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City Council supports cuts that could give $626k to schools

Charlottesville City Council supports cutting about $826,000 from the city’s proposed budget in order to give more money to schools and boost a tax relief program.

The council held a work session on Thursday to discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1.

City Manager Tarron Richardson has proposed a $196.6 million budget for fiscal 2021, plus a $35.3 million Capital Improvement Program

He is also proposing $111 million in other dedicated funds, such as those for retirement, debt service, equipment replacement and facility repairs.

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

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

Last week, the council asked staff to try finding about $1 million in cuts.

City staff combed back through the budget and found $1.2 million in potential reductions and, after discussing each proposal, the council only supported about $826,000 of the proposed cuts. About $626,000 would go to the school division.

The biggest proposed reduction is a one-time cut of $400,000 to vehicle and equipment replacement funds. About a quarter of that money was for an extra bus for the school division that officials decided to push off for at least a year.

Staff also said that the council could allocate the entirety of its strategic initiatives fund, which is $361,000, to next year’s budget. The council, however, didn’t support that change.

The proposed reductions also include $100,000 each in reductions of the transfer from the parking and golf funds and a reduction of $94,681 in employee benefits. The benefits include items such as employee appreciation gifts and a parking program.

The proposal saves $90,645 in the contribution to the Emergency Communications Center based on updated budget estimates.

Another reduction could be the elimination of Unity Days funding to save $81,500, but the council didn’t support that proposal.

“Really, until we resolve the future of our downtown parks, I think it’s really important for the city to have something in place for doing things come August,” said city spokesman Brian Wheeler, who helps oversee and plan the program.

The smallest reductions are $25,000 to reflect part-time temporary positions in the Parks and Recreation Department that aren’t filled throughout the year. Mayor Nikuyah Walker, who works in the department, was advised by City Attorney John Blair not to discuss her thoughts on that portion of the proposal.

City staff also found $16,000 in savings in a miscalculation to retirement contributions for Former City Manager Mike Murphy, who resigned in December and remains on the payroll through Oct. 31.

The council discussed how to allocate the roughly $826,000 and settled on the school division and the Housing Affordability Program.

The council has been considering raising the income levels on the housing program, which provides real estate tax relief based on income levels for owners of a home valued at $375,000 or less.

The council is considering increasing the top income threshold from $55,000 to $60,000. The program allows varying levels of relief, giving full relief to those making $25,000 or less and the council is considering increasing that to $35,000.

The council asked for proposals for not adding a fourth tier that provides $2,000 in relief for those making between $35,000 and $45,000. The existing tiers provide $500, $750, $1,000 and full relief.

The change would cost about $389,000.

The council also asked for information on what could be done if only $200,000 was injected into the program.

The council then wants to give the roughly $626,000 remaining to the school division.

Later in the meeting, the council reviewed the new procedures the city uses to provide funds to nonprofits.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget and the proposed tax rates during its meeting on Monday. A second public hearing is scheduled for April 6, with final approval planned for April 14.

As of Thursday evening, no changes were planned for city meetings in relation to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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