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Public silent so far on proposed Albemarle budget

No county residents spoke during the first public hearing on Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson’s proposed budget that begins July 1.

The board received the balanced proposal last week, which projects $466 million in revenue and expenditures for capital and operational costs. The document outlines a budget for fiscal year 2022 that would be about 17.4% larger than the current adopted budget and would not include a tax rate increase.

Supervisors said it was surprising that no one spoke, but that there were also other ways the public could weigh in, such as over email or the next public hearing.

“There will be additional times for the public to chime in as we move through the budget process,” said Board Chair Ned Gallaway. “It’s a little surprising we didn’t have anyone here signed up for tonight, though.”

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said in her time as a supervisor and as a school board member, this was the third time she remembered no one speaking at public comment.

“It’s pretty unusual,” she said. “It’s kind of sad, I wish we had the public commenting and giving us their thoughts, but I’m hopeful they’ll do it in other ways. There’s always email and other opportunities.”

Under the proposal, the real estate tax rate remains 85.4 cents per $100 of assessed value. The latest reassessment of county real estate represented an average increase of 1.4%.

Though the tax rate is not projected to increase, average growth in property values means that some homeowners will see higher tax bills next year.

The proposal includes funding to raise the minimum wage for general government employees to $15 an hour and a 2% raise for current employees.

All of the Capital Improvement Plan Advisory Committee’s suggestions are included in the 2022 recommended budget, which included capital funding for economic development partnerships, funding to support transportation projects, an expansion project at Mountain View Elementary School and Moore’s Creek Trail and Trailhead Park, as is an ambulance for the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company.

The first budget work session is scheduled for 3 p.m. March 10 and will be held over Zoom. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget on May 5.

More information on the budget process can be found at albemarle.org/government/budget.

Community Development Department fees

Supervisors during a work session on Community Development Department fees indicated that they support the proposed increases.

Fees would increase around building regulations, the county’s short-term rental registry, subdivisions and streets, water protection and zoning. The county also would create new fees related to architectural review, water protection and building-related services, as well as a new technology fee.

Half of the staff recommendations for fee increases are included in the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, County Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said in an email last week, knowing that “the analysis, input and decision-making around those fees is underway.”

Some of the supervisors asked about the county’s percentage of building and permitting activity being covered by the fees.

“For the services for which we charge a fee, we’re covering about 40%,” said Steve Allshouse, the county’s manager of forecasting and performance. “If you were to look at the department’s budget, totally, and then look at what we’re taking in terms of revenue, the number is 30%.”

“We’re not shooting, at this point, for a particular number,” he said.

Community Development Director Jodie Filardo said any additional revenue generated by these proposed fee increases would go into the county’s general fund. In the staff summary, the county estimated that the proposed increases generate approximately $345,000 in additional CDD General Fund revenue in fiscal year 2022.

A technology surcharge of 4% would go toward updating the county’s development tracking system.

Allshouse said these proposed increases should be seen as an interim step.

“That’s to say, we’re gonna be proposing fees, but really what we think should be going on eventually is a fee study similar to what the county did back in 2007,” he said. “We likely will come to the board sometime in FY 23 asking for funding for a study of that sort. The idea would be the study would be done and we’d be looking at potentially implementing this fee structure in FY 24.”

Allshouse county staff met two different groups of people to get feedback, and those groups asked for fee comparisons with additional jurisdictions.

The county looked at Fairfax County and Montgomery County for their technology fees, Alexandria for their architectural review board type fees and Charlottesville, as it is an immediate neighbor. It also looked at Hanover, Henrico, James City and Roanoke counties, which were identified as comparable localities.

Compared to the averages of fees from the other localities, Albemarle’s fees would be higher, except for a building permit for a commercial building.

Allshouse said Hanover, Henrico and Charlottesville charge fees according to the dollar value of the structure, while Albemarle charges based on the square footage. He said the numbers were not necessarily “comparing apples with apples,” and practices are not consistent across jurisdictions.

“What was interesting to me, in the city of Charlottesville, for example, subdivision fees have last been updated in June of 2014,” he said. “In Roanoke County certain building fees, believe it or not, have not been updated since September of 2004, and in Hanover building fees have not been updated since July of 2016. Amazingly, one set of fees in Roanoke County had not been updated apparently since June of 1990.”

The Daily Progress asked for the raw numbers, but was not provided the numbers by press time.

The county also looked at six projects in Albemarle, commercial and residential, what the developers were charged and what they would have paid if the proposed fees were in effect. The percent increase would be between 21.7% and 63.3% per project.

Allshouse also showed the increase as a percentage of the assessed value using the 2021 reassessment, which ranged from 0.09% to 0.40%.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to have a public hearing on some of the fees on March 23, and the Board of Supervisors public hearing is scheduled for April 21.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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