Sunday, May 27, 2007

Follow-up questions from DemCentral Answers

As a candidate, I consider it a privilege to discuss my positions in a forum where others can read, and comment. As I stated way back in one of my first posts on DemCentral I believe in transparency and the blogosphere is a great way to promote openess and dialogue.
1. What should City avoid doing that it has been doing?
a) Overtaxing homeowners. For nearly a decade, homeowner assessments
have been increasing at more than twice the rate of commercial
property. We need to spend more responsibly and shift the tax burden away from homeowners.
What do you mean by "shift the tax burden away from homeowners"? That can mean only two things -- increasing a non-real-estate tax (meals? lodging? personal property?), or finding a way to have a different tax rate for businesses than for residences (which I don't think we can do at this point). Which do you advocate?

Jen's answer
I disagree with the premise of your second question. I do not want to find a non-real-estate tax or a differentiated tax structure for business and residential. I would look first to the formula used to assess commercial real estate, since commercial assessments are not rising at the same rate as residential property. I want to see the commercial assessments come more in line with reality of fair market value. Also, I would look to the City budget and find ways of reducing the size of the budget or limiting the rate at which it grows.
Keep reading...

4) What single best policy change would you propose for Charlottesville that costs little or no money?
The policy change I believe would be most immediately effective and which would save the taxpayers' money is to hold a public hearing on every new spending initiative before it is included in the City's budget. At a hearing, the public has an opportunity to vet the initiative, while the opportunity for partnership with other entities could be revealed. The way that the city budget process usually works is that the budget includes requests by departments for dealing with problems that may not have come to the point of having a formal proposal yet. The usual practice is that the budget may include money for proposals that aren't yet fully developed, and then to insist on a public hearing and discussion before actually appropriating the money. What's wrong with that? And if you aren't going to do that, how would you deal with the situation of a need that is known in April, but our public hearing process hasn't yet been set in motion to decide what to do about it?
JEN's response
I actually do know how the budget process works given the number of meetings I attended this winter. I am a firm believer in public input. As Councilors, we are stewards of the taxpayers money, justifying the money we spend is natural component of that stewardship. The staff works very hard and has great commitment to the well-being of our City, however it can be echo chamber in City Hall. I want to see additional collaboration and innovation, to do that the proposals public scrutiny may be helpful. Substantial new expenditures do not fall from the sky, planning starts early, e.g NDS had a $650,000 proposal for signage as a line item, no one could tell me where this came from early in the process. Later NDS stated it wanted to create an easier path to the downtown mall, UVA and parking etc. Even now I dont really see the need for signs, perhaps if NDS had articulated the need and the results expected as a consequence (more business downtown, less lost people etc), the line item would not have been so shocking. As it turned out, the line item was cut somewhat and it is not clear what the new signage will incorporate (just parking, directions downtown, but not UVA). I want to know what I am getting for my dollar, it is not a good way to do business. Emergencies are emergencies, I am not proposing such a rigid system as to be unmanageable or counter-productive when a need exists.
I also propose a City Councilor be appointed on the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to ensure good stewardship of the taxpayers' money.
The RWSA, by agreement with the County, consists of the City Manager, the County Executive, the City Public Works Director, the County Service Authority Director, and a chair appointed jointly by the City and the County. City Councilors are welcome to go to the meetings, because they are public. You get reports from the meetings. City Councilors can't be on every board and commission; they have to ration their time. Why don't you trust the City Manager and the Public Works Director to know how to protect the City's interests?

Jen's Response
As I stated before this is an idea percolating. I need more information to decide if this is necessary. From what I understand, the current debt load of RWSA is quite high and only going to get higher with the number of capitol projects in the pipeline. From the perspective of a taxpayer this level of debt load, combined with increase in retail rates concerns me.

6) What should the city do to preserve and improve parking options downtown?
Bringing people into the downtown area will require new creative ways of looking at transportation, parking and transit. In the short term,we need to encourage more downtown employees to use the Water street parking garage (which has several hundred empty spaces) to free up on-street parking.
How do you propose to encourage more downtown employees to use the Water Street Parking Garage? The City doesn't own the Water Street Parking Garage, so we don't have the ability to lower the rates for monthly parkers. Very few employees -- who work 8-hour days -- park in on-street spots that are good for 30 minutes to two hours. Can you be specific?

Jen's Response
Actually the City recently passed as part of their budget the option for City government residents to park for free or reduced rate at the Water St. parking garage- I hope this will spur use of the garage. Also I would argue many downtown employees, including many City employees, do the 2 hour shuffle.
Another option is to include incentives for car-poolers to park at the garage. Finally, new transit ideas will play a major role in the coming years which will provide relief for the parking issues downtown. This is a community wide issue, one I hope to help begin to make inroads as a councilor.

Thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions.

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