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City Council discusses priorities on capital spending

There may not be enough money to go around.

Charlottesville City Council held a virtual work session to discuss priorities and large capital expenditures on Friday. The discussion ranged from possible cuts or changes to the West Main Streetscape project, the city school reconfiguration project and several other upcoming big-ticket expenses.

The discussion was held to guide decision-making on the budget for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1, 2021.

The city is operating on a $191.2 million budget for fiscal 2021, which started July 1. The spending plan is largely in line with the fiscal 2020 budget as officials had to cut back on plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program, which sits at about $124.1 million, includes $25.8 million for the current fiscal year.

The West Main Streetscape project was a big point of discussion.

The project, which will cost $49.3 million, including $31.5 million in construction, will redesign West Main between Jefferson Park Avenue and Ridge-McIntire Road.

The proposal, which has been in development since 2013, has been criticized as dragging on for years and not being worth the cost. Councilor Heather Hill said it would improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists throughout the corridor.

The city has so far secured $27.8 million for the project. Of that, $7.3 million is from the state and $20.6 million comes from local sources. The city has applied for $10.3 million in additional state funding and $11.1 million has not yet been sought.

The work is divided into four sections. The first is from Ridge Street to Sixth Street Northwest at a total cost of $16.7 million, including $9.8 million in construction.

Phase two is from Sixth Street Northwest to 8th Street Northwest with an $11.1 million price tag, including $7.3 million in construction.

Phase three is from Eighth Street Northwest to Roosevelt Brown Boulevard. It will cost $10.4 million, of which $7.3 is for construction.

The final phase is between Roosevelt Brown and Jefferson Park Avenue. It would cost $9 million with $5.8 million of construction.

In September, the council supported a value engineering study that would examine the corridor and design to determine how to cut costs and the most efficient materials to install.

City Engineer Jack Dawson said the study is complete and preliminary estimates could cut $3 million in costs. However, he said “That seems to me to be a little bit of an aggressive estimation.”

The city is also in a tight space because of the nature of funding. If the project is abandoned or the scope is changed, officials will have to renegotiate commitments from the Virginia Department of Transportation. The University of Virginia has also pledged $5 million to the project, but the money is expected to go with later phases.

Officials told the council even if a full streetscape isn’t completed, some sort of work needs to occur on the road to address maintenance issues. Problems have been deferred over the years with the expectation they would be tackled during the streetscape work.

Hill saw “value in us taking these steps to improve this corridor” for pedestrian and cyclist traffic.

Dawson said conducting the bare minimum in work would not improve safety and funding and designing something between the minimum and full proposal would be “challenging.”

Hill supported at least sticking with the first two phases of the streetscape.

“If we just do the maintenance on that corridor, we’re not accomplishing any of the goals,” she said.

The council is seeking more information on the different possibilities for the project and how a revision could affect funding.

Councilor Michael Payne noted that cutting down the streetscape project wouldn’t provide funding for everything expected.

“Even if we’re saying no to West Main Street and yes to schools, we’re still going to have to look at cuts and reprioritizing,” he said.

The streetscape is one of several projects on the books or planned in the next few years. Councilor Sena Magill noted a draft affordable housing plan calling for an investment of $10 million a year.

“We have a lot of big price tag things and only a certain amount of revenue,” she said.

Hill discussed the planned upgrades to the Bypass Fire Station and how they could factor into spending decisions.

The station, located off the U.S. 250 Bypass at McIntire Park, was built in 1961. The council has earmarked $5.9 million to improve the station, which serves the Locust Grove, Greenbrier, Meadows, Barracks/Rugby, Rose Hill and Barracks Road neighborhoods. Construction is expected to start in early 2022.

Interim Fire Chief Emily Pelliccia said “everything about it is outdated.”

“We’re the only employees asked to live on premises,” she said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

Magill didn’t support changes to planned expenditures that may impact the project.

The council also held a lengthy discussion on the proposed reconfiguration project for the school division.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and work session on the plan on Jan. 12. Council work sessions are planned in the coming months, with the next planned for Dec. 10. An initial proposal is set to be presented on March 1 and adopted by April 13.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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