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Albemarle budget could shrink by $60M in fiscal '21

Albemarle County’s fiscal 2021 budget could be smaller than the county’s current spending plan by almost $60 million, thanks to revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19.

Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson proposed a new balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, which is about $59.7 million smaller than the current-year budget, and almost $54 million shy of the plan he proposed in February. The plan proposed by Richardson in February was 1.3% smaller than the current year’s budget. The new plan freezes hiring, nixes staff raises and does not fund a plan to raise the county’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

A large portion of the decrease is in the capital budget, which could plunge by about $30.8 million from the February proposal through the recommended deferment of several projects, such as the construction of an addition at Crozet Elementary School.

“…We’re going to devote some time next [April 29], to make sure that the board has adequate time to learn and understand projects that are being delayed or paused, and the projects that have been recommended to move forward with and why at this time,” Richardson said.

The revised proposal projects $397.3 million in revenue and expenditures for capital and operational costs. The current year’s adopted capital and operations budget is $457 million, according to county documents, while the initial proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 was about $451 million.

Earlier this month, the board approved keeping the real estate tax rate at 85.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

In the general fund, which supports county operations and represents the majority of the county’s revenue and expenditures, revenue is expected to decrease by $6.4 million, or 2.1%, compared with the current year’s budget, and down 7.2% from the prior fiscal year 2021 revenue projections.

Funding for equipment, furniture and fleet replacement is proposed to be reduced by $1.2 million.

Approximately 15 staff positions are frozen in the current budget year, and Richardson said they are looking to freeze 20 additional positions in fiscal year 2021.

Richardson said the revisions affect employees more than they do citizens.

“We will not see as much of a drastic drop in program services for our citizens by implementing this strategy going into the fall,” he said. “It will be difficult for employees, it will be difficult for our managers to be able to work with less resources than we’ve had in the past, but we know that … as we go into the fall, we will be monitoring revenues, monitoring expenses, and we know that we’re going to be revisiting the strategy with this board, certainly, by the following year.”

A plan to lease space at Albemarle Square shopping center for the Department of Voter Registration and Elections to meet in-person early voting needs will now be moved back to existing space at the 5th Street County Office Building, which is estimated to save $610,000 in capital expense and eliminate $225,000 in annual operating costs.

Richardson said about 140 employees in the Department of Social Services, which is housed in the 5th Street COB, have been working from home during the pandemic, and that it has challenged the county to question its work practices as it relates to the space, parking and how employees get work done.

“With recent events that have occurred in the experience that we now have under our belts, with our staff being able to work from home, turn on a dime and adapt to the situation that we’ve had, we have revisited this and we confidently come to the board today and tell the board that we will take the Voter Registration and the functions associated with it,” he said.

The revised proposed budget includes 12 new fire-rescue positions to allow for 24/7 staffing of Advanced Life Support ambulances at the Pantops and Ivy stations, and now includes 10 positions to provide daytime staff at Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and Pantops Public Safety station.

In the initial proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, staff proposed a system-wide reallocation of existing personnel, in which supplemental weekday, day-shift staff currently located at Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company and East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company would be redeployed to Crozet and Pantops, but that was met with concern from residents.

Richardson said the county is applying for a federal grant from FEMA for about $1.2 million to assist with the funding of the 10 positions.

“In the event that we are not successful, and we should learn by late summer, early fall, we do have a contingency plan,” Richardson said. “That would be at this point in time, to step back and to scale down the position authorization, probably to six positions that were originally contemplated to fill the Crozet needs, and we would do that in tandem with the position freezes that we have across the county.”

The revised proposed budget keeps the recommended funding of $3 million for local non-profits and agencies and a health worker position to serve a clinical space at the Yancey Community Center. An additional $20,000 in emergency utility assistance is also recommended.

The Board of Supervisors has scheduled several budget work sessions, a public hearing and other meetings for the coming weeks.

The first budget work session is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday over livestream, and a public hearing is scheduled for May 6. A second work session is scheduled for May 11, if needed.

The board is scheduled to adopt a budget on May 14.

More information on the revised budget can be found at albemarle.org/budget.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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