City budget up 6%: Affordable housing, parking are priorities

City Manager Maurice Jones has a new job in Chapel Hill.
Photo by Eze Amos City Manager Maurice Jones has a new job in Chapel Hill. Photo by Eze Amos

City Manager Maurice Jones presented his $170 million draft budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 at the March 6 City Council meeting, citing the city’s significant growth as a main reason for the 6 percent increase over the current adopted budget.

“City Council and staff have identified two critical areas that must be addressed in order for the city to continue to flourish,” he wrote in his presentation. “Affordable housing and parking. As commercial investment surges in the city, the cost of land increases, thus making it more difficult to build affordable housing.”

Over the next five years, the $171,619,374 budget offers a significant increase in the Affordable Housing Fund, with an extra $800,000 in the first year to total $2.5 million, and an additional $3.4 million per year starting in fiscal year 2019. Specific plans for the money have not been made.

The funding will be coupled with more than $2 million over five years allotted for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to improve public housing, Jones says.

In January, C-VILLE reported that 1,530 new housing units have been created in the city in the last six years, though only 73 of them, or fewer than 5 percent, are priced to be affordable, which means that a two-person family making at least $52,650 a year could afford to rent it. In Charlottesville, 1,800 families, or 25 percent, make less than $35,000 a year. The city has set a goal to have 15 percent of its housing be affordable by 2025.

By addressing parking, Jones says the city is taking steps to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who visit downtown Charlottesville every day. This year’s budget proposal includes $10 million in the capital improvement plan to fund future parking projects, which could include a garage at the Guadalajara and Lucky Seven site.

The proposed budget will give $575,000 to the City Council Strategic Initiatives fund, allocating $450,000 to fund operations of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, $20,000 to continue a GED program, and the remaining $105,000 will be used to fund council priorities, including diversion programs, skilled trades training programs and a black youth achievement coordinator position, details of which have not been worked out.

The draft budget funds about a dozen other new or reclassified city positions, including $92,500 for an IT support technician for the police, fire and sheriff’s departments, $68,461 for a traffic officer, $59,000 for maintenance workers and $26,000 for a  part-time Downtown Job Center assistant.

In the compensation and benefits category, public safety employees will see more money from $870,000 for a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. Another $970,000 will be set aside to adjust pay for public safety employees to make salaries more competitive, the result of a market salary study. An estimated $510,000 will be used to increase certain temporary and contracted employees’ wages to the city’s living wage, which is $13.79 an hour.

City schools will get an extra $2 million in new operational funding. Among upcoming capital improvements is a new track at Charlottesville High School. Over the next five years, $5 million will become available in an unallocated fund for projects of the schools’ choosing.

Jones has proposed $153,000 to Charlottesville Area Transit for a route adjustment to accommodate riders at the new YMCA in McIntire Park, and $37,000 is allotted to increase operating hours at the community recreation centers at Tonsler Park, Westhaven and Friendship Court.

The draft budget proposes no increase in any taxes or fees, keeping the real estate tax at 95 cents per $100 of assessed value.

State of the city

Charlottesville’s population has increased nearly 13 percent, from 43,475 in 2010 to about 49,000 in 2016, according to newly released information from the Weldon Cooper Center.

  • 39,155 jobs, the highest number ever recorded.
  • 3 percent unemployment rate, one of the lowest in the state.
  • 73 percent hotel occupancy, eight points above the national average of 65 percent.
  • 1.8 percent retail vacancy rate in January 2017, down from 3.3 percent in July 2016.
  • 30 languages currently spoken by kids in the city school system.

Revenue projections

Though the city’s real estate tax will stay at 95 cents per $100 of assessed value, commercial assessments are increasing by almost 30 percent, due to Charlottesville’s “incredibly robust commercial real estate market,” according to City Manager Maurice Jones.

  • Real estate assessments for the current year show residential property increasing by 4 percent and commercial assessments up 30 percent. As a result, revenue is projected to increase $7 million.
  • Lodging revenue could bring in an extra $1 million.
  • Personal property tax revenue is expected to increase by $790,000.
  • Meals tax revenue is projected to go up by $720,000.
  • Sales and use tax revenues are expected to increase by $400,000 and business license tax revenue will increase by $141,477.
  • Revenue sharing from Albemarle County up by $88,401.
  • Parks & Rec revenue will drop by $101,000 because of reductions in Aquatics and Recreation Center revenue.

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