Although revenue is up in Albemarle, and county exec Jeff Richardson presented a sunny forecast to the Board of Supervisors February 15, his $457-million fiscal year 2020 budget is based on upping the current property tax rate by 1.5 cents.
He calls the budget, which increases spending 5.7 percent, “an ambitious vision statement that is both grounded in history and aspirational,” anchored by the county’s strategic goals of an “exceptional public education system” and a thriving economy, and “rooted in protecting our environment.”
In addition to the tax increase, the county will see more revenue from property assessments, which increased on average 4 percent. Also up are personal property tax revenues, which Richardson attributes to citizens buying new cars, and sales and food and beverage taxes.
The higher property tax rate was a possibility when voters approved a $35 million bond referendum in 2016 to expand Woodbrook Elementary, but was deferred the past couple of years because of higher revenues, said Richardson.
Now, he wants to dedicate the 1.5-cent tax increase to capital improvements and debt service.
The budget recommends nine priority areas for spending, including economic development, broadband expansion, and parks. Darden Towe will see athletic field improvements, and Hedgerow Park, Buck Island Creek Park, and the Rivanna Reservoir boat launch are slated for funding.
Economic development, such as the county’s wooing of WillowTree, which is going to rehab the aging Woolen Mills factory and bring high-paying tech jobs, is part of the “transformational” investment the county wants to make more of in the 21st century, and Richardson wants to be ready for the next emerging opportunity. “We’ve got to be poised to be able to pivot,” he says.
Sustaining a quality county staff is another budget goal, and if approved, county employees will see a 2.3 percent raise. The proposal adds 15.5 staff positions, including a circuit court clerk, a deputy sheriff, a police officer, and two positions at Parks & Rec.
Revenue sharing—the agreement that the county forks over 10 cents of its property tax rate to the city for stopping annexation in 1982—is always a sore point with county residents. This year that multi-million dollar payment will be down 9.5 percent. The formula used to calculate the payment lags 24 months, and Charlottesville’s 13 percent jump in commercial property tax assessments in 2017 was the “biggest variable,” says Richardson.
County schools get 45 percent of the county’s budget, and Richardson’s budget adds $8.5 million to schools. “An exceptional school system underpins our vision,” he says.
The Board of Supervisors will hold its first budget work session February 21. Read all 300 pages here.