At the cost of a tax increase, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agreed in a unanimous vote at their meeting Dec. 7 to send the construction of the new Crozet Library out for bid.
In a discussion about the county’s five-year financial plan, County Executive Tom Foley explained to the supervisors that at the current real estate tax rate of 74.2 cents per $100 of assessed value the county would find itself needing $225,000 worth of spending cuts in the next budget and that county employees would have to forgo pay raises. Moreover, he said, the county’s future annual payments to the Virginia Retirement System, previously estimated at $600,000 per year, will in fact be $1.425 million.
“We realized we could not meet our obligations under 74.2 cents,” said White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek, who favored what is referred to as an “equalized” tax rate, meaning that the rate will rise to 76.5 cents so that county revenues next year are equal to last year’s. A new assessment of county real estate values will be mailed to property owners in January. Those assessments will be the basis for the 2012-13 county budget and the new rate, assuming it is finally adopted later in the spring in the county’s next budget, will be charged on the new assessments. The result should be $5.4 million in additional revenue over the next five years, Mallek said.
“I wanted the vote on putting it to bid now in order to make a decision,” she said. “We have to know what it will cost. But we have a semblance of how we would pay for it. The vote on construction will come later.”
County staffers will prepare bid documents and post them in January. Contractors will have until March 1 to respond. “That’s right when we make budget decisions,” Mallek said. “It gives us more time to find out what the economy and [state government leaders in] Richmond will do to us.”
The need for the library is clear to the supervisors, Mallek said. “Only [higher-than-expected] cost could change the decision to go ahead with construction,” she predicted.
“I’m so grateful to all the citizens who have weighed in. I’m hoping this will spur economic development in downtown Crozet. That’s the main reason we didn’t put the library at the old [Crozet elementary] school.
“The climate seems to be tremendously right. Local companies did not want to help with the ‘soft’ bid because they did not want to be compromised in making an official bid. We’re also asking contractors to suggest ways to save money on the project.” Mallek said that other localities in the state that are building libraries in the weak construction market report savings of 35 to 45 percent over initial construction estimates. Mallek said she hopes costs will be at least 20 percent lower, meaning they would come back in the $6.2 million range.
Mallek said the county’s credit rating allows it to borrow from commercial banks at the same interest rate that the federal government will loan money at, but that the county can sometimes save even more on borrowing from banks by repaying the loan faster.
The library project remains vulnerable to public employee retirement system costs and how the General Assembly decides to cope with them. Local governments, Mallek fears, could be asked to pick up even more of the expense of their employees’ retirements than the latest hikes passed on to them.
“Governor McDonnell spent money from the VRS fund and gave it away as bonuses rather than use his surplus to repay the piggy bank,” she said.