October 20, 2022: Charlottesville City Council takes action on transient tax changes, procurement guidelines; considers rent for nonprofit, $700K for replacement fuel storage tank
Plus: There's a new Chief of Public Transportation in Virginia
Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more? A snippet from an old song would be played at this point of the podcast version of Charlottesville Community Engagement but that would cost resources that would be better spent bringing you information to help you engage with the communities around Charlottesville. It is October 20, or, 10/20 on one side of the Atlantic, or 20/10 on the other. Either way, the date gets rounded out by 2022. I’m Sean Tubbs, pointer outer of the obvious.
On today’s installment:
There’s a new chief of public transportation for all of Virginia
Charlottesville City Council takes several actions including changes to the transient occupancy ordinance and a clarification on whether freelance writers provide a taxable service
Council holds first reading on $700K to replace underground storage tank
Council adopts guidelines for an alternative procurement process
Council also considers paying seven months worth of rent for a local nonprofit
Every installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement is different, which is why you might benefit from reading them all. Sign up to make that easier.
First shout-out: Charlottesville Jazz Society has a concert coming up
In today’s first subscriber-supported shout-out, the Charlottesville Jazz Society wants you to know about their last show of the year coming up on October 28. The Society will present French modern jazz group OZMA as they celebrate their 20th anniversary with the first ever tour of the United States. Borrowing largely from rock grammars, traditional music, and electronic landscapes, OZMA’s music has been praised for its willingness to imagine John Coltrane jamming with Radiohead, or explosive drummer Billy Cobham playing with the best New Orleans brass bands.The show is Friday, October 28 at Unity of Charlottesville on Hydraulic Road. For tickets and more information visit cvillejazz.org.
DRPT names new public transportation chief
A key ingredient in plans to both reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions is public transportation. In Virginia, there’s a brand new person heading up efforts to improve bus and train routes throughout the Commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation has named Zach Trogdon to be the new Chief of Public Transportation.
“Trogdon will lead the evaluation, assistance, and execution of a $4.7 billion portfolio of public transportation, commuter assistance, and congestion management programs throughout the Commonwealth,” reads a press release from the DRPT.
Trogdon has been the executive director of the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority and has worked in government for over 20 years. According to the release, he helped the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority establish a capital fund to buy, repair, and maintain the fleet.
Trogdon’s hiring comes at a time when a governance study is underway to prepare the potential creation of a regional transit authority for this area. Both Albemarle and Charlottesville have contributed funds to the $150,000 study which is being coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. A steering committee has been identified but the kick-off.
A Regional Transit Partnership has been in place since 2017 to pick up the pieces after an earlier effort to form a Regional Transit Authority failed in the late 2000’s. The Partnership next meets on October 27 and will see the final report of the Regional Transit Vision Plan.
Council approves changes to lodging tax collection rules, defers vote on tax relief changes
Monday’s regular meeting of the Charlottesville City Council featured several smaller items and a few big ones that add up to a lot of business. The rest of this installment of newsletter goes through them one by one. Did I get to it all? Read on.
First, Council took a vote to approve the relocation of a sewer line for the redevelopment of 209 Maury Avenue. That’s a property right on the border with the University of Virginia. In May, Council approved a special use permit allowing for additional density and a parking reduction for a total of 64 units.
“As part of the development process, the current developer is going to be constructing a new sewer line in a different location than the one that was established previously,” said City Attorney Lisa Robertson.
That required a vote from Council to change the easement and to make a boundary line adjustment. They’ll later have to come back and accept the new public right of way for the sewer.
“By going ahead with the vacation, you’ll allow the developer to proceed with various financing applications and to proceed with the development,” Robertson said.
This was a public hearing, but the agenda for the meeting did not indicate that. No one spoke during the public hearing, either in person or virtually.
Business license rules changes to list “writer” as taxable profession
Next, Council changed the rules classifying whether freelance writers and authors are subject to the city’s business license ordinance. The Virginia Supreme Court in City of Charlottesville v Regulus Books ruled earlier this year that Charlottesville’s ordinance did not sufficiently specify that work from the profession was not a “service” that triggered tax collections. (read the ruling)
“In my opinion, [the ruling] curiously found a deficiency in our business license ordinance and this so measure attempts to… it will address it,” said Todd Divers, the Commissioner of the Revenue.
Divers said the new ordinance creates a specific category for writers under subclassification H. Those are businesses that must pay $0.36 for every $100 of gross receipts. The city has had to refund several thousand dollars in taxes to several people who had previously been taxed incorrectly. There was no discussion on Council and the motion passed 5 to 0.
Council approves changes to transient lodging tax ordinance
Commissioner of Revenue Todd Divers was also on hand to brief Council on a requested change to the city’s transient lodging tax ordinance.
“The General Assembly for the last two years has made some significant changes to provision of sales tax and local transient occupancy tax to try to address various issues raised by online travel agencies and online travel platforms like AirBnB and others,” Divers said.
Divers said Council made some changes last year, but the 2022 legislation forces the city to make new ones related to how the taxes are collected and reported. The new law allows the taxation on the total charge for a stay, such as cleaning fees.
Divers said the ordinance needed to be adopted immediately because the new online intermediaries will begin collecting local lodging taxes this month. He added that he expects more legislative changes in three months in the next General Assembly.
Several Councilors asked if there was anything in the update that would make it easier to police short-term rentals that are in violation of zoning. Divers said that was a separate issue related to staffing.
“Right now, you’ve got one guy policing this, [Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead],” Divers said. “It’s very difficult for one person to do it. He operates on complaints. There aren’t many complaints for as many people who do complain about it.”
The update also prepares for a new hotel within Charlottesville’s borders.
“In anticipation of the University of Virginia opening up a hotel in town, there was a curious little exemption in the local code that exempted stays in educational institutions,” Divers said. “Our position is the lodging tax, transient occupancy tax, will be applicable to stays in that hotel when it is built.”
The new code specifies that dormitories are exempt. Ground was broken for a new 214-room hotel earlier this month with completion expected in the spring of 2025.
A second reading of this ordinance was waived and the updates passed 5 to 0.
Council also voted to note that collection of the city’s cigarette taxes is now handled by the Blue Ridge Cigarette Tax Board operated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. That passed 5 to 0 with little discussion. Second reading was also waived.
Tax relief changes deferred until November 7
There was also another vote to amend the city code related to tax relief for elderly and disabled persons. Divers said his intention had been to merge that program with the Charlottesville Housing Affordability Program (CHAP).
“We obviously cannot merge those programs but this kind of closes the loop on this and brings the real estate tax relief program in close to inline with CHAP as we can,” Divers said.
Changes include dropping the eligibility threshold for net worth for the non-CHAP tax relief program. There was a long discussion about the numbers being used in the various calculations and a lot of wordsmithing until Councilor Brian Pinkston raised a procedural question.
“I’m wondering, do we feel like this whole ordinance might profit with two more weeks of conversation or do we feel like we’re close to a resolution?” Pinkston asked.
Robertson agreed it would be good to resolve the dispute, which related to the method to be used to calculate income and eligibility. This item will come back to Council at their next meeting on November 7. But we first have to get through items from the rest of the October 17 meeting first.
Second shout-out: Charlottesville Community Bikes
In this second subscriber supported shout-out, Charlottesville Community Bikes believes that bicycles can be a means to social change, addressing issues of equity, access, and inclusion. They provide free bikes to adults who need one, and have a special program that provides free bikes to children.
Their mobile bike repair clinics continue October 24 with a stop at Blue Ridge Commons on Prospect Avenue. Want to learn more or support their work? Charlottesville Community Bikes currently is seeking matching funds for a grant from the Outride Fund. Visit charlottesvillecommunitybikes.org to learn more.
Council considers funding for Avon fuel tank replacement
For the rest of the meeting, the Charlottesville City Council took action on items with financial impacts. The first was a request to spend an additional $700,000 from the Capital Improvement Program budget’s contingency fund for cost overruns on a project to replace the underground fuel storage tanks at the city’s fuel station on Avon Street.
“That fuel station has been in place for quite a while and the below-ground fuel tank is at the end of its usable life and is becoming uninsurable at this point,” said Michael Goddard is a Senior Project Manager in the city’s Public Works Department.
Goddard said a recent crash involving a bus has damaged the fuel station and the city is currently using a fuel card system to purchase. He said the next storage tank will be above ground.
“There are a lot of benefits of that sort of a tank, not the least of which is that it is easy to decommission should the time come that we don’t need a fueling station anymore,” Goddard said.
Goddard said the project needs an additional $700,000 to meet the lowest bid.
Charlottesville City Councilor Brian Pinkston suggested finding another solution altogether, including maybe partnering with Albemarle County.
“Is this like an essential thing that we have to have to function as a city, or is there another way to do it?” Pinkston asked.
Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers said the city has many vehicles that need to be fueled and it is more cost-effective to have an in-house fuel depot.
“What we are doing now, though we are supporting the local economy, is costing us more money and over time as the price of gas keep going up its going to cost us more,” Rogers said.
Council’s discussion was a first reading and the item will be on the consent agenda on November 7.
Council extends loan to Woodard Properties for Dogwood Housing properties
Charlottesville has many tools in the effort to ensure some residential units in the city that are below-market. Two of them date back to 2007.
One is the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund, which has disbursed $46.7 million in funds since 2010 according to a report Council was briefed on this past April. (Deputy City Manager Sanders reviews recent audit of Charlottesville’s housing fund, April 6, 2022)
The other is a 2007 loan to the Piedmont Housing Alliance to assist Woodard Properties in acquiring Dogwood Housing.
“In 2007, Council at that time extended a loan in the amount of $850,000 for the acquisition of 57 residential units to be maintained as rental properties,” said Sam Sanders, the Deputy City Manager.
Sanders said Woodard Properties have come back to Council before to extend the loan and the latest period of forgiveness ends at the end of the month. They are requesting another five-year period.
Council granted the extension with no discussion except to substitute some of the language in the resolution.
Council agrees to adopt guidelines for procurement
In the near future, Charlottesville could very well finalize plans to renovate Buford Middle School to accommodate sixth grade students, a first step toward a long-planned and long-awaited reconfiguration of the city’s schools.
The School Board got an update on construction estimates in September, and the final number will factor heavily into the city’s budget discussions for the next fiscal year. (VMDO working against inflation as design for Buford expansion continues and estimates increase, September 2, 2022)
On Monday, Council approved guidelines for the use of funds that could be raised through something called the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act, which goes by the acronym PPEA.
“Under the act, the General Assembly conferred upon local entities such as the city of Charlottesville a process by which major construction projects and improvements to real estate could be conducted through a competitive process that is more flexible and less prescriptive,” said City Attorney Lisa Robertson.
A key reason to do this is to potentially bring down the cost through efficiencies and through a more flexible schedule. Robertson gave examples in the staff report.
The City of Harrisonburg has constructed school buildings and at least one public park.
The City of Fredericksburg is currently using the PPEA process for the design and construction of improvements to upgrade and expand a wastewater treatment plant.
The Town of Christiansburg used PPEA procedures for a stream restoration and culvert replacement project.
Spotsylvania used PPEA procedures for construction of a new circuit court building.
Robertson didn’t specify the Buford project could be constructed through a PPEA nor did the staff report list any specific examples. Charlottesville City Councilor Brian Pinkston could think of a few.
“One of the things we could do with this is work with local nonprofit partners on what I’ll call hybrid projects where we’re trying to accomplish something together and there would be private funds coming in through the nonprofit and we may be providing project management support or something like that on the city side,” Pinkston said. “This would give us flexibility in terms of how those procurements work.”
Council approved the guidelines with one change making sure that the application fee for such a project would be $1,500.
Council considers rent payment for Jefferson School
The Jefferson School Center for African American Heritage has asked the city to help it cover the cost of the rent it pays to the Jefferson School Foundation. That’s the entity that owns the former elementary school. The Center leases just over 11,000 square feet at a cost of $15,134.76 per month.
Staff has recommended Council donate seven months of rent to cover the Center from December 1 through the end of next June for a total of $107,203.32.
“The reason for taking this action at this moment is to provide Council the space that it needs to conduct its strategic planning sessions to determine how it will engage in investments for moments like this to invest in arrangements with non-profit organizations,” said Deputy City Manager Sam Sanders.
Sanders said that conversation will also include a further discussion of how the city treats nonprofits to which it rents property. (City seeking to know more about what property it rents, May 20, 2022)
At the same time, the city is seeking requests from firms to facilitate a new strategic plan.
The funding will come from Council’s Strategic Intiatives fund. Sanders said a previous $950,000 for this purpose went to an escrow account whereas this one will go directly to the Center.
City Councilor Michael Payne said he would want to make a long-term commitment to the Center.
“I would definitely want to prioritize finding a way for the Heritage Center to stay there longer-term,” Payne said. “I know there’s a bigger discussion about non-profit leases and rentals but I think it would be very short-sighted for us to lose some of these community spaces for just another restaurant or whatever else.”
Council held first reading of the item and agreed to hold the second as part of the consent agenda for the November 7, 2022 meeting.
We’re not done yet with the Council meeting from October 17, 2022. Future installments will go back through a budget work session as well as a vote on use of American Rescue Plan Act funds. This newsletter is already pushing 3,000 words so… time to publish!
Housekeeping for show #446
A constant refrain I have is that there’s so much to get to, and I do hope to get to more in the next installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement. Thanks to the new paid subscribers who have signed up in the last few days, and thanks to the new Patreon contributor! All of this goes to Town Crier Productions, a company that so far only employs me. It’s my hope that will change as more people fund this particular style of journalism.
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