Is Charlottesville ready for Collins’ Affordable Housing “Marshall Plan”?

By Neil Williamson, President

Former Charlottesville City Council candidate and Public Housing Advocate Brandon Collins is energetic and passionate, but he is rarely described as optimistic or even jubilant.

Late in Monday night’s (6/18) City Council meeting he was both as he called for Charlottesville to give up on developer incentives that produce precious few affordable housing units and instead launch a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing to meet the current shortfall of 3,318 units.

Please let me explain.

Council received two important, somewhat disconcerting,  housing reports.  Prepared by Partners for Economic Solutions, the housing needs assessment was blunt in its analysis of current and projected market conditions.  It concluded that the city had a current need for 3,318 affordable units, growing to 4,020 units in 2040. The reasons for these conditions were summarized:

The forces creating this affordability crisis and impeding fair and affordable housing include:

• The city’s constrained supply of developable land supply limits the potential for new residential construction.

• More than 200 year-round housing units have been diverted to short-term transient rentals through Airbnb and other leasing services.

• High land and development costs limit the market’s ability to build new units that could rent at levels affordable to households at less than 60 to 80 percent of AMI.

• Federal funding for construction of new affordable housing and for Housing Choice Vouchers has not kept pace with the growing need. Public housing funding to the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority includes almost no support for renovating existing public housing.

• Zoning policies such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, setback requirements and maximum residential densities can prevent more intensive development of the city’s limited land resources. Community resistance to change leads to policies that prioritize preserving existing single-family neighborhoods over the development of new affordable housing.

• The lack of predictability in the City’s development approval process has a chilling effect on developers considering projects that require City Council and Planning Commission approval. A last-minute decision can scuttle or significantly delay projects in which the developer has proceeded in good faith, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• The approval process is expensive and time-consuming, adding directly to the total development costs and ultimate housing prices.

• The tight housing market allows landlords to discriminate against low-income households with limited financial resources, spotty or no credit histories, arrest records, children, housing choice vouchers or other perceived risk factors.

• Housing affordability for many households is an income problem. Low levels of education, limited skills training, inadequate public transit and difficulty finding quality affordable child care can prevent individuals ability to reach financial self-sufficiency.

With this report in hand, the folks at Partners for Economic Solutions examined the height bonuses currently under consideration in both the Strategic Investment Area and the Comprehensive Plan.  The concept explored was how many units could be provided and at what level of affordability.

The very detailed report included carrying costs, a 7% profit margin as well as other development costs.  This profit margin was explained as necessary or the project would not gain investors – they would instead put their money into other projects with a better return on investment.

Development costs are impacted by several factors, but most significant are the style of construction and the type of parking. Height has a direct impact on costs with lower-cost wood-frame construction limited to four stories. A fifth story can be added if the first floor is constructed in concrete rather than wood. Above five stories, most apartment buildings are constructed on concrete or steel and concrete at a much higher cost per square foot.

Parking is a major cost factor, averaging $5,000 per surface space, $20,000 per space in an above-ground parking structure and $32,000 per space in a below-ground structure. Surface parking is the least expensive option, by far, but it consumes a great deal of land.

The model assumed up to four stories of development would be served by surface parking with taller buildings requiring structured parking.

The analysis also suggests a limited ability for height bonuses to secure committed affordable housing units. Generally speaking, Charlottesville rents do not support the construction of mid-to high-rise residential buildings with the exception of student housing adjacent to the University of Virginia grounds, high-end condominiums and possible niche products such as luxury senior housing. Five-story structures are feasible only at the higher rents achievable in Downtown neighborhoods.

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In conclusion, the report found that if density is the only incentive, based on market conditions, it does not work.   Providing perhaps 15% of the incremental increase in units @ 60% AMI or 10% of the incremental increase @ 50% AMI.   The consultant went so far as to say, “some of the Planning Commission concepts have no value to the developer; it is NOT an incentive”.

After this well presented and documented report was presented, Councilor Kathy Galvin said,

This would depress a hyena

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said, “This is bad”, and continued to express concern that the economic analysis included a profit margin for the developer.  She contended that until we change that conversation we are never going to fix this.  She said that if you are willing to house just a few people at a time – that’s not a direction I support.

Councilor Mike Signer called out Albemarle County’s role in the housing affordability issue.  He indicated the politics of increasing density is very tough highlighting his affirmative vote in the 3-2 decision to rezone 10th and Jefferson.  He also pushed back on the contention that a profit margin did not matter.

Vice Mayor Heather Hill called out the Air BnB taking up some of the Accessory Dwelling Units are being pulled out of affordable housing stock.

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Brandon Collins

At the end of the meeting, Collins presented a different perspective on the reports.  He admonished City Council to think big.  If they are really serious about fixing the housing affordability issue, they should stop depending on developers; they should do it themselves with their existing Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  Collins’ “Marshall Plan” might include $140 million dollar bond issuance dedicated simply to the creation of new affordable units that will stay perpetually affordable. When pressed by Councilor Wes Bellamy how the city might pay for that debt service, Collins admitted he had not figured that out yet but thought it could be resolved.

Beyond the ironic title “Marshall Plan”, the Free Enterprise Forum has several questions.

  • If providing significant affordable units was not economically feasible with a 7% profit margin does the loss of that 7% make the economics work?
  • Considering the current political climate in Charlottesville, could a $140 million bond be supported by the citizens?
  • Would this council support the tax increases needed to service the debt issuance?
  • Does addressing Affordable Housing head on start to address some of the other socioeconomic challenges in the City?
  • Could this program actually increase the demand for affordable housing?

As usual, we have more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: TV10

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Albemarle Rushes Rural Rights Reduction

imageBy. Neil Williamson, President

Do commercial uses fit in Albemarle County’s rural areas?

Looking at the photo to the right of Earlysville General Store, I would say not only do they fit, such uses (and the owners, employees and patrons) are the very fabric of the community for generations.

But such community supportive land uses are now in jeopardy.

Please let me explain.

On Wednesday night (6/13), the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will be considering a zoning text amendment (ZTA201800002) that would significantly reduce the number of uses allowed on property that is zoned commercial in the rural areas.

This proposal has sped through the County’s approval process faster than any in recent memory.  Their “need for speed” is not clear and an e-mail requesting more information has not been returned.

Throughout this speedy process, there has been significant discussion regarding the impact of this land use change on property values.  In testimony before the Planning Commission several residents suggested the value could drop by up to 90%.  One speaker indicated that a potential real estate contract is in peril because of the proposed ZTA.

The concept of “takings” was discussed at the Planning Commission.  In the meeting minutes Deputy County Attorney John Blair explained the issue:

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Anecdotally, we have seen property values diminish with reduction in rights but it was not until we read a 2006 paper by Oregon State University professor William K Jaeger that we found empirical evidence of such property value deimmunization.  Jaeger’s research is very careful to paint a broad brush regarding property values but provides an interesting window on the comparison between regulated and unregulated land costs.

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In explaining this issue, Jaeger mentions the significant externalities involved in any real estate valuation:

Given the possibility of a price effect for both regulated and unregulated land due to the land-use regulation, it would be presumptuous to attribute the entire price differential between the two markets to a reduction in property values for the regulated lands. To use an analogy, if you tie your boat to a coastal pier and then, after a period of hours, notice that the level of the boat is now below the level of the pier, you are unlikely to ask: Did the pier move up or did the boat move down? You will immediately understand that piers don’t move up, but that an outgoing tide could have easily caused the boat to fall.

Considering the significant number of variables in any real estate transaction, and the Supreme Court’s decision regarding loss of up to 90% dictating a taking, I believe this loss of property rights would not meet the legal definition of a taking.

Even if it is legal is it right?

Albemarle County’s Rural Chapter of its comprehensive plan recognizes the need for commerce in the rural areas.  Specifically calling for such communities to develop:

Crossroads communities that provide support services and opportunities to engage in community life;

Why then are these ~80 rural properties being effectively downzoned so quickly?

We do not know specifically but here is what we do know:

1.  Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors closed meeting earlier this summer one topic announced to be discussed was a Zoning Text Amendment and ongoing litigation.

2.  According to several sources, Albemarle has a court case on June 22nd regarding a rural area land use decision

3.  The Planning Commission was clearly pushed by the Supervisors to have this ready for the June 13th BOS meeting

4.  An e-mail asking the direct question of Albemarle County staff went unanswered last week.

If the Albemarle Board of Supervisors is pushing this agenda due to a specific court case, the Free Enterprise Forum believes the public has a right to know.

It’s a shame a bad law (400 gallons of water use per acre per day) is now being replaced by one that is even worse.

We continue to believe a thoughtful discussion of performance standards could produce a significantly improved ordinance that could more properly balance property rights and the community goals.

But that would take time, something seemingly the Supervisors don’t have.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson

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Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Earlysville General Store Facebook Page

Greene County Planning Commission Lowers Proffers

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

The Greene County Planning Commission  heard a rezoning request at their May meeting to remove or reduce the cash proffer required for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) originally granted in 2008. For the last ten years, Kinvara Properties, LLC has tried to develop approximately 33 acres fronting Route 29 southbound just north of the Food Lion plaza.

A cash proffer is a “voluntary” financial contribution the applicant makes per unit designed to offset a project’s fiscal impacts to the locality.  The Free Enterprise Forum has written extensively about proffers including the 2013 white paper “Contradictory Consequences“.

In 2016, Virginia’s General Assembly passed significant proffer reform.  The legislation required that any proffer provided must be answering a specific demand created by the project.  Most localities (including Greene) have not rewritten their zoning code to reflect these changes.

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Lily Ridge Apartments

A recent Greene County project, Lily Ridge Apartments, did pay the $9,000 per unit cash proffer for those units developed above the by right number of units (prior to the rezoning).

However, Kinvara Properties, represented by Attorney Butch Davies from Madison County, argued that their PUD will be more dense and have only 2 bedroom units therefore creating less demand on the school system – one of the major drivers of the cash proffer policy.

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Butch Davies

Davies explained that Kinvara has had several clients interested in the property but they have said that the size of the proffer makes the project economically unfeasible. In addition, the developer has already made expenditures for water and sewer hookups and road improvements. Chairman Jay Willer pointed out that these items, while having value to the county, are not part of the proffer calculation.

Davies offered $1,200 per unit in cash proffers with the logic being that the change in the law starting in July, 2018 will require proffers to be specific in the items related to the project. Davies referred to several other projects where proffers in the $1,200 range had been accepted by Greene County.

The hearing shifted to comments from the public, which there were none. Planner Stephanie Golon pointed out that the rezoning would allow 50 residential units to be built and she estimated that the number of students would range between Lily Ridge, 27 students or .58 students per unit and Terrace Greene, 30 students or .11 students per unit.

If the Lily Ridge ratio is used then the development would have approximately 29 students but Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy data would only project 16 students. Commissioner Ron Williams pointed out that given the current proffer and that schools are the main contributor to the costs involved then the amount should be approximately $4,500 vs. the $1,200 offered by the developer. Williams asked how the $1,200 was calculated and Davies answered that it is based on the smaller number of students.

Willer brought up the fact that Kinvara Properties accepted the original proffer agreement  and he had a difficult time lowering the proffer.  Davies again stated that potential sales to developers have fallen through with the current proffer and he believes a reduction will allow the sale to be completed and the development to go forward.

Williams stated that he thinks the development is a good fit for the area and he isn’t sure when the $9,000 proffer would become affordable. Inversely, the $1,200 proposed proffer lacks supporting detail as how it was calculated. But the county needs commercial development and he believes more residents in Greene County will attract more businesses.

While Willer agreed that more people attract businesses, he has a difficult time in revising an agreement that the two parties made and the lowering of the proffer would cost Greene County $390,000 in proffers when the development is completed.

Williams made a motion to recommend approval of a revised cash proffer of  $1,200 per unit and it was approved 3-1, with Willer voting against it and one commissioner absent. The rezoning application now goes to the Board of Supervisors for their decision with the recommendation of approval from the Planning Commission.

The reduction of the proffer in this specific case continues to set a precedent for a lower proffer. The original proffer amount was set over 10 years and should be updated with current cost and the impact of the 2016 proffer law. Another option would be to have separate proffers for individual homes, townhomes, condos, etc. and possibly down to the number of bedrooms in each unit. These are the issues that have been discussed in past meetings.

Definitely future requests from developers will point to the $1,200 amount, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, as a basis to set (or lower) their cash proffer.

An argument could be made that since lower proffers attract more developers wouldn’t doing away with proffers altogether attract the most developers?

Is 0% of the current proffer more valuable than 100% of $1,200?

Or is more residential development worth the upside of more driving potential commercial development and increased tax revenue?

It will be interesting to see how the Greene County Board of Supervisors deal with this application and if they ever get around to adjusting their cash proffer policy to be congruent with state code.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

 

 

Icarus, Municipal Hubris, and Tourism

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

When you are traveling outside of Central Virginia, where do you tell people you are from?

Do you say “Free Union”, “Albemarle County” or do you say, “Charlottesville”?

Seemingly an academic question but it is one that is at the heart of the current governmental coup of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau (CACVB).

According to an April 25th Daily Progress article by Chris Suarez:

In December, former Albemarle Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Diantha McKeel sent a formal notice to [Then CACVB Executive Director Kurt] Burkhart that said the county intends to terminate an existing organizational agreement on June 30.

The letter says the city and county’s elected officials had been discussing the CACVB’s “limited focus and reluctance” to promote locally owned wineries, breweries and distilleries, history and heritage tourism and ecotourism, as well as specific activities such as bicycling, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

“We feel destination development is currently lacking,” the letter says. “Although the targets for hotel vacancy rates are important and currently successful, their vacancy rates and other directly related indicators should no longer be the primary driving metrics.”[Emphasis Added-NW]

The friction between CACVB Executive Director Burkhart and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors had been simmering for several years.  [Burkhart retired earlier this year]. While Burkhart touted hotel occupancy rate data; focusing on proving the return on investments in tourism using economic models showing $6 or $7 benefit for every dollar invested, supervisors questioned the methodology of these models and noted the large number of hotels in the City.

imageIn addition to Burkhart not filling funded positions quickly and maintaining a large fund balance, the root of much of the concern was focused on the belief that Albemarle was not being promoted enough in the marketing of the region.

This “Municipal Hubris” has been gong on for over a decade.   I recall when the latest logo redesign [left] was competed several years ago, it was a requirement that Albemarle be in the logo and then there was a concern regarding the different size font. Then there was a discussion, I am not making this up, that it was not alphabetical.

See the source imageAccording to www.Merriam-Webster.com

To the [Ancient] Greeks, hubris referred to extreme pride, especially pride and ambition so great that they offend the gods and lead to one’s downfall. Hubris was a character flaw often seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The familiar old saying “Pride goeth before a fall” is basically talking about hubris.

So what does Charlottesville City Council think about this internal branding conflict.  We believe the answer can be found between the lines of Councilor Kathy Galvin’s polite answer quoted in the Suarez article:

“What happens next (including whether or not a city/county CACVB committee persists and I remain the city’s liaison with the county) is a matter, in my view, to be decided by the City Council,” Galvin wrote. “I will be raising that question at a City Council meeting in May.”

At the end of the May 21st City Council meeting, they selected Councilors Galvin and Signer to represent Council in the CACVB reorganization work; but there was no further discussion beyond the appointment.

To review, the proposed CACVB Executive Committee would control all aspects of the organization and would consist of  one member from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors; the city manager (or a designee); the county executive (or a designee); a tourism or economic development official from the city and county; a University of Virginia representative; two industry representatives, one each appointed by the city and county.  All but three of these members sit on or answer to either the City Council or the Board of Supervisors.

Considering the many conflicts and concerns between the City and the County right now, I anticipate the jointly funded marketing of regional tourism objectives to be an area where the city (and county) end up walking away from the “new deal”.

The result will be duplicative efforts (though they will claim collaboration), inefficiency and a lack of accountability.  Tourism will become a division of each locality’s Economic Development departments and lack the import and independence it enjoys today.  In addition, we see further weakening of the required nexus between tourism and line item expenditures.  Transparency is lost.

Perhaps a brief review of Greek mythology [Daedalus and Icarus] could prove helpful prior to moving forward with the dissolution or dismemberment of the CACVB.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

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Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa  and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit www.frederickmordi.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Fluvanna Increases Taxes, Reduces Capital Spending and Pulls From Fund Balance to Make FY19 Budget

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Last month, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors passed a FY19 budget that included a real estate tax rate of $0.939, an increase of three cents.

Part of the reason for that increase was health insurance was slated to increase $435,000. After some renegotiation, staff got a final figure of an increase of $228,000. However, the budget was already built with the larger figure.

Supervisors have decided to keep the budget as is and at the completion of the year will return that money to the fund balance, the county’s savings.

The budget included $127,000 operational cut, including $14,000 from nonprofits. Supervisors were presented with options to restore some of the cuts or at least make the nonprofits whole. Instead, the majority of the board decided to proceed with the cuts and if the departments needed to, the department head can come to the board to ask for additional money.

“Your (department) budgets are tight already. It is detrimental,” said Steve Nichols, county administrator. He noted the budgets were already very lean.

Nonprofits won’t get that opportunity because the county will send in pledges and some of those nonprofits will be part of the $14,000 cut. These cuts are reducing the amount the county will pledge to the individual nonprofits.

At the May 16 meeting, the supervisors will finalize which nonprofits will be cut.

The FY19 budget does include pulling $403,000 from the fund balance to balance the budget. The supervisors also took another $1.3 million for the capital improvement plan.

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Steve Nichols

“Frankly, if we can save some money, it would be great to put it back into the fund balance,” said Nichols.

The projected FY20 budget needs about $2.3 million, or 7.7 real estate tax cents, to balance.

The tax rate will get some relief next year because the county is doing a reassessment and property values are increasing. Whenever that happens, the tax rate adjusts inversely. But still, the need for additional tax revenue will be there for next year.

The budget has two factors that are not decreasing: employees (salary and benefits) and debt service. Debt service will stay level but employee salary and benefits will continue to rise.

While the county is aggressively trying to attract new businesses to help alleviate the tax burden on rooftops, any business coming will not have immediate impact.

The next meeting is May 16 at 7 p.m. with a proceeding 6 p.m. session.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Albemarle Rural Special Use Permits For Not So Special Uses

By. Neil Williamson, President

rural outpostTonight (May 8th), the Albemarle County Planning Commission is discussing what is and is not a by-right use on commercially zoned property not served by public water or a central system.  The problem is there are 80 parcels in the rural area zoned as commercial and the powers that be want to significantly limit commercial activity in the rural areas (95% of Albemarle County).

This is how the regulators are seeking to deal with “stale” zoning, create a process that is nearly impossible to gain approval and thus remove the ability for so called ‘noxious’ uses without conducting a controversial and legally challenging downzoning.

We think there is an alternative.  The Free Enterprise Forum believes that objective metrics could be established to have some of the ‘Special Uses’ be by right uses with independently verified performance standards.

Please let me explain.

In zoning parlance, there are three types of uses on a property:

  • By Right (that which you can do without additional government approval)
  • Special use (that which the government may allow you to do on your property) and
  • Prohibited use (that which the government indicates you can’t do on your property)

The fact that the land in question here is currently zoned commercial means that at one time a planner somewhere thought it would be a good idea to have commercial activity in this vicinity.  This more flexible planning philosophy has given way to a much more restrictive vision limiting commercial activity in the rural areas.

Under the new proposal, if  any of the ‘special uses’ [including sporting goods (bait shops?), drug store, food/grocery stores, and many more] proposed on commercial zoned property without water service would be measured against the following Comprehensive Plan criteria:

Criteria for Review of New Uses

As new uses are proposed in the Rural Area,it is essential that they be able to meet the following standards.  New uses should:

relate directly to the Rural Area and need a Rural Area location in order to be successful, (e.g., a farm winery has to be located in the Rural Area and would be unlikely to succeed in the Development Areas);

be compatible with, and have a negligible impact, on natural, cultural, and historic resources;

not conflict with nearby agricultural and forestal uses;

reflect a size and scale that complements the character of the area in which they will be located;

be reversible so that the land can easily return to farming, forestry, conservation, or other preferred rural uses;

be suitable for existing rural roads and result in little discernible difference in traffic patterns;

generate little demand for fire and rescue and police service;

be able to operate without the need for public water and sewer;

be sustainable with available groundwater; and

be consistent with other Rural Area policies.

Can you think of any proposal that could make it through this subjective labyrinth of approval?

Even if a staff recommendation could be acquired, do we anticipate any planning Commission making findings of any activity meeting all of these “standards”?

There has to be a better way.  The Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the performance standard models we have reviewed where objective metrics were developed to verify the data points rather than subjectivity reflected above.

The Comprehensive Plan even speaks of creating such performance standards on the same page as this review criteria:

Performance standards will be needed for any new uses to ensure that the size, scale, and location of the new commercial uses recommended for the Rural Area are appropriate.

It is of prime importance that the appearance and function of new uses blend and not detract from the key features of the Rural Area.

New uses should not overwhelm an area in terms of their function or visibility.

We fear this proposal may indirectly and unintentionally create food and gas deserts in the rural areas that will put rural residents even further away from the services they require.

Considering this proposal impacts only 80 properties, we believe this would be an excellent candidate for developing objective performance metrics.  Such an innovative program would protect the rural area AND Rural Property Rights – now would that be a good idea?

Respectfully submitted,

 

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Photo Credit: Commonplacemagazine.org

 

No Increase for Greene County Real Estate Tax Rates

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

In the next to final step in their FY2019 budget process, The Greene County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to maintain the same real estate tax rate forclip_image001 the coming fiscal year – $.775/$100 of the assessed value.

 

County Administrator John Barkley presented an overview of the budget process that started last July, 2017 and will conclude with at the May 8, 2018 Supervisor meeting when the budget is voted upon. The process included three workshops, advertising the rates, tonight’s presentation and the May 8th vote on the final budget.

Barkley highlighted that the county is investing in training of county personnel but, other than the school system, there are no increases in headcount. In addition, the county is focused on improved technology for improved services. The budget has 16 departments that are reflecting reductions in spending.

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John Barkley

Barkley then showed that Greene County’s Real Estate Tax Rate ($.775/$100) is in the middle of the surrounding counties – higher than Madison ($.680/$100) , but lower than Albemarle ($.839/$100) and Orange ($.804/$100).

The proposed budget does have an increase from $61,281K to $63,592K, an increase of over $2 million. The rate is able to stay the same since there is a significant increase in the number of houses in Greene County which is the primary contributor to increased local funding of over $1.5 million from real estate taxes.

Two other reductions that stand out is a 12% reduction in Greene County’s share of the funding of the Central Virginia Regional jail. The other significant reduction is over $400,000 reduction in debt service as borrowings are being fully paid off. The budget for capital expenditures is approximately $750,000 ($550,000 for all departments except the school system and $200,000 for the schools) even though there are significant projects in the near future – such as interconnectivity of the Sheriff, Rescue Squad and Fire Departments, the water impoundment project and the school renovation project.

The meeting shifted to comments from the public with four citizens speaking. Keith Bourne again brought up the elimination of 2 additional officers from the Sheriff’s budget. He suggested, as he has in past meetings, that the source for funding these positions could be by eliminating the $250,000 deficit incurred by the Solid Waste Facility by raising the tipping fees.

Current Tipping Fees for Greene County Landfill

30 Gallon Single (household garbage) $1.00
50 Gallon Single (household garbage) $2.00
90 Gallon Single (household garbage) $3.00

Tammy Durrer continued this discussion stating that the citizens of Greene County should not be required to subsidize the Solid Waste Facility. Her research came up with a fact that is unique to Greene County vs. neighboring counties. Greene County allows citizens from other counties to dispose their trash with no premium being charged. Albemarle County for example charges an additional $10 for people outside their county.

Mallory Lamb presented information related to how understaffed Greene County is in the Sheriff’s Department. She presented data from Page County (14,000 citizens) and Patrick County (18,000) vs. Greene County’s population of 19,000 (counties that have similar population to Greene County). Here is how the number of reports, total deputies and deputies funded by the county compare (as presented by Lamb).

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Steve Smith

According to these figures, Greene County generates more reports with significantly fewer deputies. Lamb also suggested that eliminating the subsidizing of the Solid Waste Facility by raising rates and charging a premium for citizens from outside Greene County would fund two additional positions – the budget that Sheriff Smith presented. Per the chart above, the number of citizens per deputy in Greene County is more than twice that of Page and Patrick County’s.

The final adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget is scheduled for May 8, 2018.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Lack of Infrastructure Investment Dooms Albemarle’s Neighborhood Model

By, Neil Williamson, President

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

Almost thirty years ago,  Albemarle County decided to attempt to focus population growth into 5% of its geographic area.  On a philosophical level this policy makes perfect sense, put the population where it is most efficient to deliver government services. The promise was for a 5% bustling urban core surrounded by 95% natural beauty of (privately held) rural areas.

Places29 Bistro Corner

Albemarle Development Vision from Places29

Conceptually, the 5% development area was to develop with concurrent amenities and investments along with the development.  The idea is for the smaller more compact home have access to amenities, employment and green space to make the development area home more attractive than a home on a couple of acres in the country.

As Charlottesville Tomorrow’s Sean Tubbs chronicled in a front page story in The Daily Progress this morning (5/1/18), Albemarle County has failed to build the infrastructure required to make the development area work.  Further, they have done a poor job explaining to residents the need for development in the development area.

Sean Tubbs reports on two developments planned for the Pantops area that went before the Pantops Community Advisory Council:

Rita Krenz, a Pantops committee member who said she was speaking as a resident of the Overlook Condominiums, said there are big issues with the plan.

“I think I speak for my neighbors when I say traffic is a problem that is not going to go away,” she said. “It’s unwise to put more residential units on this side of [Free Bridge].”

Krenz said the property was zoned in 1980 and much has changed since that time. She said if Pantops develops simply according to the plan as it exists now, it will hurt efforts to use the Rivanna River as a pastoral setting.

At one time there was some momentum for appropriate concurrent infrastructure spending along side private sector investment.

From December 8, 2004 staff report:

At the Board of Supervisors strategic planning retreat in October 2003, the Board identified the County’s growth and urbanization as a critical issue and established a new strategic planning goal related to urbanization. At this year’s retreat, the Board continued its focus on growth and urbanization by providing direction to staff regarding the desire to pursue an “Urbanizing County” level of service for the County’s transportation and streetscape needs. For transportation needs, this level of service focuses on providing “essential link” transportation projects, minimizing the use of private streets, and continuing to rely on VDOT for street maintenance. For streetscape needs, it includes the County becoming more involved in the construction and maintenance of streetscape in development areas, as determined by master plans.  For streetscape outside master planned areas, construction would be considered through the CIP process, based on the availability of funds.  In both transportation and streetscape, the County would continue to expect development to provide a significant portion of the initial infrastructure.  Emphasis added – nw

A funny thing happened on the way to Albemarle urbanization.  Elements of the Neighborhood Model of development [which had been sold as “A” model not “The” model] became part of the Albemarle County code forcing developers to put in curb, gutter, street trees and other Neighborhood Model “amenities”.  Developers built sidewalks interior to their development and Albemarle County has failed to connect the developments and thus failed to create the “walkability” they promised.

In November 2014, then Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley acknowledged the lack of planned transportation infrastructure investment:

Mr. Foley stated that the Board has set up specific funding in the Capital improvement Program (CIP) for master planned areas but that was for new developments. He stated that there was some money designated for interconnecting streets, but there has not been a focus on infrastructure funding for sidewalks and things in existing neighborhoods. Mr. Foley noted that the County never even got to the new areas due to limited capital funding

The vision of the Neighborhood Model was to have a variety of housing types and sizes as well as owned and rented properties intermingled to promote diversity.  Interestingly, the residents don’t seem to be interested in this diversity of housing types.

Again from Sean Tubbs article:

“It’s [the proposed development] a mixture of one- and two-bedroom apartments,” said Trey Steigman, a vice president at MSC. “These are not condominiums but for-lease apartments.”

Steigman said he did not know what the rates would be, but they would at least be market rate. The one-bedroom units would have an average of 700 square feet and the two-bedroom units would average about 1,000 square feet. . .

…“Those units are tiny,” said one resident of the Overlook Condominiums. “Who can live in 700 square feet?”

The unasked question that is inferred by this inquiry is perhaps more insidious ‘Who would want to live near someone who wants to live in such a tiny space’.  In addition, there is a palpable tension between owners and renters reflected in this discussion.

This is just the latest example of how Albemarle’s growth management (growth restrictive) policy is undermined by existing neighborhoods (often recently built) who oppose new development via the rezoning process. Most often the rationale for the opposition is the failure of Albemarle to meet existing resident expectations for services.  The lack of political will to stand up for the concepts and aspiring density rhetoric in the Comprehensive Plan is disappointing.

Tipping Point? An interesting byproduct of the Growth Management Plan and Magisterial design – about the same time the development area was designated, the magisterial districts were redrawn so that every supervisor had a portion of the growth area in their district.  With the level of development most districts are now population dominated by development area residents – mathematically speaking if you win Mill Creek and Glenmore neighborhoods, you win the Scottsville District.  Will this new electoral reality result in super representation of the development area concerns stated above?  Should it?

The Free Enterprise Forum does not believe the current development area reality comes close to the aspirational vision that was endorsed by the Development Initiative Steering Committee (DISC) or DISC II (AKA son of DISC).

Despite significant private sector investment in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, parks, sidewalks, etc.), Albemarle County has failed to create the connective linkages between developments (and in existing neighborhoods) to make the community vision a reality.

Based on the comments from Pantops, it soon might be too late to ever catch up.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.

Citizens Ask Sheriff’s Budget Request Be Fully Funded

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

“Matters from the Public” provides citizens the opportunity to address elected officials on any issue that is not on the governing bodies agenda for a public hearing.  On April 10th, the Greene County Board of Supervisors heard from two citizens regarding restoration Sheriff Department FY19 funding.

The Board previously held budget review meetings and made recommendations that will be formally considered on April 24th at 6:30 pm. One of the Board directed changes to the departmental requests was to reduce the Sheriff’s Department requested increase of nearly $400,000 to $157,236 – which was the value of 2 new deputy positions.

Under “Matters from the Public”, Keith Bourne offered an offset to the increase requested by Sheriff Smith that was reduced by the Supervisors – $241,966. His suggestion was to eliminate the subsidy for the land fill/recycling center and have their tipping fees raised to have all costs paid for and, therefore, not require taxpayer funds to support the center. His logic was that this would encourage citizens to do more recycling to minimize the cost to dispose of trash. Those funds could then be used to fully fund the budget request of Sheriff Steve Smith.

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Sheriff Steve Smith

Some though think that raising the tipping fees would cause people to stop bringing their trash to the landfill and disposing of it themselves.  In addition to the potential increase in illegal dumping, an increase in cost could decrease use, which could lessen the tipping fees received and increase the need for more of a subsidy.

In speaking with Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) about the reduction in Smith’s budget request, he indicated that the supervisors eliminated all headcount increases in the departmental requested budgets.  Herring clarified that the School Board receives a total dollar amount from the Supervisors and they, not the supervisors, determine whether to spend funds on increased headcount and the supervisors would have no say in that matter.

The other citizen, Mallory Lamb, brought up the issue that the school system has been able to keep unspent funds this past year of $700,000 and have accumulated over $3.5 million to date. This is the only department that is allowed to keep any unspent funds and is allowed to use those funds for capital expenditures. This means that these funds could be used for equipment or buildings but not for people or supplies.

This citizen asked that the Board of Supervisors fully fund Smith’s budget request  and explained that the Sheriff’s Department has underspent their budget by approximately $250,000 the past four years. And that looking at these sources of revenue – increased tipping fees or the accumulated unspent funds the past four years be used to fund Smith’s requested budget.

Possibly the policy allowing the school system to “bank” unspent budgets should be reviewed for all county departments. It is important to note schools is not a county department but a separate entity with its own elected Board to oversee spending decisions.  In addition, while other department have limited outside state and federal funding, the significance of variable, attendance based, state and federal funding create an additional level of complexity in school funding.

While most departments have needs for operating expenses vs. the schools having a large need for building and equipment the policy might be offered for expense items. The commitment to recurring operating expenses, such as personnel, would have to be managed so that it can be afforded ongoing. Reviewing spending patterns that show a consistent unspent balance to support a new expenditure could be put in place. However, this begs the question, why is a department consistently favorable to the budget that is submitted.

If the Sheriff’s Department is spending $250,000 less than budgeted for four straight years – why is the request for the prior year’s budget amount plus an additional $400,000 more for next year? Shouldn’t it only be for an additional $150,000 ($400,000 gross increase less $250,000 unspent)?

The final approval of the budget for all departments in the county rests with the Board of Supervisors. If a department is consistently spending $250,000 below budget for four straight years, why would the next year’s budget continue to be the prior year’s budget plus new items? It seems that the Board of Supervisors should look at the historical actual spending of a department, not just the prior year budget.

So if every department’s budget was calculated by using the most recent actual full year spending and a current year to date actual spending, maybe there would be funds available to fund some of the manpower requests, especially for the sheriff’s department which protects the citizens of Greene County.

Inversely, if any department is overspending their budget compared to previous year, it would prompt the question as to why and look for some corrective action.

It is unfortunate is that the different funding source complexities and governance structure results in the school system to march to a different budget beat than the other county departments.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

The Need for an Albemarle Rain Tax Vote

An open letter to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

By. Neil Williamson, President, Free Enterprise Forum

Dear Supervisors,

PrintAfter significant public discussion, tomorrow the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will be discussing the future of the proposed Stormwater Utility Fee (AKA Rain Tax).

Your staff has done an exemplary job bringing this option this far. This was time well spent and needed for the community to understand the stormwater needs and costs. The Free Enterprise Forum applauds staff’s accessibility and clarity in their public interactions and documentation.

With all due respect, the Free Enterprise Forum calls on the supervisors to do two simple things as a part of that discussion:

  1. Make a recorded vote up or down
  2. Vote NO on the Rain Tax.

As you know, The Free Enterprise Forum has been opposed to the Rain Tax concept  since it was first discussed.  We are asking you to put your vote on the record to counter the vote of September 2016 when your body endorsed a one vote majority committee position to move forward with the Rain Tax.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you have heard the hundreds of citizens who have attended town halls, telephoned or e-mailed their very real concerns with the inequity in the proposal.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because the community has expressed support for the important stormwater projects but not for this top-heavy funding mechanism.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because as proposed $1.2 million dollars annually would go toward “enforcement/regulation and administration”.  These funds could be better spent on significant community needs, including stormwater infrastructure improvements.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because GIS mapping is structurally flawed as it is based on the hand drawn tax maps rather than recorded plats. The results include buildings being placed on the wrong parcels. One local surveyor estimated 25% of all GIS mapping has some errors (many undercounting buildings).

Vote No on the Rain Tax because projects developed in the last decade include significant stormwater mitigation, resulting in better stormwater quality (and velocity) than the predevelopment condition. These mitigation practices are expensive, to then asses a fee to these property owners would be effective double taxation.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because 95% of Albemarle is rural and many of these tax payers will see no “utility” from the proposed Rain Tax

Vote No on the Rain Tax because of the “over 20 localities” who have enacted such a measure only 3 are counties, none of which has the same demographic or geographic considerations as Albemarle.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because stormwater is a community good not a utility. It rains on everyone and the environmental stewardship is everyone’s responsibility. Just as you would not consider a user fee for Public Safety or Schools, the community is better funding stormwater through the general fund.

Vote No on the Rain Tax because you can. Albemarle County is not mandated to enact a Stormwater Utility Fee. While staff has suggested regulators may prefer a fee funding formula, that is NOT a mandate.

Finally, Vote NO on the Rain Tax because it is the right thing to do.  Let’s use this positive community energy surrounding this issue to improve stormwater via the general fund.

As always, thank you for your service to our community.

Respectfully,

Neil Williamson, President