Albemarle County is delaying its budget process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors, spread out further than usual behind the dais, voted to move adoption of the scheduled fiscal year 2021 budget to May 14. The budget originally was scheduled to be approved April 20.
“We’re delaying further activity on the public budget process in order to be able to extend our schedule, and we’re focusing on ensuring more time,” County Executive Jeff Richardson said. “That would be for a continued examination of our region’s economic condition tied back to this budget process, also to extend public participation within the framework of our county’s health crisis.”
The next budget public hearing is still scheduled for April 13, but county staff are working to make sure people can either access the public hearing remotely or have another way to make comments. The board is then scheduled to set the calendar year 2020 tax rate at its regular meeting on April 15.
Between April 13 and May 14, the board could hold other budget work sessions or public hearings, which would be scheduled as needed.
Lori Allshouse, director of the county’s office of management and budget, said they can still make some changes after a budget is adopted, like approving budget appropriations, which authorize spending, every six months or quarterly.
“As we’re thinking about being very flexible and nimble as we go into this process of a lot of unknowns, you could appropriate quarterly or you can even appropriate monthly,” she said. “You can manage your appropriations to help us work through this process depending on what comes.”
Allshouse also briefly went over possible funds that could be used in an emergency, such as a 1% stabilization fund the board put into place after the recession, which contains about $3 million, and about $3.2 million from last year’s surplus that has not yet been appropriated.
County staff and board members encouraged residents interested in keeping up with any changes to subscribe to the county’s A-mail email newsletter via the county website.
Thomas Jefferson Health District Director Dr. Denise Bonds urged people to stay home in an update to the board on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People must stay home,” Bonds said. “I cannot say that enough. You have to stay home, you must stay home. … The only way we’re going to keep from overburdening our hospitals and ending up in a situation where we have to decide who gets that ventilator is if we flatten the curve.”
Bonds said there is still only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the district, which covers Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties — a Charlottesville woman in her 50s who works at the University of Virginia Women’s Center.
“I think the press release indicated that we thought it was due to travel and our subsequent investigation says that’s probably not the case, the timeline doesn’t work out correctly,” she said. “So we don’t really know where that case is. That indicates that there might be community spread happening right now, [but] we don’t know for sure, because we are still trying to track down contacts.”
Supervisors asked about testing for area residents. Bonds said the criteria to be tested at this point is that the person has symptoms and that the person was in contact with someone who has the illness. She said there are commercially available tests from LabCorp and Quest.
“They are also suffering from shortages,” she said. “We were actually checking today to see if we in the health department can get some tests because we were trying to figure out …how can we solve this. We were told that they could ship us some tests, LabCorp,… they could ship us five.”
Bonds said a test, while helpful, may not be the right thing to worry about right now, and encouraged people to call each other and check on their neighbors.
“We are living through a very difficult time and we have never experienced this before, and there will [be] and are a number of sacrifices that people need to take and they must take them now,” Bonds said. “We can only stem this if people do not hang out together in whatever form that is, and that is difficult to understand. We’re social beings. So we need to figure out how to make that work.”