Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Madison Cummings and Duane Snow on Albemarle's Budget Shortfall

In this morning's Daily Progress, Bryan McKenzie reports (here) on the race to succeed Sally Thomas as the Samuel Miller District's representative on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors.

The candidates are Madison Cummings (Democrat), Duane Snow (Republican) and John Lowry (Independent).

According to McKenzie, Albemarle County officials are facing the possibility of a $2.4 million budget shortfall by 2011.

I imagine the predicted shortfall will increase -- significantly, perhaps -- as real estate prices continue their slide and the property tax base takes a significant hit.

The question among the candidates, then, is how to address the deficit: increase taxes or decrease spending (or a combination of both)? On the spending front, McKenzie reports that the County has frozen 55 open staff positions (Cummings says the current number is 65 positions) and eliminated some of the funding for its program to purchase conservation easements from County residents (it sounds as though certain capital spending projects have been halted as well, though the article is not completely clear on this point).

And here's where it gets controversial: Madison Cummings alleges that Duane Snow called for across-the-board budget cuts of 15 to 20% at a recent speech at the Senior Center. Cummings believes that such cuts would be irresponsible; also, according to McKenzie, Cummings says that an increase in the property tax rate (currently 74.2 cents per $100) would be preferable.

Snow takes issue with Cummings -- not on the substance of Snow's preferring budget cuts to a tax increase, but on the characterization of his call for a review of County spending:
"Snow said he never intended the comments to mean that every county department should be cut 15 percent to 20 percent, but that department heads should be challenged to eliminate waste and inefficiencies as much as possible. He said officials should require county departments to start their budgets from scratch and defend line-item expenses in a zero-based budget."
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According to McKenzie, John Lowry, the independent candidate for the Samuel Miller seat, is opposed to any increase in the tax rate. Lowry advocates, instead, County efforts to attract businesses to the area and thereby expand the tax base.

330. Is Lowry attracting more votes from liberals or conservatives?

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From my perspective, an increase in the property tax rates -- in both the City and the County -- is absolutely inevitable. There are so many properties selling for less-than-assessed value that when the 2010 assessments reflect those sales, there'll be no choice but for the Board (and the City Council) to raise the rate in order to make up for the decline that would otherwise occur in property tax revenue.

I understand that it's difficult for candidates to candidly address the need to raise additional revenue, but given the current state of the economy I'm not sure how you get around it.

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While reading about the campaign this morning, I started wondering who Samuel Miller was. I couldn't track down much information through Google, but Charlottesville Tomorrow's awesome cvillepedia does have this tidbit: "Samuel Miller was a 19th-century philanthropist behind The Miller School of Albemarle and the University of Virginia's Miller Center."

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