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Report: Albemarle County spending spikes

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Posted: Saturday, January 17, 2009 6:01 am | Updated: 3:24 pm, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

A new report shows a massive hike in government spending in Albemarle County in the past two decades, with inflation-adjusted expenditures increasing 121 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Officials say that’s largely because the county has become more urbanized, has to foot the bill for state and federal mandates and is giving a huge chunk of its money to Charlottesville.

The county spent an average of $2,673 per resident in 2007. Per capita spending was $1,660 in 1990 — after adjusting for inflation — according to the report, which charted operational expenditures.

“One could argue that the manner in which they’re choosing to develop has an impact on their spending patterns,” said Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, which created the report along with Decker Economics in Kinderhook, N.Y.

Though expenditures went up by more than 120 percent between 1990 and 2007, the population and school enrollment increased 37 percent and 26 percent, respectively, during the same period.

The Free Enterprise Forum is a local privately funded public policy organization. The organization has published a report biennially since 2005 charting population and spending data for Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties.

Comparing 2007 figures with those from 1990 and 1991, Albemarle had the highest percentage increase in its per-capita operational expenditures of the six localities.

“Albemarle is now No. 1,” Williamson said. “In the previous two editions, Charlottesville held the highest point in the [local government spending index] report.”

However, Williamson said that while the report shows spending and population figures, it does not make “any value judgment” on the spending.

Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said it’s important to note that the report includes money Albemarle gives Charlottesville through a revenue-sharing agreement.

In 1990, Albemarle gave Charlottesville $2.8 million, which accounted for 3.93 percent of Albemarle’s operating budget. The county gave Charlottesville $13.2 million in 2007, 5.28 percent of its operating budget.

“That’s a significant operating expense for the county that most people would not consider a normal operating expense, if you’re trying to compare apples to apples and county to county,” Rooker said. “I don’t know of any other county that has that kind of payment obligation.”

The city is slated to get about $18 million in revenue-sharing funds from the county for fiscal 2010.

Charlottesville and Albemarle officials struck the 1982 agreement as a compromise to the city’s interest in annexing land in the county’s urban ring, including a substantial portion of the county’s commercial tax base. Shortly after the local agreement was passed in a voter referendum, however, the General Assembly enacted a moratorium on land annexations in Virginia.

While revenue-sharing payments increased from 4.69 percent to 5.28 percent of the operational budget between 2005 and 2007, the change alone isn’t enough to account for Albemarle overtaking Charlottesville in terms of percent increase in operational spending per resident.

Unlike Albemarle, the city’s per-capita operational expenditures decreased between 2005 and 2007.

County spokeswoman Lee Catlin attributed the spending increase partially to the county becoming more urbanized.

“It’s not just that we’re growing but how we’re growing,” Catlin said. “People have gotten a higher expectation for urban services and that has created some pressure on the budget.”

Urbanization has led to more spending on infrastructure such as new roads, schools and fire departments — two fire departments and three schools were constructed during the period studied in the report — as well as on public housing and public transportation, Catlin said. The number of police officers and paid rescue workers and firefighters also increased substantially during the study period.

Capital expenditures, such as construction costs for new buildings, aren’t included in the report, to avoid major fluctuations in the figures. However, debt services, which are used to fund projects such as new schools, are considered operational costs in the report.

Albemarle had 68,172 residents in 1990, compared with 93,601 residents in 2007. There were 94 people per square mile in 1990, compared with 130 people per square mile in 2007.

Based on operational expenditures, Charlottesville spent $4,026 per resident in 2007, $1,353 more than Albemarle. Using inflation-adjusted figures equivalent to 2007 dollars, the city spent $2,628 per resident in 1990.

Charlottesville, which has 4,023 people per square mile, had only 799 more residents in 2007 than in 1990, and the number of students enrolled in city schools decreased by more than 300, to a total of 4,084.

Albemarle’s school enrollment increased from 10,144 to 12,803 during the 17-year period.

County officials also say that unfunded federal and state mandates, such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have also driven up operational expenditures since 1990.

Rooker said that, from the best he can determine, it will cost nearly $90 million in the current budget to comply with state and federal mandates.

More money is spent now, for example, to provide services for students with disabilities — more than $60,000 per student in some cases — he said.

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