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Charlottesville City Council hears budget of $216 million for fiscal year 2023

Council balanced funds for affordable housing, school reconfiguration project

<p>The budget allocates $7.3 million to be invested in affordable housing and $7.1 million to capital improvements in schools.</p>

The budget allocates $7.3 million to be invested in affordable housing and $7.1 million to capital improvements in schools.

Charlottesville City Council members discussed the proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year at Monday’s meeting. As it stands, the budget fulfills the Charlottesville school board’s request of $4.2 million, funds seven new city positions and allocates $7.3 million towards affordable housing. 

Interim City Manager Michael Rogers presented the budget, with $216 million in revenue and the same amount in expenditures. Rogers said the budget department aimed to balance a number of competing priorities in drafting the budget, including a school reconfiguration project and affordable housing initiatives.

“In this budget we have tried to cover many of the priorities that the Council has identified,” Rogers said. 

The budget allocates $7.3 million towards affordable housing, $7.1 million towards capital improvements in schools, $4.9 million towards transportation and access, $1.5 million towards parks and recreation, $1.4 million towards facilities capital projects, $1.4 million towards public safety, $290,000 towards general government and $95,000 towards economic development. 

Lisa Torres, chair of the Charlottesville City School Board, presented the proposed 2023 fiscal year budget for Charlottesville City Schools.

Torres identified three budget priorities, beginning with the school reconfiguration project. The reconfiguration project would create a new preschool center on the campus of what is currently Walker Upper Elementary School, allowing all Charlottesville preschoolers to learn at one campus and providing additional classrooms, specialized services for young learners and before and after school care. 

The project would also return fifth graders to elementary school rather than middle school and modernize Buford Middle School to be used for 6th through 8th graders. Other priorities include a focus on student programming and increasing staff compensation to attract and retain qualified teachers.

According to Kim Powell, chief operations officer of Charlottesville city schools, school department heads and leaders recently reworked their budgets to offset $81,267 of spending increases on non-discretionary and recurring contracts with $224,900 of reductions. Other reductions include 17 positions, totaling $980,750.  

The budget also calls for the use of $2.1 million of the $15.7 million awarded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and American Rescue Plan, leaving $8.7 million to be used by Sept. 2024. At least $2 million of the ARP funds must be used to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student’s learning. 

Within the budget, Charlottesville City Schools could utilize $7.5 million of grant funds from the American Rescue Plan, the CARES Act state grant money allocated for HVAC repairs and for other capital improvement projects besides reconfiguration. According to Powell, utilizing federal funds for CIP construction projects will free up funds for the city to put towards other projects including reconfiguration. 

City Council then voted to approve the consent agenda, which contained a motion to reallocate $625,000 originally intended for a class and compensation study investigating the feasibility of implementing collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is the process through which a group of workers join a union that represents the worker’s interests in meetings with municipal governments regarding issues such as pay and time off.

James Freas, director of neighborhood development services, presented a resolution appropriating funds for the Charlottesville Plans Together project

The request is a total of $188,810 from the current balance of $496,037 in the Small Area Plan account. Money allocated to small area plans can be put toward development in a specific neighborhood or area of the city. 

The Charlottesville Plans Together project team is currently working on updating the City’s zoning ordinance so tha zoning regulations to align with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Affordable Housing plan. The zoning rewrite will ideally fix any flaws within the current zoning ordinance that would prevent equitable development and update the language to be easier to read. The request was approved to be placed on the consent agenda for the next meeting.

Another request for appropriation of funds — $980,599 from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to Charlottesville Area Transit — was presented by Director of Transit Garland Williams. This request was also placed on the consent agenda for the March 21 meeting. The funds will cover operations costs and studies into alternative fuel vehicles. 

The City Council also heard an update on the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail renovation project. The proposed timeline anticipates that the renovations will be complete in Nov. 2025. 

To improve well-being of incarcerated persons, the renovations include creating a larger visitors area, creating a dedicated mental health unit and adding classrooms and programming space.  Improvements to the facility include the addition of more toilets and showers, a new outdoor recreational area and replacement of the HVAC and electrical systems to improve air quality and a redesign of housing for people currently incarcerated. 

“A lot of [the design] has to do with how the facility is operationally run.” project architect Tony Bell said. “It is opening up windows … it’s giving detainees access to the daylight.”

Council members also heard from Dr. Denice Bonds, health director of the Blue Ridge Health District. The city experienced three new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and U.Va. Health reported even new COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday. 

According to Dr. Bonds, Charlottesville and Albemarle County are classified within the Center for Disease Control’s high COVID-19 community level. The CDC recommends that areas in the high risk level maintain masking and social distancing and Bonds recommends community members also keep up to date with vaccines including booster shots. 

Interim City Manager Michael Rogers informed Council that the city is working to administer an employee satisfaction survey. This will be the first employee satisfaction survey since 2017. 

“I think that it's time that we get a sense of how employees are feeling about their work here and use that feedback to construct a program that will move us forward so that we can address the issues that we identify,“ Rogers said. 

Council members also considered a governance ordinance to continue restrictions on public meetings due to the pandemic. The proposed ordinance would continue the state of emergency but would allow City Council to meet in-person so long as there is an established safety plan for social distancing in meetings. The alternative would be to allow the state of emergency to expire March 18 and allow for fewer restrictions on public meetings. 

“Part of our problem is that I don't know if we’ve got a space that is as large [as the stadium used for county supervisors meetings],” Mayor Lloyd Snook said.

The Council voted to approve the motion to allow members time to formally plan for the reintroduction of in-person meetings. 

At the next meeting, the Council will vote to approve appropriations of $188,808 for the Charlottesville Works Together Plan to begin work on changes to the zoning ordinance and approve appropriations of $980,599 for Charlottesville Area Transportation.