Economic troubles bring solemnity to county budget hearing

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Economic troubles bring solemnity to county budget hearing

Upon entering the County Office Building yesterday evening, it was apparent that this year’s annual hearing over the $303.7 million proposed budget would be decidedly less festive than in past years. Gone were the mocking pizza and root beer the Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance brought last year (a jab at Supervisor David Slutzky, who said in 2007 that proposed tax increases that year amounted to only a six-pack and a pizza a month). In their place was a more somber tone reflective of the economic troubles the county is facing.

Albemarle Truth in Taxation Alliance Chairman Keith Drake, pictured here in 2007, was pleased with the supervisors’ decision to drop the 2.5-cent contingency fund but said there is still work to be done to ensure tax dollars are spent "efficiently and effectively."

In fact, the meeting began with sobering remarks from County Executive Bob Tucker outlining the reduced services the public will be experiencing in the coming year, including fewer hours at county swimming beaches such as Walnut Creek, and slower police response times in rural areas.

Still, even without the refreshments, ATTA was out in full force again; this year their orange signs read, “Think outside the tax box.” ATTA Chairman Keith Drake expressed appreciation of the board’s proposed 74.2-cent “revenue neutral” real estate tax rate while urging board members to “spend more efficiently and effectively.” Several supervisors, including Chairman Slutzky, originally supported a tax rate of 76.7 cents to finance a contingency fund, which was dropped following public outcry.

Aside from the ATTA supporters, the remaining attendees spoke for either Albemarle County Schools or Star Swimming, Charlottesville’s non-profit competitive swimming club.

School supporters urged board members to “fully fund” the Albemarle County School Board budget request of $176 million, about $900,000 more than the current proposed budget.

The award for the night’s most creative analogy goes to Crozet Elementary School parentDavid Oberg, who equated not fully funding the school budget with eating Top Ramen every day: it’s cheap and you can do it, but that doesn’t mean you should.
School supporters also produced the youngest speakers, Henley Middle School eighth graders Alexander and Eric Hahn. “Will you make a difference in a student’s life?” Alexander Hahn asked board members. “You can if you fully fund the school board budget.”

About five Star Swimming members and parents urged Board members to fund their proposed indoor competitive swimming facility, which would cost the county $100,000 annually for five years, while their supporters held up signs proclaiming “Save Star!” Swim team members’ and parents’ complained that the lack of a proper swimming facility forces students to attend swim practice as late as 10:30 on school nights.

The campaign seemed to persuade Supervisor Ken Boyd: At the end of the meeting, Supervisor Boyd appeared to be very interested in reconsidering the inclusion of the facility in the capital budget.

By the end of the meeting, around 20 members of the public had spoken. Supervisors concluded by thanking the audience for attending. David Slutzky, frequently the target of sneering complaints from budget hawks, said he always finds the public hearings valuable. “There hasn’t been a public hearing in the years I’ve been on the board where we didn’t learn something…that didn’t influence us one way or another,” he said.

The Board will officially vote on the proposed budget and tax rate next Wednesday. If this tax rate is approved, most homeowners can expect their bills next year to look essentially the same as this year’s.

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