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City Council to receive budget report Monday; large cuts expected

This story was updated Saturday after city staff posted a revised budget report. The report can be read here. Full coverage of the budget report will occur following the Monday City Council meeting.

Charlottesville likely will see deep cuts to its proposed budget due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The city has been tweaking its budget projections. Officials will brief the City Council during a virtual meeting Monday.

Before sweeping stay-at-home orders and the closure of many businesses, City Manager Tarron Richardson 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.

Local governments across the state have started revamping their budgets with large expected cuts — 5% in Richmond, 6% in Chesterfield County and 7% in Henrico County, for example. For Charlottesville, a 6% cut would amount to $11.76 million.

Saturday afternoon, staff posted a budget report that estimated a $5.4 million shortfall, a 2.7% reduction of the current budget that would essentially require keeping expenditures at 2020 levels and deferring the Capital Improvement Program.

The Daily Progress also obtained a copy of a projection for a $5 million shortfall that Councilor Lloyd Snook requested from city staff in late March through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

City staff created the proposal for Snook before Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home shuttered many businesses and brought the economy to a grinding halt.

Issues that plagued the budget process before the pandemic would be wiped away in the Snook proposal, including calls for more staffing at the fire department, increased funding for the school division and a staff compensation study. No increased funding now is proposed.

The School Board’s original funding request of $61.7 million was a $3.8 million jump over the fiscal 2020 allocation and higher than Richardson’s proposal of $59.4 million.

At the last budget work session before the pandemic, the council supported $626,000 in cuts to Richardson’s proposal to boost school funding.

The suggested cuts provided to Snook call for that extra money to be retained by the city.

One of the biggest items on the chopping block in the proposed budget report Saturday is a 2% cost-of-living increase, estimated to equate to about $1.04 million.

The report also proposes deferring the Capital Improvement Program for one year, which would give the city roughly $7 million to address unanticipated costs created by the pandemic.

The Snook proposal suggested reducing funding for city facilities and school division and city heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacements, as well as potential savings through canceling planned IT improvements. The proposal noted that hoped-for savings through staff attrition were unlikely, however, since people are now more likely to hold on to their jobs.

Other localities in Virginia, including Fredericksburg, Waynesboro and Staunton, have furloughed or laid off employees to cut costs amid the pandemic.

Charlottesville employees will keep getting paid through at least April 26 and it’s unclear if a revised staffing plan is being considered.

New timeline

As part of the report to council, city staff will recommend a new budget timeline.

The council will consider waiving a city code requirement that the budget be approved by April 15, and could establish June 30 as the new deadline.

The council also will consider establishing all tax rates, which will remain unchanged from last year, although real estate bills will increase as assessments rose this year.

In approving the tax rates, the council will consider moving the deadline to pay real estate, personal property and the machinery and tools tax from June 5 to June 19.

Public comment

Although the meeting will be held virtually, the council still will take public comment.

The first eight speakers for community matters will be selected through the usual lottery process, but speakers must register in advance. The remaining eight speakers will be selected during the meeting.

There’s no limit on speakers at the end of the meeting.

Anyone who wants to participate by phone must also register online to receive the dial-in number.

The meeting also will be streamed on the city’s website, Facebook, Twitter and Comcast channel 10. Viewers do not need to register in advance.

The council meets at 6:30 p.m. To register to participate in the meeting, visit charlottesville.org/zoom.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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