By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer
Motion to set tax levy for FY 2009 – 2010 at $.69 per $100 – Approved
Resolution to reduce the percentage of personal property tax relief – Approved
The County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at the William Monroe High School Auditorium to discuss some tough issues. First the Board held a public hearing regarding the fiscal year 2009-2010 budget and tax levies. The Board then turned their attention to personal property tax relief. The meeting concluded with an announcement by Jeri Allen that she will not seek another term as a member of the Board of Supervisors.
The Board began the meeting by opening the floor to citizens for public comment regarding either the proposed budget or tax levies. In an unprecedentedly short public hearing regarding these typically hot button issues, only four members of the public addressed the Board.
Jerry Gore noted he had “no words of criticism for the Board…” but was concerned about the continued cuts in federal and state funding. He encouraged the Board to fight back and “do battle with the State.” He was also concerned about the County’s increased financial responsibility for the regional jail.
Andrea Wilkinson noted that it was clear that there had been efforts to keep costs down. She applauded the effort of both the Board and School Board to “keep from a larger than necessary tax increase.”
One citizen took the opportunity to express her frustration with the increase in her property assessment. She noted that she had appealed the assessment but had never received a letter regarding the outcome. She was concerned that her home would never sell for the assessed value. She noted “I only want to pay my fair share.”
School Board Chair Michelle Flynn thanked the Board for their cooperation and open communication with the School Board during this budget session.
FY 2009-2010 Budget
Following public comment the Board discussed the budget. B. Peyton noted that like most of the country “Greene has experienced a serious economic condition.” The proposed budget reflects a 4.6% reduction over FY 2009. He stated “The challenge of budgeting this year is not the end…but a way of doing business in the future.” C. Schmitt noted that the budget process was “a balancing of items.” The Board had to consider future cuts in State funding and assure that the County did not have to borrow money to pay salaries. Most of the County’s departments and agencies received level funding or saw a decrease in funding. S. Catalano stated “Everybody sacrificed above and beyond” during this budget session. The County was already facing a 1 million dollar shortfall. He also noted that “the battle is with Richmond. To win the war we must send a message at the polls…I have never seen such a lack of accountability in our elected officials.”
The Board did not vote on the proposed budget. They will pass the budget in May.
The County has proposed to increase the amount of the property tax levies. The proposed rate is $.69 per $100 of assessed value. The previous tax rate was $.72 per $100. Although the proposed cents per hundred dollars is lower than the previous tax year rate, most property owners will see an increase in their property taxes due to the higher assessed values of their properties. The proposed $.69 per $100 rate represents a 6% increase in real estate taxes when the increased assessment values are taken into account.
Discussion from the Board on the tax levies was brief. B. Peyton noted “I wanted to set a lower rate but when your look at the revenue shortfall…it is impossible to go that far.” S. Catalano noted “We did not equalize the rate…. We have made a good sound decision if collections drop.”
J. Allen moved to set the tax levy on Real Property at $.69 per $100. The Board unanimously passed the tax rate.
The Board then considered a resolution to reduce the percentage of tax relief on personal property for FY 2009-2010. The Board voted unanimously to set the tax relief as follows: vehicles valued at less than $1,000 will be eligible for 100% relief; vehicles with a value between $1,001 and $20,000 will be eligible 53% tax relief; and vehicles valued over $20,001 will be eligible for $53% relief on only the first $20,000 of value.
Jeri Allen announced that she will not be seeking another term as the Ruckersville District’s representative to the Board of Supervisors. She noted that it is “a bittersweet moment for me.”
By. Neil Williamson
The Obama Administration may be planning to use the allocation of federal housing and transportation dollars to alter the way Americans live and how they travel. President Obama’s strong statement on “sprawl” during a Town Hall meeting in February (Ft. Myers FL) were followed by an interesting media release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Departmentof Transportation:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Departmentof Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHoodtoday announced a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportationoptions, and lower transportationcosts. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.
The Secretaries discussed their plans for sustainable communities today at a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing hearing titled, “Livable Communities, Transit Oriented Development, and incorporating Green Building Practices into Federal Housing and Transportation.”
The two agencies have set up “a high level interagency task force to better coordinate federal transportation and housing investments”. Included in its many goals are the following:
• More choices for affordable housing near employment opportunities;
• More transportation options, to lower transportation costs, shorten travel times, and improve the environment;
• More ability to combine several errands into one trip through better coordination of transportation and land uses; and
• Safe, livable, healthy communities.
Our good friend Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. wrote an interesting Heritage Foundation Backgrounder on this issue. Entitled “President Obama’s New Plan to Decide Where Americans Live and Travel”. In the piece, Utt outlined the current federal requirements regarding transportation and housing status reporting:
At present, HUD requires states, counties, and cities to conduct five-year Consolidated Plans estimating housing status and needs, and DOT requires the federally funded Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop Long-Range TransportationPlans and four-year Transportation ImprovementPrograms. Despite billions of dollars of spending on these entities, all of this costly planning coincided with what many believe has been one of the worst housing and transportation environments in U.S. history. Over the past decade, housing became less affordable than ever, and this has contributed to the most severe housing recession since the Great Depression. While all of the MPOs were huffing and puffing away on their little transportationplans, traffic congestioncontinued to worsen, and the quality of the transportationinfrastructure continued to decline, despite record federal and state transportation spending on both.
Nonetheless, having failed separately to come anywhere close to performing the straightforward tasks assigned to them, the White House proposes that these two forms of planning initiatives be combined in a cooperative partnership, and that they be given even more responsibility and greater control over living and travel policies for the American people.
The Free Enterprise Forum has long advocated for market based, rather than government, solutions. We have also supported flexibility in applicationof “sustainable” solutions. We note with great trepidation the federal government, with so much already on its plate, weighing in on land use. Each locality has different sensibilities regarding the creation of mixed use districts [witness the meeting in Belmont last night 4/28]. In addition, the “smart growth” communities with interwoven streets work better in the flatlands of upper Ohio than in the rolling hills of Central Virginia.
The concept of locking up required federal funding for transportation and affordable housing until the locality’s comprehensive plan meets the approval of the White House is usurping power and should not be tolorated.
Despite our many differences with local planning regarding land use planning, we believe such decisions should be made with the input from the citizens at the local level, without the significant threat of lost federal transportation or housing funding.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Fluvanna’s Planning Commission approved the Rivanna River Resort rezoning request for the second time in just over three months. This time however, the application to rezone from A-1 (Agricultural) to R-3 (Residential) came with far less density and a realigned building blueprint that spread the development over a wider area.
Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the master plan, just as they did before, but its prospects for approval by the supervisors seem stronger this time. Supervisors were particularly concerned about the previous plan’s density and this application reduced that to 254 units.
Substantial opposition arose to the initial proposal last February as residents criticized not only the density but also the location of the proposed development: just north of Palmyra village on Route 15. No citizens spoke before the Planning Commission this time.
In another major development, the hotly opposed joint water authority with Louisa County received the okay from the State Corporation Commission, which approved its Articles of Incorporation on April 21st. County officials have said that the fight is over and that there are no grounds for appeal.
The referendum proponents have challenged that notion. One source says that one approach will be to continue to hammer away at Fluvanna’s public advertisement, which they contend, violated state law by omitting waterline cost estimates.
Both sides will square off in court on May 15th.
A FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson
I am often struck by the unique sense of place created by the topography, climate, architecture and people. I tend to see places as a patchwork quilt with different textures and attributes in each city block but an underlying cohesiveness that holds them together. Such places grow organically — they are not regulated into existence.
Unfortunately, as I tour new urbanist projects in Florida they look a great deal like the ones I’ve seen in Chapel Hill which really looks a great deal like the one in Portland. McUrbanism — We’re Unique … just like everyone else.
Such bland vanilla flavoring of these projects are not only the result of boring design but of the tight demands of the regulatory environment. Last weekend, I was in Bellvue Washington for the American Dream Conference. Bellvue is just outside of Seattle and has a bustling commercial sector that literally did not exist 60 months ago. The hotel featured an underground parking garage that linked to two other commercial garages on other sides of the intersection. In addition, the buildings were linked on the second floor by skyways. None of these innovative concepts were mandated by law, rather they were true market creations.
Bellvue Place , linked to the hotel by skyway, is in the top 10 square foot profit performers of high end boutique shopping malls in the United States. The developer, recognizing the need for customer parking came up with the concept of linked buildings. At first, the planning department would not approve it. After significant discussion, the developer prevailed and was allowed to spend an additional $4 million dollars to construct the two tunnels. The three buildings now house over 5,000 jobs and have been so successful, city fathers are now claiming the linkage was their idea.
Despite the fact that one block north of Bellvue Place is a bus transit center that has over 5,000 riders a day, the owners recognized the customer need for easy, accessible, and free parking. During the holiday season, the property management opens an off site tenant employee parking facility and provides private transit service between the shops and the employee parking. A combination of contests and incentives has generated tenant employee participation in the program to the point that the complex can increase its parking capacity by 25%. .
You can’t regulate your way to prosperity
If the above scenario had been regulated into action it would not have been nearly as successful. Only the market can respond nimbly to such opportunities. Through a series of decisions and implementation, Bellvue Place is able to attract high end tenants and high end shoppers. Early on they recognized the importance of the automobile to their business. Rather than restricting the amount of parking and restricting their potential revenue, they found innovative synergies to increase parking for all their buildings. Imagination like this can’t be regulated into existence but it can be regulated out of existence.
By removing the choke of onerous regulation, the market will drive innovative design followed by prosperity.
Neil Williamson, President
The headlining issue before the Charlottesville City Council on its Monday April 20th meeting was a proposed increase in fees for outdoor Cafés and Vendors on the Downtown Mall. The amended fee schedule was brought before Council by city staff in order to better align the fees the renters pay with the true value of the land.
The amended fee structure would increase the price per square foot of outdoor Café space from $3 per square foot to $5 per square foot, unless the businesses choose to utilize newly available electrical outlets which would further raise the price to $7 per square foot. Additionally certificates for appropriateness for vendor stands would see significant increases under this new fee plan as well. The biggest, most expensive, assigned, spaces would leap from $800 to $1200 per year, followed by the smaller assigned spots, increasing from $600 to $800, and finally the unassigned spaces which could see an increase from $500 to $600. If implemented, the city would see more than $30,000 in additional revenue from the increase in Café fees and at least $26,000 extra from the raised vendor’s fees.
Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert highlighted the excitement he perceived from businesses that were happy to have the opportunity to use City electricity to run cash registers and credit card machines outdoors, near much of their seating in warmer months. Tolbert commented further that he hadn’t received a single serious complaint from businesses about the rate increases, reinforcing that “our [the City’s] rates are still a bargain for those who want to do business on the mall” and remain just a fraction on the price compared to similar spaces in the Fashion Square Mall.
City Council, however, did not join Tolbert in his enthusiasm about the rate increases, which they saw as steep given the current economic conditions. Despite a lack of public comment against the increases Council came out in opposition of them from the onset. Although all members of Council seemed to accept that an increase is probably overdue, the consensus was that it could be risky and unfair if done all at one time. Councilor David Brown commented that he’d “like to see us [the city] do something more incremental”. Vice-Mayor Julian Taliaferro also added his concerns about the economy and the potentially diminished atmosphere on the mall as a result of the increases, stating “I don’t want to do anything to discourage the vendors on the mall because they add a lot to the character of the mall”.
As discussion continued it became abundantly clear that Council didn’t want to see the abrupt fee increase and it was time for city staff to go back to the drawing boards to fashion a more agreeable proposal. Conversation closed with Tolbert saying that he hoped to have a new fee schedule on the agenda in a month.
Also on the agenda was a report on the state of Piedmont Virginia Community College from school President Frank Friedman, the unanimously approved initiation of a study on the potential of Single Room Occupancy housing to be added as a classification in city ordinance, unanimous approval of bond sales to go to various projects throughout the city, and a report from the ongoing Water Conservation Survey.
By. Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer
Greene County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to raise the Transient Occupancy Tax in Greene County by 3 % at their regular meeting on April 14, 2009. The new tax rate is 5%, the maximum permitted by law. The additional 3% tax will be dedicated to promoting tourism in Greene County. Roy Dye, Executive Director of Stanardsville Area Revitalization (STAR) spoke in favor of the measure. Other members of the public expressed concern that the funds might be used for items other than tourism. The Board addressed those concerns by reminding the public that 3% increase could only be used for tourism. B. Peyton moved to approve the increase, noting this is “more in line with other counties”. The measure passed by a 5 to 0 vote.
The Board of Supervisors also received their quarterly update from VDOT and discussed revisions to the six year plan. First, VDOT provided their quarterly report noting that the park road was complete and they are looking into providing a gate. VDOT also expects Bacon Hollow Road to be completed this summer. VDOT is also looking into requests from the public to reduce the speed limits on 607 and 670.
The Board also conducted a workshop with VDOT for the six year plan. Given the tight fiscal constraints on VDOT the outlook for the six year plan was rather gloomy. VDOT encouraged the Board to choose roads that might actually be fundable. The Board created a list of approximately six roads: Bacon Hollow Road, Mutton Hollow Road, Matthew Mill Road, Beasley Road Bridge Replacement, Sims Road and Middle River Road. Sims Road and Middle River Road were added to the list under the Rural Rustic Road Program. The State has not allocated any new funding for these projects and federal dollars are not available for them. If funding becomes available for them it will be a combination of remaining funds from the other projects. The public hearing on the six year plan is tentatively scheduled for May 12, 2009.
In other matters from the Board J. Allen again put forward the idea of a barking dog ordinance. She continues to receive complaints from an unidentified citizen who is in a dispute with his neighbor over their barking dogs. After a brief discussion it was determined staff will provide the Board with a copy of Albemarle’s ordinance for consideration at a future meeting.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Representative
Unsurprisingly, Fluvanna’s Board of Supervisors on April 15th approved establishing a joint water authority with Louisa County. The 4-2 vote, supervisors Ott and Weaver dissented, was in the face of substantial citizen opposition.
For the second time in a month, citizens presented a petition with over 2,100 signatures, although this time representatives filed it with the court directly. Previously, the citizens had presented a petition to the supervisors, but officials said it was flawed since the form was not pre cleared by the clerk of the court.
According to a source connected with the petition drive, the circuit court will hold a hearing on the merits of the second petition on May 15th. A government official believes that the second petition is flawed as well since, according to the official, there is no provision in Virginia law for the court to accept it. Meanwhile, Louisa County already has approved the joint water authority.
In other matters, the Board approved the new county budget for Fiscal Year 2010 along with a $.50 cent real estate tax for every $100 of assessed value. This represents an increase of 2 cents (4.2 percent). The hike is earmarked for future school bond repayments; previously the Board had intended to set aside a three-cent tax increase but backed off in the face of the recession.
For the first time this decade, the school budget will sustain a two percent cut, and overall spending, excluding debt service, will decline by some four percent.
By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer
Fluvanna’s supervisors will face several policy decisions on April 15th. The Board is expected to approve a two-cent tax increase in the real estate tax rate (to $.50 per $100 of assessed value) and agree to establish a Joint Water Authority with Louisa County.
Other items on the agenda include approving the FY 2010 budget, and Capital Improvement Plan. No one attended the public hearing supervisors held on the tax rate and budget.
That was not the case for the public hearing to consider the Water Authority. The issue was highly contentious; however, the Board is expected to reject a referendum petition signed by over two thousand residents in the space of two weeks. The petition form apparently was not “preapproved” by the clerk of the court prior to circulation.
The Authority would become a wholesale water seller to just two customers (both counties), would establish the pipeline route, could take land through eminent domain, and raise needed funds through bond issues.
Proponents of the referendum object to several aspects of the Articles of Incorporation’s powers and have started a new petition drive. Theyalso have threatened to sue the supervisors if the Boardapproves the Authority.
The proposed budget is set at just under $62 million. Overall spending is down by some $2.3 million, excluding debt payments and set-asides. Virtually every aspect of county services was reduced – including school funding (-2.2 percent), which was reduced for the first time this decade.
The Board acknowledged economic reality and made an effort to craft an operating budget that reflected constituent priorities (every area but public safety, education, and public works was cut by at least five percent).
In another political development, Planning Commissioner Joe Chesser announced that he intends to run for the Rivanna district supervisor seat currently held by Mr. Charles Allbaugh. Mr. Chesser said that he wants to improve financial management practices so that supervisors can better judge project proposals and the future financial implications that will flow from them.
Mr. Allbaugh, who campaigned successfullyby advocating for the new high school, has not indicated whether he will stand for reelection.
By. Justin West, Charlottesville Field Officer Intern
Chalk the Monday April 6th meeting of the Charlottesville City Council up as a victory for those fighting for the preservation of McIntire Park. Despite not technically appearing on the agenda, the issue once again dominated conversation, this time using the McIntire Park Wading Pool as a proxy. The pool does not comply with new federal legislation, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, and would therefore require outfitting with what city staff estimates as $15,000- 20,000 in anti-entrapment devices if it is to remain open.
City staff cited the cost of the undertaking, along with the city’s recent trend of consolidating their pools by closing older facilities and opening the Onesty Family Aquatic Center and Smith Aquatic Center within the next year as two of the three reasons for closing the pool. Both points stand alone from staffs final concern that the pools location in McIntire Park is too close to and potentially adversely affected by City Councils proposed alternative for the Route 250-Meadowcreek Parkway interchange but did not receive as much discussion or attention as the polarizing road.
The public hearing was dominated by citizens speaking warmly of the charm and utility of the old facility and harshly towards the controversial parkway. One resident, Pat Napoleon, joined the chorus of citizens arguing against the parkway via the pool issue by claiming that, “maybe it is those [advocating the parkway] who think it will be easier to build the objectionable road if the infrastructure of the park is taken away first.” These arguments struck a cord with Mayor and strong supporter of saving the park, Dave Norris, who claimed that the public is in denial of the negative consequences of the Meadowcreek Parkway and that the loss of the wading pool would be among them. However, this line of conversation frustrated Councilor David Brown, who called it a “shame” that the issue became a tirade against the parkway as it overshadowed the issue at hand.
From the outset, the pool never really seemed in danger as each Council member spoke of the facility as an asset to the community that should be preserved despite the current economy and the cost of compliance with the new federal law. Councilor Julian Taliaferro called the pool “a Charlottesville tradition” while Councilor Brown argued that, in the wake of the closing of the Forrest Hills wading pool, “maybe we need to keep a wading pool somewhere.” Adding that if there are private donors to pay for the improvements, as city staff suggested there were, “we should take them up on that offer.”
Perhaps the most memorable commentary coming from the hearing came from a self-described “old warhorse”, citizen Virginia Germino, who said in relation to the pool and the park that it seems as though “everything that’s simple and ordinary is doomed.” However on this day, the simple, ordinary pool received a 5-0 vote to be saved and improved upon from City Council.
Other Items on the Agenda
In addition to the wading pool discussion there were continuing FY 2010 budget discussions which were all moved to a later date, a report on the design for the new federally funded, $9 million Belmont Bridge, and considerable discussion on a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study for the dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. The RFP was prepared by Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) and enumerated what council wants from prospective firms who will compete for the contract to perform the pre-dredge survey. The RPF asks for a bathometric survey, which studies the contour of sediment settling, a volume analysis of how much of the original capacity of the reservoir will be gained back, detailed assessments of the processing and disposal of the sediment, and most importantly the identification of prospective disposal sites for the dredged sediment. This final component, the most important factor in dictating the price tag of dredging, was the source of most of the discussion on the topic. Mayor Norris shared concern over the control and access the city would have over the disposal site and argued that the RPF should ask for the site to be procured or somehow guaranteed to the city rather than just being identified. That debate and dialogue over wording in the RPF yielded little change and the RPF was approved nearly unchanged by a 5-0 vote.
Members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors,
This Wednesday (4/8) you will be holding a work session to discuss the proposed increase in Albemarle County’s subdivision fees. The Free Enterprise Forum has three areas of concern with the current proposal: the study, the fairness of cost burden share, and the cost of complexity. Despite our general agreement that applicants should share in the cost burden of applications, we are unable to fully support staff’s recommendation regarding the proposed fees.
The Free Enterprise Forum has significant concerns regarding the timing and methodology of the consultant time study of Albemarle County’s Community Development Department.
ü Timing – The study took place in 2007 at a time of significant rezoning activity and a high level (50%?) of employee turnover.
ü Self Reporting – the study relied on staff reporting regarding the time spent on a particular task. Parkinson’s law dictates work will always expand to fill the time allotted.
ü Staff year – The staff work year in the study is 1,750 hours rather than a standard 2,080 hours.
The Applicant’s Cost Burden
In addition to our concerns regarding the study, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the Community Development Department activities benefit a multiplicity of population cohorts. If the goal of the new fees is to place the cost burden on the beneficiaries and examination of all those involved in the process is instructive.
The primary beneficiaries are the public and the applicant. Enforcement of codes provides the applicant (and any subsequent ownership) with the security that neighboring parcels will be held to the same high development standards. Such enforcement also provides the public with assurances that their vision as enumerated in the Comprehensive Plan and supported by ordinance will come to fruition.
In recent years, the Albemarle County Planning Commission has significantly expanded the level of detail and amount of information required for any given approval. Each time an administrative approval is called up by the commission, the costs for Albemarle County (staff reporting, presentation time) and the applicant (consultant fees, attendance at public meetings, etc.) increase exponentially. Who is being served by this process? If the Planning Commission’s hands are tied by law regarding the approval if it meets the prescribed criteria, are the citizens being served by taking this to the commission?
Two different engineering firms have indicated to the Free Enterprise Forum that the proposed increase in fees for County review may exceed the professional fees these firms would charge for surveying and preparation of a subdivision plat. This does not seem fair or right.
Cost of Complexity
Recently, a rural church wanted to build a shed for their lawn mower and other yard equipment. By the time they received their building permit, the church had spent over six months working with Community Development. Mark Graham estimated over $6,000 of county costs were sunk into that application. This too does not seem right or fair.
The cumulative impact of Albemarle County’s regulatory environment can not be ignored in this discussion. In this time of reduced application volume, the Board of Supervisors could direct staff to dig deeper into the Development Review Task Force recommendations and reduce the onerous regulatory burden on County staff and applicants.
The Free Enterprise Forum recognizes the need to increase subdivision fees to more effectively capture a portion of application approval costs. We believe significant inefficiencies exist in the current system. We call on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to reject the results of the flawed time work study. Further, we encourage Community Development to examine the current regulations and propose streamlining of the process.
Finally, considering the current economic environment and the questions that have been raised by the Free Enterprise Forum and others, we call on the Board of Supervisors to delay this vote (or at least implementation) for at least 12 months.
Thank you for your service to our community,
Free Enterprise Forum