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Supervisors look to fund broadband expansion, road projects

Albemarle County will spend some money from its reserves on broadband expansion, a trash and recycling collection center in Keene and a conceptual analysis of changes to the intersection of Reas Ford and Earlysville roads.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday at its virtual meeting supported using funds from its Advancing Strategic Priorities Reserve and money saved by utilizing CARES Act funding to pursue these projects, which supervisors have asked about over the last year.

A total of approximately $4.45 million will be appropriated by the board at a future meeting for the projects.

County CFO Nelsie Birch said the county is stabilizing, and while it isn’t fully recovered, revenue looks significantly better than expected in terms of real estate assessments and financial outlooks.

“All of those are leading to us realizing that we’re at a good spot for some of these reserves that have been held up, particularly the Strategic Initiatives Reserve, and it’s time for us to bring some projects forward and give the board some comfort that we can do so, and not jeopardize the financial entities,” she said.

Using CARES Coronavirus Relief Funding reimbursements for eligible public safety expenses, the county created a reserve of about $7 million. Birch said the county wants to keep about $4.9 million to continue the programming that it has done for businesses and the community and continuing pandemic related expenses.

The board also has an Advancing Strategic Priorities Reserve that was added to the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan in the fiscal year 2019 budget, which contains about $3.6 million.

At a meeting in November, and previously, the board had expressed interest in providing more funding to broadband, building a convenience center in southern Albemarle and making changes to the intersection of Reas Ford and Earlysville roads.

About $3 million will go toward expanding broadband infrastructure, providing affordability support and establishing a county Office of Broadband Access.

Assistant County Executive Trevor Henry said the affordability program would be to support urban and rural families that are under financial stress gain access to critical resources, and they would use existing health and human service partnerships.

“This program could be funded from part of the one-time funding we’re suggesting today, but in our 2022 budget, it’ll be reflected as a recurring number,” he said. “ Our hope is that we can pilot that work through to the balance of this fiscal year, and then if the board approves our 2022 budget as recommended, it would be a recurring funding line.”

A proposed Office of Broadband Access will also be included in the fiscal year 2022 recommended budget, Henry said.

“We have absorbed a [full-time equivalent employee] worth of support through county operations in support of broadband, and that kind of got us to the pandemic,” he said. “We’ve now reached a critical mass or tipping point in the work that we have to do both in customer service need, and in working with our partners, both internal and external.”

About $1.1 million in one-time funds would be used for site identification, design, construction, and containers/compactors for the convenience center in Southern Albemarle.

Lance Stewart, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services, said it would be operated on the same schedule as the Ivy and McIntire Road convenience centers — six days a week, seasonally adjusted.

“Like the Ivy convenience center, it would include a tag-a-bag program for residential trash and there would be a compactor on site with the container emptied at least once per day,” he said.

Stewart said the operating costs are estimated to be $400,000 in the first year of the center’s operation, which would likely be in fiscal year 2023.

At one point, county property on Mill Creek Drive near the Monticello Fire Station was considered for a convenience center, but now that land will be used for a high school center.

Supervisor Liz Palmer said the county should use a site in Keene near Route 20 that it purchased in 1990.

“I think it’s what makes the most sense from a location and an equity situation, and I think that it’s long overdue,” she said.

Stewart said there will still be a public process on the project, and a public hearing before the Planning Commission.

Up to $350,000 would be used to support a conceptual analysis and preliminary design to help determine future costs for possible changes to the intersection of Reas Ford and Earlysville roads.

“In 2019 and again in 2020 we did do two safety studies to evaluate the issues of the road,” said Kevin McDermott, who does transportation planning for the county. “A lot of that was brought on because in 2017, there was a really high number of crashes for the intersection, I believe eight in one year, which is a significant number for an intersection that doesn’t see quite as high of volumes as others in the county, and at least one of those was a severe injury accident.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation did some initial recommendations from the 2019 study including redoing the pavement markings, clearing vegetation and other low cost items. In 2020, a flashing LED stop sign and two permanent radar speed display signs were installed.

“Also as part of that second study, it was identified that if there were long-term improvements that were desired, we should be doing is likely looking at the potential to reconfigure that intersection into a roundabout,” McDermott said.

He said the funding would go towards engineering consultants to do a preliminary design on that roundabout so that to identify specifically what the future costs would be for the construction. Then staff would come back to the board to see if they move forward with that construction and look at the potential for any grants.

Appropriations will be brought back to the board at a future meeting.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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