By. Neil Williamson, President
The Albemarle County Planning Commission (PC) has reached a new high in mission creep as in their January 26th meeting they chose to not only ignore a 2014 change in Virginia state law, they also decided to ignore a clearly worded memo of direction from the Board of Supervisors regarding cash proffer calculation.
Along the way, they expanded their directive and in an effort to extract more cash proffers from new home buyers, they started the ball rolling on a “Fantasy Island” Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that could, if ever implemented, increase annual CIP spending by $144.3 Million and increase property taxes by 37.5% ($750+ on a $250,000 home).
Please let me explain.
The Fiscal Impact Advisory Committee (FIAC) produced a report in September 2015 indicating the need to dramatically reduce the maximum cash proffer amount permitted to bring Albemarle County in line with the 2014 change in State Code. The 2014 law requires the calculation be based on only CIP projects that increase capacity (rather than maintenance).
FIAC’s recommendation followed the 2014 state law change:
2) Amend the maximum per unit cash proffer amounts to:
o SFD – $4,918 (2014 value was $20,987)
o SFA/TH – $3,845 (2014 value was $14,271)
o MF – $5,262 (2014 value was $14,871)
The September 3, 2014 memo from the Board of Supervisors directing the PC and FIAC to review the Cash Proffer Calculation was very clear:
Specifically the Board requests that the Committee:
1) Analyze possible credits for:
-Development in targeted areas. Targeted areas are those areas shown as Priority Areas identified in each Master Plan Area.
-Mixed use developments.
-Development supportive of growth management strategies of the Comprehensive Plan.
2) Provide recommendations on changes to existing credits in the policy, including the credit that may be provided for by-right units, now available by policy only in limited circumstances (Policy § C(6)(c)).
3) Update the County’s maximum per unit cash proffer amount by dwelling unit type.
4) Provide this advice and recommendation at the earliest possible date.
Several members of the FIAC complained to the Planning Commission that the proffer number was too low due to the change in State law and Albemarle’s recent “maintenance only” CIP. Rather than accepting the report and direction from a committee that met 18 times over the last year and half, the Planning Commission discussion focused the committee’s disgruntled members and on their own uncomfortableness with the resultant proffer numbers required by state law.
PC Members wanted staff to detail all the capital projects required to achieve the vision of the newly approved comprehensive plan. It was their thought that this would provide a better context than what the state law provided.
The Free Enterprise Forum has been critical of the Planning Commission’s involvement in these fiscal discussions. Part of that criticism is based on the limited scope of the commission and the reality that Planning Commissioners do not fully understand the capital spending crisis Albemarle County is already in.
Cash proffers provide less than 3.5% of the annual revenue for capital spending. The lion’s share comes from property taxes.
With the economic downturn, recent Boards of Supervisors chose not to increase taxes to keep up with new infrastructure demands but rather to kick such funding down the road and only fund maintaining existing infrastructure.
Albemarle’s FY2016 Budget Message summed it up succinctly:
As most recently reviewed, the CIP continues to focus on meeting mandates, maintaining existing infrastructure, and investing in those projects that allow the County to continue core and necessary services without substantial increases in operational costs. … As most recently reviewed, $152.1 million or 50% of the requested CIP projects were unable to be funded with current resources.
So what does that mean the Planning Commission is contemplating?
Based on our review of the Comprehensive Plan and Albemarle’s own assessment that they can’t fund half of the CIP projects already on the books now – we conservatively estimate the Planning Commission Fiscal Follies would likely triple the CIP need.
Therefore, to fully fund the Planning Commission’s “Fantasy Island” CIP could be $.40+ (currently ~$.10) on the tax rate. Based on Albemarle’s tax calculator – on a $250,000 home that equates to a $750 [37.5%] increase in local property taxes.
But the Planning Commission really is not in a place to understand this fiscal reality. As unelected appointees, they do not have to face the voters with such fiscal follies.
The Free Enterprise Forum calls on the Planning Commission to cease wasting limited staff resources on this fanciful mission creep into County fiscal matters. We believe they should vote (either way) on the September 2015 FIAC recommendation and send their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors who do answer to the voters.
We believe a 37.5% “Fantasy Island” CIP property tax increase would generate significant discussion among the Board and voters.
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 Credits: Charlottesville Tomorrow, ABC Television