Study: Budget Growth Exceeds Population Growth

A study of per capital spending in localities’ annual operating budgets has shown that, since 1988, Charlottesville’s budget has increased by 3.23% while the population has decreased by 1.74%. While some will interpret this as an indicator that the city is overspending, the city points out several factors that are not considered in the study, such as the skyrocketing cost of natural gas (since the city provides that utility), the failure of the state to cover their share of the cost of the jail and schools, the high rate of poverty among Charlottesville citizens, and the city/county separation that has Charlottesville bear the fiscal burden of providing many services to county residents. Still, the report could launch a discussion well worth having, regarding the size of city government. Julie Stavitski and John Yellig have the story in today’s Progress.

18 thoughts on “Study: Budget Growth Exceeds Population Growth”

  1. I haven’t lived here long, but I’ve heard that relations between the city and county are strained. Right now Albemarle County gives 10% of its tax revenue to the city. I wonder if more is needed to make things fair? Do the two governments work closely together?

  2. "Do the two governments work closely together?"

    naw, they are always bickering at each other. It is like a comedy of errors. It is really sad for this area too. There isn’t a magical line where CVille ends and Albemarle starts.

    Like for instance, CVille placed that extra light in front of BB. And that made the county mad.

  3. I didn’t support reversion to town status at the time that it was proposed, because I felt like we’d just be making our problems Albemarle’s problems, which hardly seems fair. But I do support it in principle, and I would like to see it happen. And that’s for one simple reason: the city and the county won’t work together well until the city is the county’s problem, and vice versa, in a manner that’s legally-binding, like township. The lack of coordination between the city and the county is to all of our detriment, and the only solution that I can see is reversion.

  4. The lack of cooperation is a problem but giving power over the city to the county isn’t the solution. If the city reverts to town status much of the control over the city currently in the hands of City Council will go to the Board of Supervisors. New magisterial (voting) districts will be created and the number of supervisors will increase. Albemarles elected officials will decide the boundaries of the new magisterial districts and how many there will be. City residents will have very little say in how the districts are drawn. It is likely that it will be done in such a way as to give city residents very little power on the Board of Supervisors. The number of supervisors would probably go up to seven but at most two would be from the city. The number one planning goal for the BOS is not providing services for citizens and meeting the challenges of growth . It is the preservation of the rural areas and the scenic viewshed Growth areas, public servies and the surrounding counties can be damned if it helps protect Albemarles rural areas. Right now Crozet is targeted for the growth that will happen but that the BOS wants to keep out of the rural areas. Let the BOS get their hands on Charlottesville and watch what happens. There would no longer be a city school system. Schools would be controlled by a school board controlled by county residents. The BOS would also control funding for many other public services. A fair merger may be a good idea but that isn’t what reversion would be.

  5. Why do you say that city/county seperation in Virginia is based on Dillon’s rule? Virginia’s cities have been independent in practice since the begining of the state and were formally created in 1902. I don’t think Dillon’s rule has much to do with it.

  6. Why do you say that city/county seperation in Virginia is based on Dillon’s rule?

    Quite right — I’ve conflated two issues that irritate me about Virginia — the Dillon Rule and the separation between cities and counties. I’ve corrected that now.

  7. The structure of our local government is based on self preservation. In the early 80’s the city could annex county land with state approval. This was a significant threat since Albemarle could lose Fashion Square to the city, along with its tax base. The revenue sharing agreement was created to give the city “incentive” to not annex. Fortunately, for Albemarle, annex powers were taken away from cities. This meant they are still paying for an agreement from a threat to their power that no longer existed. It reminds one of military spending in Europe after the collapse of the Berlin wall.

    The city was worried about annexation because Virginia is a voting rights state. This meant that if the city of Charlottesville annexed any new land the city would have to submit their voting rights plan to the Justice Department. The city wasn’t worried about lack of minority representation. It was worried that their at-large system would be disallowed and that a ward system would take its place. This meant the loss of the Democratic stranglehold of city council. Taking the money from the county seemed like a good idea. They could increase their tax revenue without actually doing the hands on work of governing. Many still consider this to be a clear case of taxation without representation.

    Reversion was Charlottesville brazen attempt to up the revenue sharing agreement against a threat (annexation) that no longer existed. This meant that the city had to make a credible argument that the city council (democrats) were ready and willing to give up the power they possessed. The annals of history few politicians ever give up power, even in the face of extreme conditions. It was a bluff and nothing else. The City was saying “Give us more money or we’ll make you mange this enormous mess we’ve made. Then it will be your headache.”

    The supervisors had one stunning way to call city councils bluff. The most powerful legislator in Virginia, at the time, was Dickie Cranwell(D). His law firm made huge fees, making sure laws got passed or that they never saw the light of day. This very lucrative and legal lobbying group was hired by the supervisors. The city democrats had just had the most powerful guy on the dems team get hired by the other side. Since reversion would require state legislative approval, anything that could block or cripple it made the council’s threat seem empty. The hand played itself out and the Charlottesville city council folded their cards and went home.

    This study shows all the hand wringing from city council and the supervisors about not having enough revenue from taxpayer pockets needs serious discussion. Let’s began.

  8. The one thing no one knows is how people will vote after a merger. Will county resident be angry and want to punish or will the county and city moderate have areas of meaningful control?

    Politicians don’t enjoy electoral uncertainty. They seem to like their jobs.

  9. Mark Twain could well have been speaking of Charlottesville’s budget numbers.

    The figures are worse than has been reported here. The study said the increase of 3.3% was PER YEAR. That means since1998 Charlottesville’s budget has increased by a total of 23%. Meanwhile the city has been losing population. Fewer people are paying more money for the same or less services (remember we now buy stickers so an outside contractor will haul our garbage).

    And if you look at the real numbers–rather than city hall’s juggled ones which the report depends on–its much worse even than the report says. Over the years the city has accumulated various accounting dodges and tricks which were intended temporarily to disguise unpalatable budget increases, but which became permanent. Like treating the school budget as if it were a wholly separate system from the city’s (even though your tax dollars pay for schools). And separate accounting for the gas, and water and sewer utilities (even though they are city-owned services and the billing is essentially a special-use tax). So you can’t really find out what this city takes in or spends, by looking at their figures.

    Instead you have to do-it-yourself. I did. I got financial reports from the 1970’s (when the Downtown Mall was bricked over, and when Gary O’Connell became City Manager) and compared them to the most recent available (2003). I added together ALL city revenues from all sources, and ALL city expenditures for all purposes: police, fire, schools, water, gas, everything.

    Adjusted for inflation I found, the city cost $50 million per year in the 1970’s. Today with reduced services it costs well over $150 million.

    I am not sure where the extra money is going, what we are getting three times more of. I could not figure it out from the financial reports. My guess though it is only a guess, is bureaucrat salaries.

  10. A vision of voters , who continually support the one-party mis-rule of Charlottesville, voting for representation on the County Board, is mind boggling.

  11. Gary O’Connell didn’t become City Manager in the 1970s. He succeeded Cole Hendrix in the 1990s. O’Connell was previously Hendrix’s Deputy.

  12. In 1970 the city (by 2-1 margin) and county (4-1) rejected reversion, or city-county merger as it was called then.

  13. Yes, thanks–I should have said "when he arrived," or "started working for the city." But I would have been better off not mentioning him at all, to avoid the impression that the numbers are to be blamed entirely on him. I do not know for instance, why we are losing population, but I doubt the City Manager is trying to drive people away. Likewise I do not know where all the extra money is going. I can’t even compare how many people worked for the city then as opposed to now, because the accounting dodges which fracture the city into separate entities have morphed over the years. A mess, caused perhaps by abdication of oversight, but more by the perennial governmental problem that all incentives are to expand, and there are no rewards for restraint.

  14. Good point. I often use "reversion" to broadly refer to the legal joining of the two entities, forgetting that it has a more specific application.

  15. Sorry, but you can find the leak in the boat easily… Look at the city schools, fewer kids, higher costs…those are not classroom costs.

    Look at the huge jump in the school budgets in 1999, 2000 and 2001…those are not payroll costs. It’s a sin the amount of money that was spent that had nothing to do with helping our kids learn. New furniture doesn’t make a kid pick up a book! Read today’s paper (1/20) one person on sick leave is making nearly what 3 p.e. teachers make???????

    Wasn’t it around 20oo, 2001 that the city rented a Christmas tree for $20,000? No wonder our mayor wants to examine the city manager’s role..aka.. power to spend without accountablity. Oh, how much has been spent for "consultants". Jefferson school should be a pre-school with a senior center and a technology hub for the city, perhaps a real cental office for the city schools…hundreds of thousands have gone into saying nothing.

    The expensive verbage of our city is driving us into being absentee land lords. UVA kids from northern Virginia are happy to pay top bucks and their folks just are happy to buy a 4 bedroom 2 bath house for under a 1/2 million…so what if the house next door is occupied by a senior citizen that has lived there for 30 years. One day, that too will house "4 unrelated" tenants.

  16. Of the 144 school divisions in Virginia, Charlottesville is fourth highest in spending per pupil. Only Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church spend more. The annual cost (in 2003, the most recent year available) in Charlottesville is $11,391.00 per pupil. Albemarle spends $9,258.00. There are divisions who spend much less, have as many or more poor students and get better test scores than Charlottesville.

  17. Why does the "audit" have so many parents and teachers worried? Is Dr. Griffin spending money on spin…or on our kids that disappear between 9th grade enrollment and 12th grade graduation? Why is Charlottesville the last of VA school systems to use "Benchmark" testing to help our kids measure up to the rest of the USA? Changes are a coming, they DO NOT need to cost more…just different. Cutting p.e. positions and guidance counselor positions is NOT the place to "find" money. Take a look at the benefits on Dairy Rd. The cost of the support staff and transportation. The cost of goods in all schools.

    There are so many places in the city school budget that can be axed that have little if any effect on our kids that are "falling into the gap".

    The #1 city needs to be #1 for those that qualify for free lunch!

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