Again, I want to thank you all once again for being willing to participate in this meeting, and want to thank the public for their interest in either attending today or listening to the discussion on the internet (posted here). At a time when public opinion polls indicate that citizens are increasingly distrustful of government, it is important to have open and transparent discussions about how best we can move our community forward, and this meeting is a wonderful example of that.
You didn't need to be here today, and the fact that you have chosen to be here on a Saturday afternoon is testament to your commitment to this community and to the idea that we can do things better and provide a higher level of service to our constituents by working together.
Let me begin by stating the obvious--we do many good things together. To the extent that there are differences between the jurisdictions, they are legitimate and require acknowledgment that they are. We do not do enough of that.
I was to start by taking you back to 1981. This was a time when the population of Charlottesville was about 40,000 and the County was not much larger. It was also many years before the State imposed a moratorium on annexations by cities, and it was quite common for cities in the Commonwealth to periodically annex additional property so that they could improve and enhance their tax base in 1981. The City had not had a major annexation since the 1960s, and was then threatening to annex large portions of the County. There was some suggestion that the annexation might include most of Pantops and significant portions of Route 29, in what is now the commercial corridor, all the way to Fashion Square and perhaps beyond. To avoid the costs and division of an annexation fight, City and County leaders met and developed a unique approach to resolving this dispute. It came to be known as the Annexation and Revenue Sharing Agreement. The Agreement obligated the City to give up annexation--forever--in exchange for a sharing of revenue that would be gained from growth in the City and County. This was to be accomplished by a formula. From the beginning, everyone knew that, because the City was smaller in size and the County was more likely to grow, the revenue sharing formula would generate money that would be transferred from the County to the City. Because of concerns in the County that this revenue transfer would become too large, the City and the County placed a cap on how much could be transferred every year as a percentage of County tax revenue. The Agreement was then ratified by both City Council and the Board of Supervisors and, because of State law, it was submitted to County voters in a referendum. The referendum passed with more than 60% of the vote, and the Revenue Sharing Agreement has been in effect since that time.
The Agreement was not simply about money. There were clauses in the Agreement that required the City and the County to discuss cooperative ventures and the possibility of consolidation of various programs. While the revenue sharing piece has worked very well, the cooperation elements have not been as successful as the initial drafters had hoped.
That is not to say that there hasn't been substantial cooperation between the City and the County; there has. In fact, my colleagues in the legislatures are envious of all of the City/County cooperation and collaboration that occurs. Few communities in the Commonwealth have this level of cooperation, and ever though we have our squabbles, they, in no way, approximate the character or tone of arguments that are occurring in places like the Hampton Roads area or even Northern Virginia.
We can all cite countless examples of this cooperation, but you have heard them before. So, I wanted to give you two that maybe you haven't thought of, and are not thought of by the public, but are significant examples of how both the County and the City step up, and invest taxpayers dollars in their respective localities that end up benefiting the citizens in the other. Most recently the City invested $10M to build a new Aquatics Center at Buford School. This facility will be open to residents in both jurisdictions, and statistics show that County residents use City indoor pools in greater numbers than City residents. On the County side, people forget that the county invested several million dollars in a project located in the City--renovation of the Juvenile Courts building--which they did not need to do. That investment was critical to keeping the courts downtown at great benefit to the City and it should be acknowledged.
One might contemplate what this community would look like if the Annexation and Revenue Sharing Agreement had not been enacted. First, the City would have annexed large portions of land in the early 1980s. This probably would have meant that the City would be gaining much greater tax revenue than it does from the Revenue Sharing Agreement, but it would have also had the costs involved to maintain the infrastructure of that area and the school population derived from residential portions of the annexed property. At the same time, the County would have looked substantially different. In search of a broader commercial tax base, the County would likely have permitted the expansion of commercial areas and growth areas farther up Route 29 and more into the more rural areas of the County to the West, East and South. One can only speculate, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that the County would have looked very different than it does today. The compromise reached at the time left us with what most people believe is a legally binding agreement. But that is not to say that people in both jurisdictions like everything about the Annexation and Revenue Sharing Agreement. Some residents wonder if it was ever a good deal in the first place. After all, the City gave up annexation at a time when it still existed. At the same time, as the dollars transferred from the County to the City continue to rise, some County residents ask why it has to be this way. City residents have to understand how significant a concern this is. Many present County residents were not here when the Agreement was made. Cities can no longer annex county land, and even through the percentage of the County budget going to revenue sharing is about the same as it was in the 1980s, it is still a lot of money. There are legitimate arguments to make from each perspective. We are not likely to resolve those issues in this meeting, but we can address the general concerns that our constituents have that we should provide the highest level of service at the lowest possible costs. That is where collaboration and cooperation come in, and it is my hope that before the end of the day, we will have some pieces in place to address those concerns.
While the County Board and the City Council meet periodically to discuss common issues, it is rare for both Boards to meet together with the respective School Boards in the same room at the same time. In face, in my twenty years of public life, I can never remember it happening. But these joint discussions are more important today than ever before. The challenges of providing education in the increasingly competitive global economy are significant. We have two wonderful school divisions that pride themselves on high performance and efficient delivery of instruction. At the same time, however, both are being buffeted by the economic challenges of our time, and are experiencing the impact of fewer dollars flowing from Richmond. The demographics are different in each jurisdiction, but there are many commonalities given the proximity of each to the other. Both have challenges in bridging the achievement gap and ensuring that they can keep good teachers in the classroom and pay them a reasonable salary.
A key strength in our community rests in our educational system. We neglect it at our peril. For anyone to say that they cannot benefit by greater collaboration and cooperation does not understand our present challenges.
In conclusion, great communities don't just happen. They are the products of decisions, big and small, good and bad, made by people like us. The decisions we have made--and will continue to make--will shape this community in the months and years to come. We have good choices and people of good will to make them. I thank you again for embracing the possibilities that lie before us.