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Albemarle County approves $642M budget, tax hikes

A handful of people were in attendance Wednesday afternoon when the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a $642 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The adopted budget puts an emphasis on public safety, with investments in firefighters, ambulance services and police.

Among the highlights:

An additional $13 million for the county school system, which will help fund construction costs for three new schools over the next five years.An expansion of the Human Services Alternative Response Team, or HART, a program that started last year which uses a police officer, social worker and emergency medical technician to respond to people undergoing mental health crises.Hiring an additional police officer and a sheriff’s deputy.Increased money for the fire rescue system, which will compensate for the funding shortfall created by expiring federal grants.And continued funding for MicroCAT, an on-demand ride-hailing program that serves people on Pantops and along U.S. 29 in the county.

The board chose not to fully fund an emergency relief program that helps people on the verge of eviction, shorting it $40,000 over the protests of Supervisor Mike Pruitt, who had spent many weeks trying to convince his colleagues to fulfill the entire $300,000 request made by the department of social services. With the board’s decision to spend $260,000 instead, there will be less money in the program, meaning fewer people who can be assisted if they find themselves on the verge of homelessness.

Despite being a wealthy county, Albemarle has a higher eviction rate than the city of Charlottesville. In February, there were 134 evictions in the county.

Pruitt, who represents the Scottsville District, said fully funding the eviction program was a “really easy decision” and expressed disappointment that the budget did not provide all the money requested.

As other supervisors pointed out, the program was one of several funding requests that were not met. Supervisor Diantha McKeel said there may be opportunities throughout the year to find ways to meet those requests.

“I think there are six or eight pages of unfunded actions that were not really a wish list, but there are some very important needs on those pages,” McKeel, who represents the Jack Jouett District, said during the meeting.

The budget includes two tax hikes.

The transient occupancy tax, which is paid on temporary lodging such as hotels, was raised from 8% to 9%. The new rate will be instituted on July 1.

But most of the focus at Wednesday’s meeting was on the personal property tax, which is largely a tax on vehicle ownership. On Jan. 1, the rate will increase from $3.42 per $100 valuation to $3.96.

Only one person spoke about the budget during public comment on Wednesday, and he expressed concern about the increased personal property tax. He asked the board to reconsider the hike, saying that because he lives on a fixed income, he wouldn’t be able to afford the increased taxes on his vehicle. He had been told by county staff that he could see a significant increase on his tax payments and presented figures that appeared to concern supervisors.

After public comment, supervisors Ann Mallek and Ned Gallaway both asked county staff to follow up with the speaker and asked for clarification on how vehicles would be taxed.

Gallaway represents the Rio District and has several years of experience in the auto retail business. He said that, although he has experience with car assessments and the car tax, the figures presented confused him.

“Looking at this list of vehicles, I don’t understand. And I’m not just saying that because I’m clueless. I’m somewhat informed on this, and I still don’t understand,” Gallaway said.

Staff responded that the tax could be hard to gauge because vehicle assessments can vary significantly from one year to the next and a person’s tax payments depend on the type and number of vehicles they own.

While the tax is being hiked, the increase won’t be as hard on taxpayers if the average value of vehicles falls year over year. Additionally, vehicles assessed at $20,000 or less are eligible for tax relief.

The tax increase will naturally bring in increased revenue, allowing the county to spend on services that Gallaway called critical and important. He said that he previously wasn’t ready to support the personal property tax increase but changed his mind after determining that the county needed to fill more public safety positions.

“Even to the gentleman that spoke today, I’d be saying, ‘This is the reason it’s important to do this.’ And I do believe that,” Gallaway said.

While almost no members of the public were in the room when the budget was adopted, board members held town halls throughout March and April to get community feedback. More than 130 people attended those sessions.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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