City budget: Housing decline still affects revenue

Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones describes his proposed fiscal year 2013-2014 budget as "cautiously optimistic." Wait, that's what he said two years ago.

There's a lot that hasn't changed during that time. City schools continue to face shortfalls. Residential real estate assessments in the city are either "stagnant" or decreased, says Jones. And the city tax rate remains at 95 cents per $100 value.

The $148-million proposed budget represents a 1.14 percent increase over last year, way more modest than in those high-flying days only six years ago, when the city increased spending 12 percent, thanks to soaring home prices.

Part of the increase includes $180,000 for two Human Rights Commission employees, should City Council approve that.

While residential real estate assessments remain flat, several new construction projects– Waterhouse, CFA Institute at the old Martha Jefferson, the mega-student housing complex at Arlington and Millmont– "put us on the positive side," says Jones.

Also up are meals, lodging, sales, and use taxes. Business license revenue is expected to increase by $226K, reflecting new commercial development in the city. "Vacancy rates on the Downtown Mall are one percent," notes Jones. "That's really positive after the downturn."

Personal property taxes should bring in an extra $124,440– although the $50K decrease in vehicle license fees is testament to citizens embracing alternate modes of transportation, or just not buying as many new cars.

City employees could get a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, and their retirement fund needs an extra $253,000, according to budget.

Users of city services can expect to pay more for programs at parks and rec, and for large-item trash pickups. And inattentive parkers will be hit with larger fines– $20 for exceeding the time limit, up from $15, and $180 for parking in a handicapped space instead of $100. 

Losers in the the FY 2014 budget are the First Tee golf youth program, from which the city is shaving $38,000 in funding because city kids make up only 37 percent of the participants. Some nonprofits will not see $136,000 from the city, which is being redirected to those agencies more in line with City Council's priorities.

One of those priorities is to reduce poverty by increasing sustainable employment among the less skilled and educated residents. Unfortunately, that won't help city-hired temporary Greyhound station employees, because the city is ditching that program.

At the same time, concerned about befuddled visitors being freaked out by the homeless on the Downtown Mall, the budget includes $72K for a pilot roving-ambassador program, the success of which will be evaluated this fall.

Good news in the crime statistics portion of the budget. Although Charlottesville's contribution to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail is up over half a million bucks– $593,000– the city's inmate population continues to decline.

Schools continue to be the biggest expenditure in the budget, and the city's one-time contributions to make up the gaps in state and federal funding have become annual events. This year's budget adds nearly $1 million– $961,628– to the schools' piece of the pie, but Jones warns that a long-term funding strategy is needed.

Sequestration could also effect school funding.

"We do anticipate some impact," says Jones. "Right now, we're not 100 percent sure what that impact will be."


Remember all of those budget surpluses that Council couldn't wait to spend?

Maybe I missed the news, but did Mr. Jones ever buy a home in the city? If so, my bad, I just missed reading about it.

Supposedly he is living in Greenbrier.