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Council sets budget priorities, including organizational stability, affordable housing

Charlottesville’s City Council has come to a consensus on priorities for its upcoming budget.

Councilors discussed the spending plan for fiscal 2022 during a virtual meeting Thursday.

The city is operating on a $191.2 million budget for fiscal 2021, which started July 1. The spending plan is largely in line with the fiscal 2020 budget as officials had to cut back on plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The council came to a consensus that it wants to focus on organizational stability, affordable housing and economic development and recovery as the pandemic continues.

Councilor Lloyd Snook advocated for a $5 million reserve to anticipate the impact of the virus on revenue streams. Councilor Michael Payne mentioned guaranteed counsel in eviction cases while Councilor Sena Magill focused on economic recovery, but touched on the “climate disaster” and equity initiatives.

The council acknowledged it would discuss school funding at future meetings. Particularly, the panel focused on a non-binding council guideline to automatically contribute 40% of new real estate and personal property tax revenues to the school division. The earliest mention of the arrangement in available documents is from a 1990 City Council meeting.

The formula was a point of contention in budget discussions before the current year’s spending plan was derailed by the pandemic.

The council is considering whether it should earmark the additional property tax revenues for the school division’s reconfiguration project, stockpiling money to cut down on debt required in the future.

The city is also planning to avoid funding new programs or expanding existing services without being able to fully offset the cost through reductions in expenditures elsewhere.

The work session also briefly touched on the city’s funding for nonprofits.

The city has been revising the process it uses to contribute to nonprofits, formerly called the Agency Budget Review Team, since 2018. Last year, applications were scored through a funding matrix focusing on the services provided and the quality of applications.

So far, 53 applications for funding have been received. Human Services Director Kaki Dimock said some have been for more money than the current year and many nonprofits have changed their service model because of the pandemic.

COVID ordinanceIn other business, the council once again voted to amend its COVID-19 ordinance to match Gov. Ralph Northam’s amended executive order, which was announced earlier in the day.

The city enacted a COVID-19 ordinance on July 27, reauthorized it on Sept. 21, amended it on Monday and amended it again Thursday.

The amended ordinance defers to state regulations on the size of gatherings. It can be revised at a later date if the state starts relaxing guidelines.

The council considered repealing the ordinance altogether and deferring entirely to the state. Snook argued that the ordinance is redundant, creates confusion and is unnecessary if it practically mirrors the state.

“I think it’s important we speak in one voice, and the governor’s voice is the voice we use,” he said.

Snook made a motion to repeal the ordinance. It was voted down with Magill, Payne and Mayor Nikuyah Walker voting against the motion and Snook and Councilor Heather Hill voting in favor.

The council later unanimously voted to amend the ordinance.


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