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Richardson's budget proposal includes no tax rate increase

Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson has proposed a balanced budget for fiscal year 2022 that is about 17.4% larger than the current adopted budget and includes no tax rate increase.

At a virtual meeting Wednesday, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors received the proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which projects $466 million in revenue and expenditures for capital and operational costs. The current year’s adopted capital and operating budget is $396 million, according to county documents.

Ahead of the meeting with the supervisors, County CFO Nelsie Birch said the county was not overly aggressive with its revenue estimates.

“We have still been able to lessen the expenditure side,” she said. “The departments’ did not fully bounce back with all the expenditures that they had before the pandemic.”

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.

In the general fund, revenue is expected to grow by $14.8 million, or 4.8%, compared to the current budget. Richardson said after obligations and mandates, the county has about $2 million in new revenue for fiscal year 2022.

The proposal includes funding to raise the minimum wage for general government employees to $15 an hour, which the county had previously removed from its budget due to the pandemic, and a 2% raise for employees.

Though they have not yet been approved by the Board of Supervisors, revenues from proposed Community Development Department fee increases and a proposed cigarette tax were included in the budget.

Funding to provide weekday daytime staff at North Garden Volunteer Fire Company, which the department requested, is also included, with five new positions totaling $434,798. According to the budget document, the positions would be hired in September 2021, go through training and begin service in fall 2022.

If the budget is approved, Scottsville Volunteer Fire Department and Western Albemarle Rescue Squad will remain the only all-volunteer stations in Albemarle.

Deputy County Executive Doug Walker said the county is currently doing strategic planning work with the volunteers to understand the stresses that they are feeling and their ability to continue to provide services at the volunteer level.

“ … So that we can be better able to support them for one thing, because it’s such a strong advantage to help them continue to provide services voluntarily, and some of that’s financial and maybe other ways we can support them,” he said. “But it’s also taking a look at how the community is changing and where the stresses are on the overall system, regardless of whether it’s career or volunteer that are responding to it.”

Albemarle made changes to its current budget in April in response to the pandemic, freezing hiring, pausing capital projects and asking departments to cut about 10% of their operating budgets. The fiscal year 2021 budget approved in May was about $54 million less than the budget recommended in February 2020.

Richardson said the county has left 19 positions frozen in the fiscal year 2022 recommended budget.

“We’re continuing to evaluate that as additional vacancies become open, in terms of what is the right mix to provide services in a pandemic and also manage our financial situation,” said the county’s Chief of Budget Andy Bowman.

In addition to the five positions included for the North Garden station, the recommended budget also includes one training division staff position and 2.5 patrol police officer positions. The police positions come from changes in how the school division provides security. Previously the schools gave the county government funding for those positions.

“We are providing that additional funding in order to keep those officers and then redeploying them into patrol,” Walker said.

The recommended budget also includes $536,376 for two positions and associated costs in a new Broadband Accessibility and Affordability Office, which will work with the Albemarle Broadband Authority and community member broadband needs.

Summer parks and recreation programs had been canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Assistant County Executive Trevor Henry said funding to support hiring temporary positions and extending summer programming is included in the budget. According to the budget document, contingency funding of $157,825 is reserved.

“But then the second half of that story is we’re not yet sure what all will be included in the actual summer program,” he said. “Parks and rec leadership is certainly working through that … and really trying to see what are the constraints around those programs, and then the timing when we would need to start wrapping up.”

Late last year, the county’s CIP Advisory Committee recommended 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 project be included for fiscal year 2022. All the CIP committee’s suggestions are included in the 2022 recommended budget, as is an ambulance for the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company.

The School Board received the superintendent’s $209 million funding request last week, and is scheduled to vote on the plan March 11.

The Board of Supervisors has scheduled several budget work sessions, public hearings and other meetings for the coming weeks.

The first budget work session is scheduled for 3 p.m. March 10 and will be held over Zoom. The first public hearing is during the evening portion of the Board’s regular meeting on March 3, also 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.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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