Albemarle County’s operational spending has increased by about 73% over the last 20 years, while Charlottesville’s has increased by about 57%, according to a recent report from the Free Enterprise Forum.
The most recent iteration of the Choices and Decisions report from the local pro-business advocacy organization looks at inflation-adjusted total operational spending, per capita spending and the Local Government Spending Index for localities in the region.
“We report the data; we can’t really change the data. It’s self-reported data from the Auditor of Public Accounts,” said Neil Williamson, president and executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum.
The LGSI is modeled after the economic methodology used to calculate the Consumer Price Index, according to Williamson. The base number, 100, is calculated for each locality by adding the inflation-adjusted operating expenses for 1998 and 1999, the first two years of the study, and dividing by two.
The index for Charlottesville was 120.97, the lowest since 2013, the report said. Albemarle dropped from 141.37 in 2009 to 126.32.
Nelson County had the highest LGSI number, at 128.6, followed by Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa, Charlottesville and Greene.
From 1998 to 2018, the study period, Fluvanna County saw the highest rate of growth in inflation-adjusted spending, at about 82%. Fluvanna also had the highest rate of increase in per capita spending over the study period, at about 127%, but the lowest per capita spending in in 2018, at $2,421.97.
Fluvanna was the second-fastest growing locality in the report, with a population increase of 43.5% over the study period. School enrollment also increased over 20-year period, at about 24%.
“However, the rapid population growth (which is often blamed for increased operating spending) mitigates some of this spending increase on the LGSI calculation, with the result being that Fluvanna County was in the middle of the pack with the third-highest LGSI (125.15 in 2018) in the region,” the report notes.
Charlottesville had the highest per capita spending in 2018, at $4,631, and the second-smallest population increase over the 20-year study period, at about 26%.
During the study period, Albemarle’s per capita spending increased by about 30% to $3,045.15 and its population rose by about 33%.
“What I think is happening is, as the counties urbanize, they’re starting to pick up some of those costs that Charlottesville has been carrying all this time,” Williamson said. “Not all of them, but some of them, and that’s why you’re seeing some of those blips coming through when you look at Fluvanna and Nelson, to a lesser extent.”
In past years, Charlottesville representatives have said the city has a greater responsibility for social needs than seen in more rural localities, and that extra costs come with being a more densely populated area.