The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has approved a budget that will start July 1, but there is still no resolution on funding for athletic field improvements.
The adopted fiscal year budget 2023 projects $586.3 million in revenue and expenditures for capital and operational costs, an approximately 3.75% increase from what County Executive Jeff Richardson had proposed in February.
The increase is due to changes primarily in the school division’s budget, Andy Bowman, the county’s chief of budget, said. Those changes include American Rescue Plan Act money and a potential funding plan should expected specific state funds be approved.
The board had discussed some changes at a work session last week, including using American Rescue Plan Act reserve money to add $698,410 to the county’s housing fund and $1 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia for a new facility near Jack Jouett Middle School.
The county’s real estate tax rate remains at 85.4 cents per $100 of assessed value for the next year. The latest reassessment of county real estate represented an average increase of 8.4%.
Though the real estate tax rate is not set to increase, average growth in property values means that some homeowners will see higher tax bills next year. Because of increased property values, the effective real estate tax rate — the rate that would levy the same amount of revenue as last year — would be 78.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The board unanimously approved increases to the transient occupancy tax charged to hotel guests from 5% to 8% and to the food and beverage taxes, known as meals taxes, raising the rate from 4% to 6%. Those taxes will increase starting July 1.
Supervisors also unanimously approved an 86-cent decrease to the personal property tax rate, which covers vehicles as well as business personal property, machinery and tools. The new rate would be $3.42 for each $100 of assessed value.
“That change is due to the unique situation we’re in with the supply chain and used car prices,” Bowman said, noting that the value of used cars has skyrocketed as supply chain issues made new cars hard to come by.
There was also unanimous approval from the board for a 5-cent disposable plastic bag tax, which will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Although they agreed on much of the new budget, supervisors could still not come together on funding for athletic field improvements.
Last week, the board members were split on what kind of field changes to make at the Darden Towe Park. Four synthetic turf fields and lighting had been included in prior county budgets, but were removed in late 2019 after concerns with procurement. They were never put back in after budget adjustments due to the pandemic.
The proposed fiscal 2023 budget did not have funding for the Darden Towe fields but did originally include funding for grass fields at the upcoming Biscuit Run Park. That funding was moved last week to a reserve in the county’s capital improvement plan for future use on items arising from the county’s Strategic Plan and Comprehensive Plan.
On Wednesday, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek proposed an amendment to the budget that staff had offered when some board members asked about still improving the grass fields. Staff said a possibility could pull $20,000 from the board’s strategic reserve to hire a consultant to make recommendations on Darden Towe field maintenance and work to improve the quality of the fields.
That motion died in a 3-3 tie, with Supervisors Diantha McKeel, Ned Gallaway and Chair Donna Price voting against the motion and Supervisors Bea LaPisto-Kirtley, Jim Andrews and Mallek voting in favor.
“A natural grass athletic field that is overused does not provide a healthy ecosystem, nor does it meet our community’s functional requirement for recreation and athletic use,” McKeel said. “And a mud hole is not an environmental success, nor is asking people to play in goose poop an environmental success.”
LaPisto-Kirtley said the issue now is whether to improve the current fields.
“Do we abandon our children and let them play on fields that aren’t up to what they should be?” she asked. “Or do we spend some money and look at the fields and how we can improve [them]?”
Gallaway said while this could improve the quality of fields at Darden Towe, there were other solutions that could fix the entire system of fields around the county.
“I think that’s what our taxpayers deserve, and that’s where I stand on it,” he said. “But I won’t be supporting throwing money at something that I think is a look good effort that won’t get at resolving the issue.”