City manager Maurice Jones and budget director Leslie Beauregard hone their budget message.
Albemarle county exec Tom Foley bases his budget on a tax increase, but says most property owners won't see a higher tax bill.
photo by lisa provence
Here's how the executives running Charlottesville and Albemarle describe their proposed budgets in three words.
"Schools, schools, schools," says city manager Maurice Jones, looking at funneling an additional $3.4 million over last year to city schools.
"Half-smile budget," says county executive Tom Foley, whose proposed "equalization" property tax increase of 2.2 cents per $100 does not have everyone smiling.
Foley's recommended $311.7 million budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 adds $7.3 million in spending– a 2.4 percent increase– to a budget he says is less than the county's 2008/2009 budget. That was the year the housing market crash and reduced property tax assessments were just beginning.
Foley insists the equalized tax rate of 76.4 cents per $100 is one in which the average property owner's tax bill won't increase, thanks to the continuing drop in home property values. "This is the fourth year without a tax increase," he says. "For two years we actually reduced taxes about $100." That would be those plunging home values again.
"It's a misperception that the equalized tax rate is an equal burden on everyone," says soon-to-step-down Jefferson Area Tea Party chair Carol Thorpe, who says the plan is more to equalize revenues for the county. "When times are bad and families are having a difficult time, the tax rate should remain the same or be lowered."
"We are seeing some modest recovery," says Foley. Revenues have increased on sales, meals, and personal property taxes, he says. And going after delinquent taxpayers brought in an additional $3 million.
Foley's "half-smile budget" looks to the future after austerity moves that eliminated 65 to 70 county staff positions. "We've been hunkered down the past four years," he says.
The proposed budget puts money into new facilities, like the Ivy fire and rescue station, expected to open in July 2013, a new EMS facility in Pantops that uses Martha Jefferson Hospital as its base, a police firing range, and moving forward on the Crozet library.
The budget includes a 1 percent raise for county employees, along with a 25 percent increased Virginia Retirement System contribution. Money is allocated for eight firefighter positions to staff the new Ivy station, as well as three positions in finance. And there's $1.5 million the Board of Supervisors can use at their discretion.
At a February 29 public hearing on the proposed budget, Albemarle Truth in Taxation and Jefferson Area Tea Party members balked at the increased tax rate. Without the increase, says Foley, there would be "significant cuts."
One drop in Albemarle spending no one in the county is complaining about: its revenue-sharing contribution to Charlottesville for not annexing, which dropped from $18.1 million last year to $17.5 million in the proposed budget.
Charlottesville looks to raise its spending two percent in its proposed $146.2 million fiscal year 2012/2013 budget, and keeps the 95 cents per $100 property tax rate the same.
Its biggest unplanned for expense is $3.4 million to shore up the schools' budget shortfall. "We're using one-time money on the schools to close their gap, but we can't continue doing that," says Jones.
And the city must contribute $1.5 million to the Virginia Retirement System for school employees– but not for city employees, whose retirement is self-funded by the city.
City employees, who got a two percent raise last year, will see a three percent one-time bonus in the proposed budget. Citing uncertain real estate revenues, says Jones, "We don't want to tie ourselves down."
Although Nest Realty reports single family home prices in Charlottesville have dropped 33 percent, the city budget's projected residential tax revenues are down just three percent, says Jones, and things are looking better on the commercial real estate side, where new construction has seen a boost.
Jones, who owns a house in Albemarle County, says he hasn't gotten any flak about not contributing to the city's real estate tax base. "I'm looking," he says. "One way or the other, I'll be living in the city by this summer, either as an owner or a renter."
Charlottesville will contribute to the police firing range, and has a new park in Belmont– Rives Park– among its capital expenditures.
"We continue to protect quality service, have no significant cuts, and haven't had to raise taxes," says Jones. "That's all positive."