When the public was invited to tell the Charlottesville City Council what it thought of the proposed 2023 budget, it wasn’t the real estate tax rate or rising taxes but the city’s funding priorities that concerned citizens.
The city council has advertised a potential 10 cent real estate tax increase, but councilors have voiced wariness of raising taxes that much in light of raising real estate assessments. While individual taxes will vary, the average residential owner could see between a 10 and 12% increase, even if the tax rate remains the same, according to the city tax assessor’s office.
Earlier in the meeting held on Monday, Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers recommended the council raise the real estate tax by two cents, which would be put in a capital projects fund earmarked for the schools reconfiguration project.
City officials have said that a 10-cent real estate tax increase would likely be necessary to fund the $76 million project.
But some community members called for a real estate tax increases to fund city projects, citing the city’s low real estate tax rate in comparison to Albemarle County and other localities.
“Our community is undertaxed at the real estate tax rate,” said resident Chris Meyer. “I do think we should raise taxes in order to make those investments that we need to and so that we don’t have to live in suboptimal infrastructure.”
Elizabeth Stark, president of the Charlottesville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, suggested the city come up with creative solutions to counteract the effects of a tax increase on low income residents.
“I ask that the city use all levers in their power to generate income, though all tax options are regressive. An increase to the property tax coupled with tax relief for low wealth neighbors, and an increase to the lodging tax seems to be the best solution to me,” she said.
The city is looking at other options and has advertised a potential meals tax increase of 0.05%.
Others want the city council to reevaluate the police department budget, which is proposed to increase more than $1.3 million, despite calls from the community to decrease the law enforcement budget and put the funds toward mental health and risk reduction services. The police budget increase includes a 7.1% raise in salary expenditures.
“There’s no reason council should be considering or approving an increase in the police budget when vital areas [such as affordable housing] continuously suffer. [Ppolice] funding should not be a priority during any budget season, especially when police funding is unfortunately available and at state and federal levels,” said Ang Conn, a community activist.
Last year, community members and councilors, including current Mayor Lloyd Snook, were critical of a lack of transparency on the line item budget from the police department.
On Monday, resident and Charlottesville DSA member Brian Campbell cited Snook’s past criticism of the police budget.
“The police budget is, in Mayor Snook’s words, a black box,” Campbell said. “It’s clear that CPD suffers bloat and inefficiency. Council should scale police funding down to a level comparable to other nearby localities. Right now when there’s a high vacancy rate is the perfect time to do it. This is an easy way for the city to fund other priorities at no cost to the community.”
Some community members said the police department should have to submit a budget proposal that is as detailed as the school system budget proposal.
“I ask that you use your position to demand a detailed police budget. The city schools release a detailed budget every year that clearly states how and why funds are spent and they have metrics that measure efficacy. The police budget is a single spreadsheet with vague and duplicative listings,” said Stark.
Community members also called for increased funding for affordable housing and programs from the Public Housing Association of Residents and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
City Council will continue to discuss the tax rate and budget at its upcoming budget work sessions. The next one will be held March 31. There will be a community budget forum Wednesday night at 6 p.m., where community members can ask city staff and councilors questions about the proposed budget.