Could be worse: City and county budgets unveiled

Layoffs are a last resort, says Albemarle County executive Bob Tucker.

City and county government employees won't be getting raises– but at least they're not getting laid off. Yet.

Charlottesville city manager Gary O'Connell and Albemarle County exec Bob Tucker revealed February 17 how they plan to deal with reduced revenues and state shortfalls over the 2009-10 fiscal year. Both note that their respective domains are in much better shape than other jurisdictions in Virginia that are laying off employees. But of the two, Albemarle is feeling more pain.

Albemarle's $268.2 million 2010 operating budget– $1 million less and .4 percent smaller than fiscal year '09– requires a nearly 6-cent tax increase in the current 71 cents per $100 assessed value.

Tucker balances his budget by boosting the tax rate to 74.2 cents, and adds another 2.5 cents at the behest of the Board of Supervisors for a revenue shortfall contingency fund. A homeowner of a median priced home whose assessment went down the average 4 percent would see property taxes go up around $77.

"I have serious concerns about it," says Peter Wurzer with Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance, who notes that the state's quarterly estimated income tax payments are down 27 percent and describes the current economic situation thusly: "I think right now we're looking at an abyss."

If economic conditions worsen, he fears the Board of Supervisors will spend all of a 77-cent tax rate, and wonders why they haven't been accumulating a contingency fund since 2000, during which time he says property taxes doubled.

"I'd be in favor of [the contingency], but this is a heck of a time to do it," says Wurzer. "It's raining and the roof is leaking."

Speaking of roofs, the county's capital budget is sliced $100 million over five years, which postpones long-awaited projects like the Crozet library. And the proposed budget freezes 15 more positions to the 35 already frozen.

City manager Gary O'Connell sees a first in 30 years: Charlottesville's budget does not increase.

Charlottesville's $127 million operating budget is "a flat budget" with a decrease of .23 percent– "The first time I've seen a decrease in 30 years," says O'Connell. Only two years ago, the city's budget jumped 12 percent, thanks to ever-escalating property assessments.

The city, too, is funding a rainy day kitty: $2.8 million for an Economic Downturn Fund–  without increasing the city's 95-cent property tax rate.

And Charlottesville gets a revenue-sharing windfall from Albemarle, which contributes 10 cents of its tax rate to the city. Because those numbers are calculated on revenues two years back, the city gets an additional $4.4 million for a whopping $18 million in FY 2010.

"The one that just blows my mind is the $4 million hit in revenue sharing," says Wurzer. "Ladies and gentlemen, we knew about this last year. This was entirely predictable."

Tucker points out that since the revenue-sharing agreement was signed in 1983 to keep Charlottesville from annexing the county, Albemarle's contribution has grown over 1,000 percent. "It will flatten out after 2010," says Tucker.

Asked whether he foresees any renegotiation of the revenue-sharing agreement, he said, "No. No. The agreement is pretty much set."

In the city, O'Connell notes that 14 positions have been permanently eliminated. Those include seven from the controversial plan two years ago for Charlottesville to have its own ambulance and medics to supplement the volunteer Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad. The city has now determined that CARS has improved its response times, allowing the elimination of $300K in salaries from the nearly $1 million it budgeted in 2007 for staff and an ambulance.

Five intern positions also are eliminated– one in the city manager's office and four in neighborhood development– for a total savings of $33,440. However, in the budget's $2.17 million for City Council priorities, the Youth Internship Program is expanded and has a budget of $85,373.

"Two totally different things," says city budget director Leslie Beauregard. The Youth Internship is for at-risk kids, while the eliminated internships typically were held by college students.

There is one new position in the budget: an efficiency study recommends a $60,000 hire to track performance and efficiency, cost to be shared between the general fund and utilities fund. "It's the only place there's a new position," says O'Connell. "It wouldn't be there if the efficiency study didn't recommend it."

Another Council priority– the community dialogue on race– gets $50K.

"They're patting themselves on the back, but they've been using huge surpluses the past three years," says former city councilor Rob Schilling. "What they need to do is cut the budget by $5 million."

O'Connell defends the spending during fatter times. "We've been planning for several years," he says. "Part of the strategy was to do as many capital projects as we could during good times."

And now that the good times are over, "We can't really think about any new projects for the next several years," he says.

Bob Tucker notes that the county has been bracing for hard times for the past two years. Even so, it's nearly impossible to predict what's going to happen next. "It's a change game every month," he says.


says O’Connell: "Only two years ago, the city’s budget jumped 12 percent, thanks to ever-escalating property assessments."

That is EXACTLY the problem with Government. Just because property values climbed they decide to waste the money on pet projects instead of saving it for the inevitable rainy day. Who feels sorry for the car salesman who was selling 50 cars a month and went out and bought a Mc Mansion and now wants a bailout? Nobody. Imagine if that salesman had instead paid off his smaller house so that he had NO mortgage in this climate. The probelm with government is they think that the reason is always a "shortfall" of revenue instead of irresponsible fiscal poicy.

The City Council will discuss raising Real Property Taxes on March 19th, 7pm, in City Council Chambers, according to a print ad in the Daily Progress.

The county and city have been spending like drunken sailors for years. They have never met a tax they didn't want to raise. Not one - not a single one of these politicians gives a rat's ass about the voters and tax payers. And the county exec and city manager are - by far - the biggest offenders.

Time to fire the elected leaders and install responsive leaders who will get rid of both of those overpowered, overpaid overlords. Time to send a clear message that theft from the people in these jurisdictions who actually work for a living will not be tolerated.

Oh hell - who am I kidding? When was the last time an incumbent lost an election around here?

They aren't accountable because there's no need.

Yes Music Lover, the county and city have been spending like drunken sailors for years. Does anybody recall me for the last few years mentioning the numerous gas guzzling vehicles they were buying by the dozens and issuing out as "take home" vehicles to anybody and everybody? Just look around for all the red Suburbans, Tahoes, and Explorers in the fire departments alone. And the city fire department had nerve enough to actually buy a Ford Excursion on the taxpayer's dime, the largest SUV ever manufactured in the USA. The city and county had no concerns when they could reach in your pocket and take whatever they desired. If what James Huron said above comes to be, looks like they want to reach in the taxpayer's pocket and feel around a little deeper again as we enter the Great Depression of 2009.

Can someone explain to me why albemarle needs FIVE county attorneys? They have enough high paid staff to form their own law office! How many lawsuits is albemarle fighting????? And Mr.Tucker has the gaul to say police response may decline while he stuffed his payroll while the money was flowing like gravy. This guy is out of touch and the BOS love to back him up at our expense!

Since the police department still has one certain cop employed there, I imagine they have more than enough to keep five county attorneys quite busy.

So help me understand this. The article states that "The City has now determined that CARS has improved its response times". I've been miffed by this from day one and have seen the reports online. The response times are what they were for the 40 years I've been watching CARS do their work in this city. Just fine. The spotlight just got a little too hot for the Fire Chief and the City Manager. That's my thought anyway.

Here's another question. The article states that elimination of the city ambulance service freed up $300,000 of the original $1,000,000 allotment by eliminating salaries.

Will someone please tell me what happened to the other $700,000??

I do not understand why when there is an economic disaster
happening globally my real estate taxes are being raised.
Why not tighten the belt at the county building like most
of us have to do at home? What entitles the county to take more
money from us when most of us have less to give. Certainly
our real estate wealth is diminished, and people in construction
are not working as much, and there is a ripple through the local
economy as people learn to do with less at home. Why is the county
administration entitled to keep raising taxes at a time like this?
I do not have children in school, never have and never will, so
I don't ask much of the county. But while my taxes are being raised
there is still a bridge out in Advance Mills, been out for years.
Seems like things like bridges don't matter much, but keeping
5 lawyers on staff does. What's wrong with this picture?

"Only two years ago, the city’s budget jumped 12 percent, thanks to ever-escalating property assessments." They spent that and the extra $7.1M surplus, which nobody includes in the calculation of the cost of city government.
Being picky, how many readers are planning to participate in the city's "Dialogue on Race?"
And according to an article in the DP (, The chart outlined all 62 recommendations that were made in the review, 21 of which have fiscal implications. The most jarring one, which called for the closing of an elementary school, is still in need of more discussion. Superintendent Rosa S. Atkins said that at the upcoming community meetings about the efficiency review, ââ?¬Å?that’s the main one we will discuss.”
Is the superintendent trying to divert this year's public comment to an issue that is bound to fail (closing of an elementary school) so that the public will not comment on the other 20 recommendations with financial implications? Is this process the same old "politics as usual?"
About the $700,000 that Give Me (Yet Another) Break mentioned, is that still going towards purchasing a couple of ambulances and EMS billing software? Maybe Ric Barrick will provide and answer because O'Connell rarely ever does in a clear and concise manner.
"The city, too, is funding a rainy day kitty: $2.8 million for an Economic Downturn Fundââ?¬â?? without increasing the city’s 95-cent property tax rate." Is it still running either the Strategic Investment of Strategic Development slush funds? The city has been running multi-million dollar pots of money with various names intended for future spending for years and then spend the funds on whatever comes down the pike without considering whether the spending will actually make a significant difference in achieving the goals of its priorites. With the millions spent from the housing fund, where is the housing? What projects will this additional $1M go to or is this part of the pots of money for future unnamed spending? To what pot is the money being extorted from the developers for "affodable" housing and how is it to be spent? How much money is already in the pot and do we really need to add more?

Spending by the City government is a disgrace. Take a look at the absurd City Transit Center and all the buses that sit idle or run around town with 3 or 4 passengers. The men's room in the Transit Center has become a homeless center. Great going Maurice Cox! That's a great legacy for the rest of us to be suck with forever. And now it's all about affordable housing. That means that the few people who have any money left will pay for homes for people who have no money. Current city council is made up of people who have never had a real job -- they are all social services people living off taxpayer dollars.
Someone please come up with a plan to retrofit the new bus station into something else -- something good for the city and get its operation off the taxpayer's responsibility. In the meantime, layoff 3/4's of the Transit employees and shut down the routes.

that's smart. so that the people that depend on the city's transit service to get to work can have yet another obstacle to overcome in order to make ends meet. Why not cut back on landscaping expenses and beautification projects or raise traffic violation fines. I would hope ideas like these have long past through the minds of the big wigs in town...

Dude, employment would not be effected by curtailing bus service BECAUSE NO ONE RIDES THE BUS.

I'd be happy if traffic violations were actually enforced around here...but i guess the police are big violators, so how can they enforce the laws when they demonstrate how to violate them daily? I recently saw a county cop driving and typing on his laptop at the same time!!!

The Transit Center is an ugly (mutant pagoda/barn?)waste of Federal tax dollars, the bus system could be much more efficient, AND plenty of people depend on the bus to get to their jobs.
Kevin Cox

Big Dog, your ignorance is staggering. Regarding the Councilors and their careers: Dave Norris is the Exec Director of PACEM, a homeless shelter run on donations and assistance from participating churches. Holly Edwards is a nurse. Huja was the Director of Planning for the city of Charlottesville. David Brown is a chiropractor. Julian Taliaferro was the Fire Chief. All legitimate jobs/careers that also happen to benefit the community they live in.

I think the transit station is cool, better than most of the tired quasi-Jeffersonian crapitecture around Charlottesville. But different strokes for different folks, right? My understanding is that it wasn't funded by local tax dollars. Didn't it come out of federal funding that had to be spent on a transit station, and nothing else? Forgive me if I'm wrong about that.

Aren't court costs and fines capped by the State.