Albemarle County officials will meet this week to discuss capital projects for the area.
Due to the pandemic, some of Albemarle’s capital projects planned for this year were paused or delayed. On Tuesday, the Capital Improvement Plan Advisory Committee will virtually hold its first meeting this year, where members will discuss which of those projects to fund in the short-term.
Ultimately the committee, which is made up of two county supervisors, two School Board members, one Planning Commissioner and one community member, will make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for projects to advance this fiscal year and to the county executive for consideration as he prepares the proposed budget for next fiscal year.
In a work session last week, most supervisors mentioned broadband expansion as a priority, though it was not on a draft list of priorities they were given.
“If we do not expand it now, we will leave our residents and those businesses and educational systems that rely upon that behind,” Supervisor Donna Price said.
County Executive Jeff Richardson said county staff would work on a broadband access proposal that he would bring back to the board in December or early January that would look at both rural and urban access and affordability.
“Then once we bring that back for the board’s consideration, we’ll know a little bit more about where we stand going into the budget process, and we may be able, with that proposal, to scale it in a way … that we’re able to get a little bit more specific about how that money would be used.” Richardson said.
County staff’s draft capital project prioritization list was based on how the projects related to the board’s strategic priorities, their cost, the ability to execute the project and operational impact.
At the top of the draft list was the first phase of Biscuit Run Park, followed by greenways/blueways, construction funding for Crozet Elementary, economic development funding for public-private partnerships and transportation funding.
During a work session with both boards in October, county staff said they were not planning on having a tax rate increase in 2021 to support either the operating or capital budget, and they reiterated that stance last week.
“We are preparing to not have this dedicated tax rate increase for capital … So that’s changing what we can afford and it’s changing our ability to be able to actually complete all [planned projects],” Albemarle’s Chief Financial Officer Nelsie Birch told the board during a work session last week.
Most board members said they were supportive of park projects, as county parks have seen an increase in use during the pandemic, as well as school expansion projects.
Chairman Ned Gallaway said many people are getting out and walking in general, and that he’s heard more from constituents about sidewalks along East Rio Road.
“It’s simply because more people are out and they’re walking around their neighborhood and trying to walk the network down to the trail to the [John] Warner Parkway, and being that there are no sidewalks completely down that corridor is problematic,” he said. “As we think about providing the places like the parks, we also have to think not just about car rides and all of that but also the sidewalks play into that importantly.”
In October, Supervisor Diantha McKeel said she was going to be “looking at the CIP through an equity lens” and last week, she emphasized that that was still important to her.
“When I look at the projects, and look at the reality, as we’ve been moving through the pandemic, we have people in our community that have been impacted differently,” she said. “I think we all recognize that there are a lot of people that are doing really just fine, and there are a lot of people that are not. Where I’m going with this is I’m trying to look at through an equity lens, the people that have been hurt the most, and how our projects moving forward are going to support those people, those individuals and those marginalized communities.”
Andy Bowman said the budget office is working with the county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion on to do a full equity analysis of the CIP, which would be similar to how the board considers its strategic plan and the long-range financial plan when adding projects, but that work will not happen in time for this coming year’s budget.
McKeel said that once the data is available, she hopes that the board would approach this with some flexibility, and that “the CIP changes and can change as we needed to.”
“I’m not saying that I don’t agree, a year ago, or two years ago with this, but we’re living in a little bit of a different reality right now,” she said.
The CIP Advisory Committee is scheduled to hold a second meeting on Dec. 3.