Signs of spring? New execs offer slight optimism in budgets

For the past couple of years, Charlottesville and Albemarle have faced grim downturns in revenue compared to the high-flying days of the real estate boom and ensuing high tax revenues that filled municipal coffers. This year's draft budgets from the new leaders, Tom Foley in Albemarle County and Maurice Jones in Charlottesville, hint that things could be starting to turn around. A little anyway.

Albemarle was particularly hard hit during the Great Recession. Last year, the fiscal year 2010/2011 budget had then-county manager Bob Tucker chopping $40 million–- 12 percent–- from what had been in the budget the previous year.

"We're living with the constraints of the past few years," says Foley. He acknowledges that some service reductions, such as community policing, likely aren't coming back soon. And county pet projects like Acquisition of Conservation Easements have zero funding in this budget.

Both men probably are glad they didn't have to make the brutal decisions their predecessors did. But instead of focusing on the losses, Foley stresses a more upbeat "transformation" of how county government does business.

"This budget moves beyond reaction to the downturn," he says.

At just $17,000 more than last year, the county operations portion of the budget is pretty much flat. Overall, the $301,078,469 budget for FY 2011/2012 is up $8.8 million for capital projects and seems to be about living with reduced expectations. "Stabilization is kind of the buzz word," says Foley.

Good news for taxpayers is that, with their property values falling another 1.25 percent, the existing tax rate of 74.2 cents/per $100 means most property owners will see a slight decrease in their tax bill.

While 61 county staff positions have been permanently eliminated over the past two years, says Foley, this year, he does want to hire two new police officers and a deputy director for social services, a department that's been hard hit with the economic woes. And for employees who haven't see a raise in three years, Foley seeks a 1 percent raise.

Things are a little more flush over at City Hall in Charlottesville, where Jones is seeking a 2 percent raise for employees who have seen a pair of year-end bonuses but whose actual salaries haven't risen in two years.

"It was not as arduous as we feared," says Jones of his first budget as city manager. The Fiscal Year 2011-2012 proposed $142,938,401 budget is 1.55 percent more than last year, with the increase largely heading to schools.

The city also keeps its property tax rate–- 95 cents per $100–- the same, which means 71 percent of homeowning citizens will pay no more in taxes, says Jones.

Meal and lodging taxes, sales tax, and business/professional license taxes exceeded expectations in the city, but the real money train may be new construction, with the city projecting an upturn on that in 2012. There's a Whole Foods opening soon on Hydraulic Road, and with the soon-to-be former Martha Jefferson Hospital site to join the tax rolls, "cautiously optimistic" are the buzz words around City Hall.

Capital expenditures have been gutted over the past few years in both the city and county, but both entities have new fire stations in the works. In Charlottesville, the Fontaine Avenue fire station has over $8 million set aside for it, as well as $3 million to improve treacherous parts of Old Lynchburg Road.

The county's new Ivy Fire and Rescue station on Ivy Road and an expansion of Greer Elementary both got the go ahead after last year's anticipated five-year building freeze.

Foley reminds that two new parks–- Byrom and Preddy Creek–- will open this year. County swimming holes suffered seriously shortened hours last year and even closed before Labor Day to save $6,000. They may get to open an hour longer this summer, he says.

For the first time ever, the revenue-sharing check that Albemarle cuts to Charlottesville for not annexing–- a deal inked shortly before the General Assembly outlawed annexation–- went down $365K to $18.1 million, and is expected to go down again next year, reflecting Albemarle's reduced home values.

For both locales, schools are the big ticket items in the budgets, and both continue to lose funding from Richmond. City schools expect to get $1.25 million less from the state, and Albemarle's $145 million budget for schools currently has a $3.8 million gap in state funding.

The county holds work sessions throughout this month with a March 30 public hearing scheduled, and the Board of Supervisors will adopt a budget April 6.

City Council holds its first public hearing March 21, and will adopt a budget April 12.







Brace yourself. Here come the 500 politically charged comments and long winded dissertations from Charlottesville's 45-65 year old crowd who all have OPINIONS! and feel that they need to be heard. Loudly, and repeatedly. (in between getting their car vanity plated.)

Predictable. Boring. Next!

Two new police officers? What's this guy's problem? There are plenty of cops in Albemarle as far as I can tell, just look around and watch them eating their donuts in parking lots and pulling over drivers for stupid violations!

Why not put money where it can be better used? Recycling could use some help in Albemarle...

hahaha, you sound like you don't live in albemarle. Many people employ single stream recycling. It's all the rage, in fact. You should look into it.

We're fortunate to live where we live, in terms of how our governments have fared in the downturn. The experiences of localities all over the country are far, far worse than what has transpired in Charbemarle.

Mr. Jones's first test will be- to see how he fairs in the cost share agreement with the county. If they outsmart him on this, we will know that he is still under the thumb of Gary O'Connell, and that hiring him was a major mistake for this Council.

The dam plan shouldn't cost the City a dime and with all the assets the City is giving up we should see tens of millions in compensation for the lost land at Ragged Mt. and the dam that will be destroyed.

If we don't see a cost share to dredge the city owned South Fork Reservoir, agreed to before giving away the land for the dam, we will know for sure he has failed the Council, the Citizens and future generations who will foot the bill for a huge waste of City dollars and City assets and cost those who can afford it the least the most.

How dare you impugn the "cult of personality", a.k.a. Saint Maurice. Please remember, he's a really nice guy!

My guess is the County is ecstatic the City hired him and they know they can manipulate him just like they did O'Connell, who now works for them.

Watch the County find a way to get the City to pay for their growth and keep their taxes low. The revenue sharing agreement complaints from county officials are a ruse to hide the real burden of rising utility rates that will allow the county to keep developers smiling.

Don't believe what they are telling you - taxes are going up ( utility rates a clever way to avoid saying tax) , but not for the landed gentry, who will not be paying for the increase of utility taxes, and you wouldn't see that in the budget of either the City or the County. It's strictly a tax on all you poor and middle class folks who can't afford a "farm estate."

From now on that tax is going to pack a wallop; $ 400 million in debt and spending- planned by our esteemed Mr. Thomas Frederick, director of the RWSA in water and sewer infrastructure upgrades.

And you think the tax rate ain't a changin --you ain't seen nothing yet if you are a water or sewer ratepayer in the city and the county.

In 2010, land use cost the county $17.4 million, and those aren't the people paying for all these new water and sewer upgrades.

Someone explain to me the City Manager's job. I watched the Council meeting where 3 councilors voted against the well thought out water plan supported by Mayor Norris and Holly Edwards that would have cost water ratepayers far less money and saved tens of thousands of trees on City owned land at Ragged Mt. , and the City Manager never said a word.

The three councilors appeared to be shooting in the dark and didn't indicate that they had a clue what they were talking about, given this was such an important decision. ( People should listen to that meeting it was horrifying their lack of knowledge about basic business contracts). This was the meeting on Feb 23rd:

and then at the next meeting they made another very costly decision for the City and gave up the perfectly good dam we had, because the county wouldn't compromise and would only approve the more costly new dam. Why didn't Mr. Jones say something and help them understand that this would mean higher utility rates and more environmental damage on City owned land, at least he could have clued them in.

Shouldn't the City Manager who sits on the water board direct them to protect City Assets and make the most prudent financial decision for City residents ? I didn't see that happen and am confused .

Now our utility rates will be higher as a result of a far more expensive plan and why did they vote before they know the cost. Shouldn't the City Manager have stepped in and told them that was foolish. Isn't he the one looking out for City finances ?

What a bunch of hooey. Thankfully there are more responsible minds at work in the city council than the henny-penny prophets of doom expounding their conspiracy theories on this message board.

Here are the facts, people: Water will become a more and more precious commodity and a plan to ensure an abundant supply of water is paramount.

It's more important than the few acres of trees that MAY have been saved by utilizing the less profligate plans promoted by the losing side. It's also more important than the resentment many city resident seem to have for Albemarle County.

The city councilers that voted in the majority DID provide their reasoning and their reasoning is quite sound. Their motivation is the responsible stewardship of the areas water supply.

Some people just don't like to be on the losing side of an issue. Instead of accepting that there is room for reasonable difference of opinion, they ascribe the worst possible motivations and intellectual capacity to those that have an honest difference of opinion.

Frankly, these people are behaving like children.

The decisions have been made and it's time to move forward and accomplish the goal of providing an abundant supply of water to the local populace for many decades into the future.

"What a bunch of hooey" sounds like "meanwhile "is a member of the landed gentry living somewhere in rural western Albemarle that kidnapped the Charlottesville water plan for their benefit.

The plan supported by Mayor Norris and Ms. Edwards did supply an abundant water supply at a far lower cost and less environmental damage and is still the best plan for the community.

Mr. Jones, if he cared about the City would have done more to see that the other councilors understood that. They got lazy and let the county roll them this time. Now we'll see who pays for this plan.

Ann, Jones wasn't hired because he knows anything about doing the job. I thinkhe was hired specifically because he lacks all of those qualities that you and I think he should have.

OK, serious question (not snark), so someone please enlighten me: Ragged Mountain Reservoir is not within the city limits; it's in Albemarle County. Why should the city be compensated for the loss of this land? Also, I seem to recall that the original approved 50-year water supply plan included replacement park land.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I also don't get "the city-owned South Fork Reservoir." Sure, the city bought the land (for a whopping $5,000!). But ratepayers in the county certainly contributed to the construction of the dam and the maintenance of the reservoir over the past 50 years. At any rate, the reservoir is owned by the RWSA, as are the other three.

According to the 1973 "Four party agreement" written when RWSA was formed, RWSA bought certain facilities and leased others. The reservoirs owned by the city (Ragged Mountain, South Fork and Sugar Hollow) remained city-owned assets. Likewise, Beaver Creek and Totier Creek remained in the hands of the county. RWSA bought the water treatment plants and some other infrastructure as spelled out in the exhibits in the agreement found here:
Note while RWSA did not buy the dams or reservoirs they DO have the obligation to maintain them.

Furthermore, the 2003 cost share agreement between the city and county spells out how much of the actual water storage each has paid for. It comes to 65% city, 35% county. That can be found here:

Just as the County Office Building and Burley Middle School are county assets in the city, RMR, SFRR, and SHR are city assets in the county. Hope that helps.

'sounds like "meanwhile "is a member of the landed gentry living somewhere in rural western Albemarle that kidnapped the Charlottesville water plan for their benefit.'

Sounds like once again people are unable to deal with the fact that they are on the losing side of an issue and must therefore ascribe some untrue motivation to those that are on the other side.

Nothing that city resident said about me is true. What is interesting is that the gist of my comment is ignored. Instead, City resident choose to cling to a deluded belief of my identity in order to discount the message contained.

Frankly, these people are like deluded children. It is a good thing that the city council has 3 responsible adults to make these decisions.

Everyone in the city is on the losing side of the issue, that's why so many of us are angry at the foolish city councilors who lost the issue by giving in to a really stupid water plan.

When was the last time anyone saw a cop riding in his or her patrol car NOT talking on a cell phone? I thought they were supposed to be looking around and paying attention.

How do you become "landed gentry"? Do you actually have to buy the land ? You know with money? Or do you just get it for free, you know like section 8 housing? If someone has purchased the land are the really "landed" gentry.. or perhaps someone who invested their money instead of buying everything newfangled gadget in sight?

There has not been a "land grant" in Virginia since before the Revolutionary War. (unless you count the siezure FROM the landed gentry in Virginia when the created WEST Virginia during the civil war....) and I would imagine that anyone still living on land grant farms has worked it for at least a couple of hundred years. Seems to me they pobably had to borrow against it numerous times by now to keep it going.

just sayin....

Hey, check this out. Saint Maurice almost makes as much per year as Hillary Clinton:

Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton
Annual Base Salary: $186,600
Maximum Job Length: Generally 8 Years
Previous Job: Senator From New York

Job Description: The Secretary of State is appointed by the president to serve as chief diplomatic representative of the U.S. Besides overseeing all State Department operations, including the operations of the U.S. embassies and representation in the UN, Secretary of State Clinton is responsible for the foreign operations of the CIA, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Clinton is also fourth in the chain of succession for presidency.

@meanwhile, all of your comments are purely opinion. You should have realized by now that just saying something doesn't make it true or believable. You speak of this issue in terms of "winners" and "losers>" Obviously this issue to you is not important, it's a game and you sided with your friends simply because they are your friends. How childish when someone is talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe I told you before you are a fool.

The pensions for County and City workers aren't funded by the County or City (to my understanding) and apparently the State isn't funding it either. This problem isn't reflected in the City and County flat budgets. Wait till the State throws all this back on the localities down the road.

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