By Neil Williamson, President
In Wednesday’s (2/1) meeting, without so much as a formal public hearing, Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors plans to send a $1.4 million dollar piggy bank to the unelected Citizen Advisory Councils so that the elected officials don’t have to make the hard budget choices.
Nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s just not right. Please let me explain.
Albemarle’s annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget is laborious and involves significant number of staff hours to determine the staff priority for Capital projects such as vehicles, buildings and renovations.
Over the last 13 years the Free Enterprise Forum has been impressed with the level of detail and careful consideration the CIP committee (including citizen representation and 2 elected BOS members) have put into these discussions. There have been times when one geographic portion of the development areas had CIP projects that garnered higher scores by the committee and these were funded rather than less urgent projects.
The new “Neighborhood Funding Initiative” would siphon off $1.4 million of the annual CIP budget and allocate it geographically and by population. The staff has proposed a formula to accomplish this task:
Staff has simply developed this Board driven concept. In fact, the staff report hints at a better manner to utilize citizen involvement along with the elected officials within the current CIP process.
staff has conducted best practices research which is summarized as Attachment A that revealed that the majority of these types of community focused improvement funding programs fall into three basic categories: neighborhood matching grants; formal citizen involvement in capital planning; and citizen-driven Capital Improvement Programs. After hearing the Board’s discussion, staff thinks that the third category may most clearly align with the Board’s preferences, so the program has been designed along those lines. If the Board would like this program to be more closely incorporated in the already existing CIP review, evaluation and ranking process that would be another viable approach.
The Free Enterprise Forum has long been a critic of the unelected CACs.
In 2009 we wrote:
The Free Enterprise Forum believes citizen groups (including us) should have the ability to be active participants in the workings of local government. That being said, we are increasingly concerned that the leadership function of some Boards and Commissions may be inappropriately delegating to community organizations.
With the proposed policy change, beyond effective regulatory veto power over development projects that would advance the community vetted comprehensive plan, Albemarle now seems poised to give these unelected “mission creeping” Citizen Advisory Councils the county purse strings as well.
As the Supervisors continue to delegate, I wonder what will be left for them to do … besides run for reelection.
As we said in 2009:
In the end, elected leaders must lead, not delegate, if citizens don’t like the direction they should replace the leaders.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Stay tuned.
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 and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org