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Planning Commission frustrated by lack of voice in city Capital Improvement Program process

Charlottesville officials continued to deliberate this week over proposed capital spending for next fiscal year, although some Planning Commission members are frustrated with their role in the process.

The commission held a work session Tuesday on the proposed Capital Improvement Program.

The City Council discussed the proposed CIP during a work session earlier this month.

The city is operating on a $188.8 million budget for fiscal year 2020, which started July 1. It included one percentage point increases to the meals and lodging taxes.

The proposed $127.9 million Capital Improvement Program, which covers five years, includes $35.8 million for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1, 2020. The council approves a five-year capital spending plan plan each year, but only dedicates funding for one year at a time. Further years are included as projections.

The proposal for fiscal year 2021 is a $403,500, or 1%, increase over the adopted CIP for fiscal 2020. From fiscal 2019 to 2020, the CIP rose $12 million, or 51%.

City Manager Tarron Richardson said departments were asked to only submit projects that were either essential or legally mandated.

Commissioner Lisa Green said that a Planning Commission member is typically involved in the process to plan a draft of the CIP, but none was included this year.

“Basically, it was for transparency for us to be a part of this,” Green said.

When Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates asked Richardson why no one was included, Richardson said, “I don’t have an answer for you.”

Commissioner Jody Lahendro said commissioners are usually included to provide input on focus areas for the spending plan.

“We haven’t had any opportunity in guiding the process,” he said.

Richardson said, “If there’s a way that we can try to improve that next year, we will. This is my first budget [in Charlottesville].”

Most of the big-ticket proposed items for fiscal year 2021 were projected or previously planned projects.

The plan includes $4.9 million for the first part of the city’s commitment to construct a parking garage under an agreement with Albemarle County to keep county courts downtown.

The garage will be constructed at Seventh and Market streets at a total cost of $10 million. The property currently is home to the Lucky 7 convenience store and Guadalajara Mexican restaurant.

Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg asked for more information on the agreement and how the parking spaces guaranteed to the county could be created.

Other projects include $5 million for a new Belmont bridge and $800,000 for the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund.

The proposal also calls for $3.2 million toward expanding Charlottesville General District Court.

A new allocation that was not projected in last year’s CIP is $1.5 million to address air quality at the Smith Recreation Center.

The plan includes $125,000 for a Downtown Mall threat and risk assessment study. The recommendations from the study would be implemented in fiscal 2023.

Several projected expenses for fiscal 2021 are either eliminated or reduced.

Krisy Hammill, a senior budget and management analyst, said the changes reflect leftover funds. Therefore, additional money wouldn’t be allocated if it’s already available.

“We’re just using money we haven’t spent yet,” said Commissioner Hosea Mitchell. “They’re not real cuts, it’s just spending money we’ve already got.”

The proposal eliminates $1.25 million planned for street milling and paving; $300,000 for new sidewalks; $325,000 total for Parks and Recreation; $200,000 for bicycle infrastructure; and $100,000 for the school division’s small Capital Improvements Program.

Some smaller increases in expenditures over projections include $392,000 for fire, police and sheriff radio replacements and mobile data terminals; $377,000 for an ambulance; $200,000 for traffic signal replacements; $200,000 to study the city’s fee structures; $150,000 to create an economic development strategic initiatives fund; and $50,000 for historic-resources studies.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed CIP at its meeting Dec. 10.

On March 2, the city and school division budgets will be presented to the City Council.

Final approval is expected by the council on April 14.


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