Economic Conditions Limit Charlottesville City Council’s Willingness to Spend

 By: Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern


A particularly agreeable Charlottesville City Council jogged through a two hour long meeting without a single dissenting vote on Tuesday, January 20th. Adjourning with only two of the issues on its slate receiving considerable discussion and the remaining two moved to a later date for consideration.


Dialogue on Race   


 As presented by Assistant City Manager Maurice Jones, a new citywide dialogue on race will follow in the mold of Lynchburg and Richmond, among others nationally, with the goal of establishing “an honest, open and sustained discussion on the issue of race”. The proposal includes the city hiring a full time coordinator and a $1,000-2,000 a day facilitation team that will train local volunteers in the study circle model of facilitating small group discussions. Eventually these small discussions, each composed of 10-15 residents from all over the city, are intended to add to the community’s overall understanding of issues of race and diversity.


Despite a consensus of support for the idea, the Council’s main concern was the cost of the project, totaling to $10,000 in the 2009 fiscal year and $30,000-50,000 in 2010. Councilor David Brown suggested that the city give the proposal $5,000 in 2009 and $15,000 in 2010, placing the burden on Jones to find matching funds from foundations or corporations in order to get the money it needs. Mayor Dave Norris suggested the eventual compromise plan which will give the dialogue the full $10,000 it needs in 2009 and later consideration for future funds as the 2010 budgeting session approaches. Jones agreed that the first years’ funding would be enough to start the program, but not hire staff; additionally he assured Council that he would continue looking for outside funds. The discussion closed with a unanimously approved motion to approve 2009 funding for the project by Councilor Satyendra Huja.


Stormwater Utility Program


The headlining issue of the evening was what the Council would do to fix Charlottesville’s crumbling public stormwater infrastructure and whether the utility fees included in the city’s proposed Stormwater Utility Program would be the solution. City Environmental Administrator Kristel Riddervold was quick to point out, in her report, that 7 of the cities 50 miles of pipes are in need of “immediate repair or replacement”, adding that there could potentially be more of the system needing attention that the city just doesn’t know about yet. The plan puts a $600,000 a year price tag over a five year span to fix all of the immediate needs within the system. Currently there is only $100,000 placed in the budget that could be used to address the problem, money which is designated for annual emergency infrastructure repair.


Presented before the Council as a solution was the Stormwater Utility Program, which would include expanded program components in addition to the emergency repairs, providing a “level of service that addresses program gaps and needs”. This new programs funding would come from a user based fee on footage of impervious surfaces, which the Council was quick to criticize as being irresponsible in current economic climate. Although all on the board saw the program as necessary in the long run and the fee as a potential solution to the problem of increased stormwater, they realized the financial strain that it would place on the city’s residents and businesses. The fee would target those with large amounts of impervious surfaces, such as roof space and pavement, which Councilor Brown pointed out is the aim, as they are the primary producers of stormwater. It’s clear he envisions the eventual implementation of the fee as an incentive to create less stormwater and use more pervious surfaces.


Aware that the current stormwater infrastructure remains a problem that will only get worse and more costly over time, the city council did choose to designate $600,000 in the current budget for system rehabilitation and is deferring the proposed program and fee until better economic times. 


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