When I begin to write these each week, I always think they will be short. But then I find myself writing much more than I expect. There is always so much going on, and my job is to provide the context. The main item this week is a Charlottesville City Council meeting that could be quite long.
This week, though, will be short. Local government will be more or less shutting down until the beginning of next year. However, the world keeps turning, and nothing is ever quiet around our portion and I’ll have my eye on things.
As always, thanks to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their ongoing support of this endeavor. Without their assistance launching this, I don’t think I would have been able to relaunch my career as an independent journalist.
Monday, December 21
The final meeting of the Charlottesville City Council is the second one where they’ll try out a new format where reports are given at 4 p.m. in order to have more time to discuss them in detail. On November 16, they got an update on the city’s Food Equity Initiative as well as an update on the city’s finances. (watch)
This time around, there’s another update on the city’s finances. Through the end of November, real estate and meals tax collections are below projections while sales taxes are slightly above what’s been budgeted. These numbers are important for Council to watch as the budget for fiscal year 22 continues to be prepared. (staff report)
Next is the annual report from the Charlottesville Department of Social Services Advisory Board. This department is where people go for state and federal assistance. In fiscal year 2019, the city passed through $85 million in funds and city taxpayers contributed $5.9 million.
In this pandemic year, social workers were busy.
Once COVID-19 restrictions began in the city, many community members faced layoffs from their jobs,” reads the report. “Many of the newly unemployed began applying for public assistance programs such as [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)], Medicaid, and [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)]. The benefits division changed business processes to create a COVID-19 Intake Rotation. By doing this, the division was able to manage the spike in new applications from the community.”
The department processed 801 applications for SNAP benefits between March and June this year, compared with 533 the year before. In the same period, TANF applications increased from 86 in 2019 to 163 in 2020. For July through October, the numbers for 2019 and 2020 were similar.
As we consider this holiday, I’d recommend reading or glancing through the report. It’s been a hard year for so many of us and this report describes the bureaucracy of the safety net. (report)
The final report will be on the Community Attention Youth Internship Program, which was also affected by the pandemic.
“In late April 2020, the health and safety risk of providing an in-person internship program model was considered too high for [the] summer 2020 session of CAYIP,” reads the report. “In response, Community Attention staff worked rapidly to redesign the program and announced that a 100% virtual model of the program, the CAYIP Virtual Learning Academy, would be offered for the summer session.”
Council will only get the written report, which goes on to detail how the Learning Academy paired 51 individuals with 29 organizations that were able to provide some virtual training. Were you one of them? (report)
After a closed session, Council will reopen their Zoom call to the public. There are twenty items, with eleven of them on the consent agenda, which means they will be approved in one vote unless anyone objects.(regular agenda)
At least four of the items on the consent agenda deal with major sums of money. One is a refund of $29,865 in transient lodging to a local hotel. This may give insight into the logistics of how the University of Virginia used quarantine and isolation rooms as part of their COVID-19 strategy, but it’s hard to be certain from the staff report because that is not explicitly stated.
“LODGING ENTITY entered into a contract with a large local educational institution on July 17, 2020 to hold all 122 rooms for COVID-19 quarantine (commencing on July 27, 2020,” reads the staff report. “LODGING ENTITY incorrectly charged the educational institution, and paid over to the City, the transient occupancy tax for the period from July 27, 2020 through August 31, 2020. Upon learning of the error, we instructed the lodging entity to stop billing the educational institution for the transient occupancy tax beginning with the month of September 2020.”
In another item, the Parks and Recreation Department wants to use $86,105 left over from renovating the Pen Park Tennis Court to address a safety concern involving the cover patio at the Meadowcreek Golf Clubhouse.
“The structure supporting the roof trusses is woefully under sized,” reads the staff report. “This is creating a very hazardous condition and must be corrected immediately. While fixing the structural issues we also would like to convert the area into a three season patio by enclosing the area with window kits.”
In the third, staff is asking to have $246,946.54 in excess funds from a pedestrian project improvement in the Hillcrest/Birdwood neighborhood transferred to two other projects.
“It is proposed to transfer the following funds to two other Highway Safety Improvement Program projects,” reads the staff report. “$100,000 to the Washington Park/Madison Avenue Bicycle Connector Trail and $146,946.54 to the Monticello Avenue and 2nd Street Intersection Pedestrian Improvements.”
No maps or schematics are included with the report.
In the fourth, parks staff are recommending transferring $223,40 previously allocated to repair or replace a retaining wall at Market Street Park (formerly Lee Park). There’s another project that may be more pressing.
“Given that the entire park may be up for redesign and reconstruction, the wall at Market Street Park is not in a hazardous condition, and that the Maplewood cemetery wall is in need of major repair to correct hazardous conditions, the Department would like to allocate the remaining funds to the City Cemetery Restoration project/CIP account,” reads the staff report.
Finally on the consent agenda is a schedule for Council meetings for 2021. If approved as is, Council would not have a regular meeting again until January 19. However, they will have a joint meeting with the Planning Commission on January 12 at which there will be a public hearing on the Capital Improvement Program. (staff report)
Now, on to the regular meeting, which has four public hearings.
One is on the adjustments to fiscal year 2020 now that the audit has been completed. After setting aside funds to comply with guidelines that help it keep its AAA bond rating, the city has a $3.9 million surplus for FY20.
“Given the unknown and on-going financial impacts of COVID 19, staff recommends that the entire $3.9 million be transferred into the CIP Contingency account as per the City’s financial policy,” reads the staff report from Chris Cullinan, Director of Finance.
Council will also vote on closing out Charlottesville’s allocation of federal CARES Act funding. In total, the city received $8.2 million and has not yet spend $921,523.
“Staff is recommending the remaining funds be used to partially reimburse the City for a portion of previous public safety payroll costs for the Police Department, Fire Department, and Sheriff’s Office COVID-19 mitigation efforts since July 1, 2020,” reads the report.
At the end of the meeting will be a discussion of the Land Use, Environmental, and Planning Committee report. Albemarle Supervisors had this on their consent agenda on December 2. (staff report)
The city, the University of Virginia and Albemarle County signed an agreement in 1986 to work together on land use issues. Until last year, there was a public body called the Planning and Coordination Council that served as a clearing house to work together and share information.
In the fall of 2019, elected officials voted instead to create a private body called the Land Use, Environmental and Planning Committee (LUEPC) as “a vehicle to share and coordinate land use and development plans and projects.”
There was to be an evaluation of this new arrangement, but as with the Cville Plans Together initiative and so many other matters, the pandemic changed things.
“At the end of this first year, the entities were to evaluate the Committee’s structure to determine if it had achieved the stated objectives,” reads an update on the December 2, 2020 consent agenda of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. “Given that the Committee’s work commenced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee respectfully requests that the entities postpone this evaluation until the conclusion of 2021.”
And that’s it for Council. I suspect, though, we’ll hear more in the community matters portion.
If you blink, you will probably miss the final Albemarle Architectural Review Board meeting of the year. They meet at 1 p.m. to get ready for 2021 and perhaps to welcome their new member, Christian Henningsen. (meeting info)
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors meets in person at 4 p.m. (agenda)
Tuesday, December 22
The only meeting I can see is the Charlottesville Towing Advisory Board, which meets at 1 p.m. On the agenda is “continued review of City Towing Codes.” (meeting info)
What did I miss?
The rest of the week
What will you be doing in the next week?
I’ll be working on getting ready for 2021, a year in which I expect to be very busy. This really has been a year in which I’ve challenged myself to get back to work I’ve always wanted to do. I have some opportunities coming up that I need to be prepared for, so I’ll take the downtime from meetings to get ready.
But what about you? I’d like to know how you are, and what your hopes and dreams are for 2021. What did you learn from 2020? Let’s talk! I’m interested in interviewing anyone who would like to chat.
This post was contributed by Sean Tubbs. Sean is a journalist working to build a new information and news outlet centered around Charlottesville and Virginia. In 2020, he launched a daily newscast and newsletter and also created a semi-regular podcast on the pandemic.