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City Council doesn't support tax rate increase, wants to give more to schools

Charlottesville City Council realizes there’s just not enough money to go around, but the panel wants to find a little more for the school division — it’s just not clear from where.

Councilors also made clear that they have no intention of raising the real estate tax rate.

The council got into the weeds on the city’s budget during a work session on Thursday night.

City Manager Tarron Richardson has proposed a $196.6 million budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1, plus a $35.3 million Capital Improvement Program and $111 million in other dedicated funds.

The spending plan is a $7.7 million, or 4.11%, increase over the fiscal 2020 budget.

The school division is requesting about $61.3 million, but Richardson’s budget proposes $59.4 million.

The council asked staff to try to find $1 million in cuts that could be allocated to the school division.

As part of Thursday’s work session, councilors decided they did not want to raise the real estate tax rate to cover more requested expenses.

Earlier this month, the city advertised a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate that would bring the levy to 97 cents per $100 of assessed value. Richardson’s proposal calls for the rate to remain the same.

Although the rate hasn’t been raised since 1981, tax bills have continued to rise with ballooning property values. Under the 2019 reassessment, property values increased an average of 7.2%.

Employees are slated to receive a 2% cost-of-living increase, which will cost about $1.04 million. Councilors didn’t favor cutting the pay raise.

Because tax rates won’t rise, the city will have to find cuts in other places to give even a portion of the extra $1.8 million requested by the school division.

“If we are not going to raise taxes, then every plus requires a negative at this point,” said Krisy Hammil, a senior budget and management analyst.

Richardson and city staff weren’t optimistic that many costs could be cut because departments were asked to submit only essential requests, therefore most of the revenue changes are minor over the prior year.

“I just don’t know where else to cut,” Richardson said. “With this budget, a lot of things are very tight in terms of looking at our overall revenues and our expenditures.”

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said it doesn’t seem like many more cuts are possible and said it wasn’t fair to cut some departments more than others.

“There’s nothing left. The schools have cut. The departments have cut,” she said.

Councilor Sena Magill also wasn’t optimistic.

“I don’t see any fat in this budget,” she said.

The council will hold another work session at 5 p.m. March 12 at CitySpace.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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