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Report charts trends in local government spending

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Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 11:43 pm | Updated: 5:31 pm, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

A new report shows government spending in the region has skyrocketed since 1990, suggesting that Charlottesville’s inflation-adjusted expenditures are up 81 percent despite a decrease in residents.

The “Choices and Decisions” report, released by the Free Enterprise Forum on Monday, highlights spending figures, coupled with population and school enrollment statistics, for local governments in the region.

“The kicker is expenditures continue to exceed inflation in all of the localities,” said Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum. “That’s the over-arching theme.”

The percentage by which Albemarle’s spending increased between 1990 and 2009 — about 136 percent — tops all other local governments in the region. That figure is adjusted for inflation.

However, Albemarle has absorbed a major population increase during the 19-year-period, with a 39.7 percent population jump and 24.5 percent increase in students enrolled in school.

Albemarle’s inflation-adjusted per capita spending increased 75 percent from 1990 to 2009, falling short of Charlottesville’s 81 percent increase in per capita expenditures, which is the highest per capita percentage increase in the region. 

Charlottesville’s population had increased by 158 people during the 19-year span, and school enrollment dropped 12.8 percent.

Both Charlottesville and Albemarle decreased spending slightly in their most recent budgets, a reflection of the difficult economic times.

The Free Enterprise Forum releases a spending report every two years, and the charted expenditures include operating expenses and debt service on capital expenditures.

Williamson said the report is “revenue blind” and includes expenditures beyond local taxes, including money from the state and federal government for social welfare programs, for example.

The report also states “further study may be warranted to examine the different revenue streams for the localities and the spending requirements, if any, which accompany these sources.”

Charlottesville government’s per capita spending was $4,771 in 2009, compared with $2,913 in Albemarle in the same year. Nelson County government spent $1,621.

Ric Barrick, the city’s spokesman, contended that cities and counties do not make for fair comparisons.

“Our reaction to it, essentially, is you can’t really compare us to [Albemarle] County,” Barrick said. “We obviously try to do the most with our tax dollars, but we are responsible for some state mandates, such as in social services, that are not funded by the state.”

Barrick noted that social service expenses are higher, per capita, in many urban regions than surrounding rural areas because of higher poverty rates, adding that city residents also expect more services from their government than do rural residents.

Some Albemarle officials have contended for years that Albemarle’s per capita expenses have increased in step with the county becoming more urbanized and facing unfunded state and federal mandates. In addition, the county gives the city millions of dollars per year under a revenue-sharing agreement, including more than $18 million last year. That agreement was struck years ago to prevent the city from annexing county land to increase its tax base.

The report considers the revenue-sharing funds an expense by Albemarle County, and the funds are also counted toward Charlottesville’s expenses when the city spends the money.

The report is available at


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