Real estate tax rate hikes over the next few years are a possibility for Albemarle County property owners, but what potential increase local elected officials would be comfortable with was discussed at a joint meeting Thursday.
The meeting between the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and School Board on Thursday kicked off a new process for developing the five-year Capital Improvement Program.
Previously, for capital projects, the county has sought projects from all departments, which eventually gets down to a smaller list before it goes to the supervisors.
“It’s a very cumbersome process, and it ballooned this last year into 11 meetings at the very end of the process around affordability, a potential referendum, etc.,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the school division’s chief operating officer.
She said a missing step from this process was a board discussion at the beginning, and staff members are now striving for a joint CIP process.
Staff members presented the elected officials with four potential scenarios and asked for feedback. The scenarios included different levels of funding for the next CIP and two additional years with the estimated associated tax increase.
The option that had the most support was “Level 2,” which would add an additional $61 million in capital projects over the next seven years and would require an estimated 4.5- to 6-cent increase to the tax rate over that time period.
“It’s not a want, it’s a need based on growth and capacity issues in schools that we’re looking somewhere on the spectrum between Level 2 and Level 3 ... to be realistic if we’re going to keep up with the level of expectations for facility enhancement,” said Supervisor Rick Randolph, who was paired with School Board member Stephen Koleszar. Both represent the Scottsville District.
The current five-year CIP includes $207.6 million in projects and could need an additional 1.5-cent tax rate increase next year. The fiscal year 2020 capital budget is $68.4 million.
Next year, the county will likely need an additional 0.8-cent increase for operational costs related to the new high school center, for a total possible increase of 2.3 cents in 2020.
Jason Buyaki, the School Board member who represents the Rivanna District, favored no increase. He was paired with Supervisor Norman Dill, who also represents the Rivanna District, and Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who represents the White Hall District, to discuss the scenarios.
“We wanted to have a cautious approach, make sure that we’re completing projects on time, potentially within budget and not do too many projects that we can’t oversee and complete,” Buyaki said.
Mallek said she didn’t want to raise taxes beyond 2 cents.
“All three of us represent a large number of very rural folks who feel very, very far away from services except when the tax bill comes,” she said.
Supervisor Liz Palmer and School Board member Graham Paige, both who represent the Samuel Miller District, said they discussed what kind of increase “we could stomach” over seven years, and that they supported 4.5 cents.
“In my group, there was some talk about what there is actually going to be the political will for and what’s reasonable,” said School Board member Katrina Callsen.
Callsen discussed the scenarios with School Board Chairman Jonno Alcaro and Board of Supervisor Chairman Ned Gallaway. Alcaro and Callsen said they wanted more certainty around how much money the ranges of the tax rate increases would generate.
“How wide the funnel is at the top is what we’re suggesting today,” Gallaway said.
Jack Jouett representatives Kate Acuff and Diantha McKeel also supported “Level 2.”
The boards also discussed funding tools, options and alternatives, and they ranked certain topics for county staff to focus on at a later meeting. The top choices were to encourage the use of public-private partnerships and the Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act, consider leasing facilities instead of building more and to utilize general obligation bonds.
Randolph, Acuff, Alcaro and McKeel said they needed to do a better job communicating why these capital projects are needed.
Supervisors Dill and Randolph and School Board members Koleszar and Buyaki are not running for reelection this fall. Mallek, Alcaro and School Board member David Oberg, the White Hall District representative who was not at the meeting, are running for re-election.
The boards are scheduled for future joint meetings about the CIP in September and November, when specific projects will be discussed.