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Windfall a pleasant puzzle for Charlottesville

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    Charlottesville City Council will consider spending $675,000 of a $3.8 million surplus on public works, public safety, parks and recreation and courts. A public hearing on the matter will occur during its Nov. 19 meeting.

Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2012 8:35 pm | Updated: 8:57 pm, Sat Nov 17, 2012.

It’s the kind of question many cities wish they faced.

Of $143.3 million Charlottesville officials budgeted for fiscal 2012, the city has about $3.8 million left.

On Monday, the City Council will decide what do with it.

Most of the money will be socked away, but officials are considering spending $675,000 to fund a laundry list of items, including new cardio equipment, playroom furniture, sign repairs, a power washer and courthouse upgrades, among other requests from city departments.

Following the end of each fiscal year June 30, the City Council makes adjustments to officially close the books on the completed budget. The process usually involves divvying up unallocated or unspent money. Some of it goes to fill departmental needs while some gets stashed in reserves.

At a time when sagging revenues and shortfalls are common, Charlottesville is in the black.

Last year, the fund balance was about $5.2 million, according to city documents.

This year’s balance is the result of excess revenues and lower spending by city departments. Parking-garage revenues and meals, lodging and sales taxes brought in almost $900,000 more than anticipated, while spending fell roughly $2.9 million below budget.

City Manager Maurice Jones has recommended a surplus transfer of about $3.1 million to the city’s contingency fund for capital projects. The contingency fund is closely monitored by ratings agencies as an indicator of fiscal health.

The rest of the money would be authorized for spending or rolled in to current department budgets.

Mayor Satyendra Huja said he agreed with the recommendation.

“We need money in the CIP [Capital Improvement Program],” Huja said.

Under Jones’ plan, about $300,000 in unspent money for employee salaries and rent would be carried over for the same purpose in the current budget.

Among the proposals:

The city attorney’s office would get $20,000 to update the city code, public works would get $7,500 for a power washer and trailer to help clean up leaky trash sites and $22,768 for repairs to overhead signs and $39,000 would be used to buy cardio equipment for the renovated Carver Recreation Center.

The Charlottesville Circuit Court would get $32,654 for furniture and technology upgrades, the police department would get $80,000 to hire ambassadors for the Downtown Mall and the fire department would get $40,000 for hazmat supplies.

The Dialogue on Race would get to keep $92,101 it didn’t spend and the Department of Social Services would get $14,500 for cubicles and furnishings for a playroom area.

The city is also allocating another $50,000 for Celebrate 250, the yearlong effort to mark the city’s 250th anniversary. That’s on top of the $50,000 the city already had budgeted to cover the program’s costs.

City Finance Director Bernard Wray said that money could be used to cover any outstanding Celebrate 250 expenses, particularly those related to last weekend’s gala at the John Paul Jones Arena.

“With the gala being a big expense, they were hoping to break even,” Wray said. “We haven’t got the final results.”

The gala was expected to cost $120,000, with more than half that amount going to Kool & the Gang, the event’s marquee musical act. Party organizers said they were confident that taxpayers wouldn’t foot any of the total bill.

The year-end budget tweaks come as the Charlottesville City Schools face the prospect of another $3-million to $4-million deficit, which has prompted councilors to consider a meals-tax increase to help fill the gap.

Wray said the city wants to stay away from using any of the leftover funds to pay for schools.

“You never want to use one-time money for ongoing operating expenses,” he said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said the idea of looking at the fund balance as a way to shore up the schools budget is an “intriguing thought.”

“Even if it doesn’t go to schools immediately, that doesn’t mean it never would,” Szakos said.

Monday’s council meeting, which includes a public hearing on this issue, begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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