Albemarle County Board of Supervisors White Hall representative Ann Mallek faced some pointed questions at a town hall meeting in the White Hall Community Building March 9. For the nearly two dozen local residents in attendance, one major issue was a proposed tax increase in this year’s county budget, slated to go up by 1.5 cents to 85.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
“The proposed tax increase is for capital expenditures only, not operating costs,” said Mallek. “It’s to pay the mortgage on the $35 million bond referendum approved back in 2016, which paid for [additions to] Woodbrook School, the WAHS science academy, and security improvements at six different middle and elementary schools.”
The rate hike would stack on top of increased property values, up an average of 4 percent in the White Hall district based on 2019 assessments. For a property worth $300,000 in 2018, the combination would mean a $147 higher tax bill this year—$102 for the assessment and $45 for the rate increase.
Several White Hall residents decried the lack of basic services they receive for their money. “We don’t have county water, we don’t have county sewerage, we don’t have sidewalks, we don’t have street lights,” said one attendee. “Our county benefits are nothing compared to Crozet and Old Trail.”
Other residents pointed to safety concerns in White Hall. “We have slow police response, no protection,” said one. “Response time is 20 minutes out here versus 7 minutes to Crozet, so that’s less than half the protection that other folks get.” Another attendee described the dangerous condition of frequently used byways such as Clark Road, which she said is virtually impassable due to deep potholes.
Still others questioned the value of amenities constructed in areas of limited public use, such as a new park in Old Trail or the sidewalk in front of Crozet Elementary School. “Nobody in here has ever seen a person on that sidewalk in front of that school,” said a resident. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. The county needs to spend money out here.”
In defending the proposed tax rate increase, Mallek explained that several years of suspended capital spending during the recession, coinciding with thousands of people moving into county areas such as Crozet and needing infrastructure, led to the current backlog. “What you have described is the biggest challenge we face,” she said. “We have an enormous county, and we are dealing with the compounding pressures of increasing home values in many neighborhoods as houses sell quickly, plus demands for increased services and affordable housing.
“We have many people whose retirement is based on an economy that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Mallek. “I do understand, now that I’m retired, what those budgets are all about, and it helps me understand what’s top of mind for most people.”
Other topics covered at the town hall included why the county courthouse is remaining in downtown Charlottesville rather than moving out to the county, Mallek’s now-withdrawn support for the stormwater utility fee (i.e., the rain tax), the perils of cyclists traveling in packs on twisty county roads and not moving aside for cars to pass, and when White Hall might get a cell tower to improve local reception.
Advocates of a plan to improve the sports fields at Darden Towe Park put in a plug for a safer type of artificial turf made from natural cork and coconut husks, though any field upgrades at all would be welcomed by users. “[The Charlottesville/Albemarle area] has the highest number of youth soccer players per capita in the state of Virginia,” said a resident who coaches U10 soccer teams in the league, “and the reputation of the Darden Towe fields is terrible. It’s not safe, it’s an ankle-twister and players dread playing there. And when it rains, the fields are unplayable.”
A public hearing for the proposed tax rate increase and other budget matters will be held at the April 9 BOS meeting at the County Office Building, and public comments are always encouraged.