of the next Capital Improvement Program won’t be officially presented to Council until late February or early March. Hammill documented several other revisions to the preliminary budget. At Council’s direction, $18.25 million in city funds for the West Main Streetscape were transferred to the school reconfiguration project as well as $5 million from a parking garage on 7th and Market Street.
In December 2018, a previous City Council signed an agreement with Albemarle County to provide parking as part of a multimillion project to locate a joint General District Court downtown. Subsequent Councils have opted to not build a new parking garage to honor the terms of that agreement. (read the agreement)
“We don’t have any specifics right now,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director. “We’re in the midst of conversation with the county about the fact that we’re not going to build a structure and what the agreement leaves them with regard to their options and trying to figure out what’s best for both parties.”
Pre-construction of the courts facility is underway.
Another adjustment in the city’s preliminary capital improvement program is additional funding for a comprehensive plan for the Parks and Recreation Department.
“This would be to look at Parks and Rec programs,” Hammill said. “This is not the normal master plan for the parks per se master planning process, but more of a programmatic master plan.”
There are also programs for drainage issues at Oakwood Cemetery and McIntire Park as well as funding to assist the removal of dead Ash trees in the city.
Council has also approved a housing plan that asks for $10 million a year on affordable housing initiatives. Hammill said not all of the funding for that initiative would come from the capital improvement program budget. City Council will review the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund at its meeting on December 6.
Another item not in the capital budget is private funding for a sidewalk on Stribling Avenue. Southern Development has offered to loan the city $2.9 million to cover the cost of the project as part of a rezoning in Fry’s Spring area.
The Charlottesville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the preliminary CIP on December 14.
Finally today, the second shout-out for today specifically asked you to check out a local news story. Here’s one to begin with. Last week, Carly Haynes of CBS19 reported on the intersection of Preston Avenue and Grady Avenue in Charlottesville. Charlottesville was awarded $7.743 million in a Smart Scale project to alter the intersection. Learn more in this report from November 23rd.
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