Busted budget: Schools, housing initiatives among programs affected by coronavirus crash

Councilor Payne addresses his fellow councilors via videoconference. Councilor Payne addresses his fellow councilors via videoconference.

 

The City of Charlottesville was almost all the way through the always-laborious yearly budget process when the coronavirus crisis derailed its plans. City Council held an online meeting Monday night—its first meeting in a month—to discuss the city’s deeply uncertain finances.

The most recent projections, delivered by City Manager Tarron Richardson, suggest $8.5 million of lost revenue as a result of the crisis. That means that many of the new, exciting programs the council had planned are now in jeopardy. The creation of a Director of Equity and Inclusion position and the Unity Days programming, two appropriations that community activists had fought for in the wake of Unite the Right, will be deferred. The pre-coronavirus proposed 2021 budget had given $2.1 million more than last year to the schools, but that increase won’t happen. The $7 million Capital Improvement Plan, which includes a variety of projects, from affordable housing initiatives to a controversial downtown parking lot, will be delayed; those funds will be put in an emergency reserve to combat the short-term effects of the virus.

“Something that gives us housing five years from now or three years from now is less important to me than something that might keep people in their homes now,” said councilor Lloyd Snook. The city has already suspended utility shut-offs and public housing evictions. 

UVA’s plans remain a looming unknown. Mayor Nikuyah Walker was pessimistic about the prospect of students returning: “We have an economy that’s built off of the university and tourism, and we’re going to have neither of those things,” she said at the meeting.

Things could get worse, too. “We could see the revenue gap grow substantially larger,” said councilor Michael Payne. “There’s going to be very difficult decisions to make.”

The council extended the deadline to pass a budget from April 15 to June 30. “I think we’ll be able to maintain our public services,” said Richardson. “But there will be some struggles.”

 

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