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Charlottesville City Council taking FY 2023 budget to a vote

Charlottesville City Council will make a decision on how millions of dollars will be used for the city during a special meeting Tuesday when they vote whether to approve the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

The city has held budget specific work sessions, forums and public hearings in addition to regular City Council meetings since January. In these meetings, councilors and city staff have discussed budget priorities and various amendments to the original budget plan.

On Tuesday, councilors will consider several factors prior to voting to approve a budget, some of which have changed since the original budget presentation.

While City Council initially advertised in February that it could raise the real estate tax rate by up to 10 cents per $100 of assessed value, the tide seems to be moving to a much lower increase of one cent per $100 of assessed value. This is, in part, because of an anticipated $12 million surplus from the current fiscal year.

“We typically have not tried to factor into our thinking a surplus that we expect in the fiscal year that we’re presently in,” Mayor Lloyd Snook said at a recent meeting. “That surplus is typically not fully known.”

The proposed city budget is more than $216.17 million, a 12.46% increase from the current fiscal year.

City departments submitted a total of $94.4 million in base budget requests for the next fiscal year, 7.4% more than fiscal year 2022’s adopted departmental budgets. Unlike past years, there were no restrictions on department budget submission this budget cycle.

In addition to the base budgets, departments submitted $10.7 million in new requests and $1.05 million was added to the proposal to fund seven new full-time positions to help fill needs in key areas including Neighborhood Development Services, Human Resources and Public Works.

The police department budget is proposed to increase more than $1.3 million and includes a 7.1% raise in salary expenditures.

Councilors have been less than enthusiastic about raising the real estate tax rate due to rising real estate assessments in the city at an average of 11.69%. However, a 10-cent increase was originally thought to be one of the only ways to fund the renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School, a project known as reconfiguration. Recent funding scenarios the city is considering could allow the city to fund the project without the 10-cent increase.

Snook continues to oppose any increase in the real estate tax rate at all because of the rising assessments. However, the other four councilors have voiced support for a one-cent increase that would allow the city to build a funding pool for future projects, including schools projects.

At a work session Thursday, there was general agreement among councilors to put $250,000 towards the real estate tax relief fund to counteract any negative effects the increase could have on low-income families, and to put funds raised by the increase into the capital improvement program.

Councilors have voiced general support for a 0.05% meals tax rate increase, with most councilors, except Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade, wanting to keep the personal property tax rate the same.

Schools reconfiguration has been at the center of city budget discussions and debate this year. The renovation would bring 57-year-old Buford Middle School up to modern standards and better support students with more natural lighting in classrooms, more spaces to collaborate and a more secure campus.

Buford’s renovation is the first phase of a multi-pronged reconfiguration project for the school system that’s been in the works since 2009. In the project, the upper elementary school would be eliminated, sixth-graders would join seventh and eighth grades at Buford and fifth-graders would go back to their elementary schools for one more year.

Interim City Manager Michael C. Roberts recommended delaying the reconfiguration project but councilors are looking for ways to get the project completed, even if it is scaled back.

The $76 million price tag has been controversial. Councilors seem to be moving toward support of a $68.8 million model of the project that would be funded over the next several years through the city’s capital improvement program and bonds.

The proposed budget fully funds Charlottesville City Schools’ $62,925,964 funding request, which is a 6.7% increase from the current year. The proposed capital improvement program budget includes additional funds for reconfiguration.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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