The immutable fact trumping all ideological, expedient or simpering searches for least-bad outcomes in this budget cycle for the City of Falls Church is the 495 net new students that have enrolled in the City’s school system in the last five years, a 20 percent growth boom that has taxed the system’s resources to the max and has no parallels anywhere else in the City or in the region, for that matter.
This is not politics. This is not theory. This is fact. It is the role of government to be responsive to such grudging realities when they confront us. The City Council has no options but to muster the resolve to provide the 12.9 percent increase the School Board has requested to cover the costs of the spectacular enrollment growth.
If Monday’s work session this week proved anything, it was that there are no holes in the School Board’s request, no frills, no smoke, no mirrors. If anything, the request struggles to limit a slight setback in the optimum teacher-student classroom ratio.
So, how else can the City Council help taxpayers bear the burden of this reality, one which will add six cents to their real estate taxes (from $1.27 to $1.33)?
For one thing, it should not go ahead and slap taxpayers with another 5.5 cent equivalent to their tax rate by establishing an expensive Storm Water Fund. Under the terms of this fund, many citizens would not enjoy any benefits for up to a decade, even though they would be paying for it starting this year.
For another, it should lower the City’s fund balance, freeing millions to reduce the tax rate.
First, the Storm Water Fund is not ready for prime time. For something that will have such an imposing impact on everyone in the City, it has been hastily conceived and poorly vetted. Unintended consequences have not been thought through. It was inspired by a horrible flooding incident a couple of years ago that was described, in the lingo of experts in such matters, as a “100-Year Event.”
That would mean, don’t you think, that we might not experience another one for 100 years. The problem should not be ignored, but it isn’t something that necessarily needs to hit everyone in the City over the head with a two-by-four this year.
Second, the City’s controversial fund balance is an embarrassment. It does not need to be at the level of 18 percent of annual expenditures, as it now is. It could easily be half that, and the City’s fiscal posture would be just as secure. Of course, Wall Street would prefer it exorbitantly high, preferring the City always has enough in the bank to pay out its debts 100 percent all the time.
But that’s hardly what’s right for City taxpayers. There’s almost $7 million in that fund balance that doesn’t need to be sitting there, amounting to about 21 cents on the tax rate.