City Manager Tarron Richardson presented his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 at the City Council meeting on March 2. If that sentence made you yawn, we understand—but the tail end of the hours-long council meeting represents the beginning of the end of the budget cycle, some of the more important city business of the year. Richardson’s office has been working with City Council on the budget since September, and will finalize the plan in April.
Around 20 firefighters attended the meeting in yellow T-shirts reading “staffing matters,” as a protest against Richardson’s decision not to fund nine new positions for the department. Richardson says the fire department’s hiring program was developed before he arrived, and that new hiring has to be done strategically.
The new budget includes significant appropriations for affordable housing, with $4.1 million for housing in FY21 and $31.2 million in the five-year capital improvement plan, though it doesn’t include the roughly $400,000 requested by the Charlottesville Housing Affordability Grant Program. Community activism around housing “elevated it as a priority for City Council,” Richardson told us in a rare interview February 28. “And as city manager, I try to follow through with their defined priorities.”
Richardson also defended his decision to give the school district a $2.1 million budget increase instead of the $3.8 million it requested. He says the $2.1 million is in accordance with the 40 percent of new property taxes that has historically been given to schools. The school board presented a breakdown of its request at the meeting, emphasizing teacher compensation as a critical component that could be jeopardized by lack of funding.
Then there’s the Market Street parking garage, a $10 million expenditure that Richardson has explained away as “basically signed off on with the county” before he arrived. Councilor Michael Payne criticized the garage at the meeting, saying “it could be very easy for us to spend 10 million on this to meet a need that’s not exactly there.”
C-VILLE asked Richardson if declining requests from citizens all day long takes a toll on him. “It takes a toll, yes,” he said. “Do I say no all the time? I would say no. But what I try to do is make sure that we take things and look at it from a holistic approach.”
Quote of the Week
“I want teachers to be able to afford to live in our city.”
—Charlottesville School Board chair Jennifer McKeever, addressing City Council about the school district’s unmet funding request
Bikers on Barracks?
On March 2, City Council voted unanimously to approve a state-funded project that will add a shared-use pedestrian and bike path to a stretch of Barracks Road. But some nearby residents objected—one speaker at the council meeting suggested that installing sidewalks and bike paths was unnecessary because there were never any walkers or bikers on the road. Perhaps that’s because there are no sidewalks or bike paths? Impossible to say for sure.
During the same meeting, council expressed support for a requested special use permit from developer Woodard Properties for a new apartment complex on Harris Street. The permit would allow Woodard to build 105 units; the developer indicated that 10 of those would be designated affordable housing. Without the permit, Woodard could build 50 units and wouldn’t have to keep any affordable. Mayor Nikuyah Walker wanted to push Woodard to include more cheap units, but Councilor Michael Payne backed the permit, saying blocking developments like these won’t address the deep-lying issues that have created the local housing crisis.
Honoring our ancestors
Dozens of people gathered in Court Square March 1 for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the thousands of enslaved people, including children as young as 2, who were bought and sold there. The event, which included prayer, singing, and readings, kicked off the city’s Liberation and Freedom Day celebrations, which continue through March 9 and commemorate the arrival of Union troops in Charlottesville.
Still standing still
Nothing has changed with the Dewberry/Laramore, our local eyesore on the Downtown Mall, but apparently that’s not for lack of trying. According to documents obtained recently by The Daily Progress, the city initiated a process to conduct a structural integrity study of the building last November, a potential step toward demolishing the long-neglected property under its blight ordinance. The catch? Dewberry Capital, whose Dewberry Group website declares the half-completed wreck is “poised to become the city’s premier luxury multi-use property,” hasn’t given the city permission to enter the site.