City Council Mulls Still Many Moving Parts in Budget
With four budget “scenarios” before them Tuesday night with proposed tax rates ranging from the current $1.27 to City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed $1.33, the Falls Church City Council could not reach a consensus, and will therefore have to reconvene on tonight in order to come to an agreement in advance of its final vote next Monday.
But while Council member Ira Kaylin lashed out at the School Board Tuesday, accusing them of “fear mongering” and a variety of other ills, Councilman Phil Duncan emerged from the meeting with a change of heart.
In a statement issued to the News-Press late Wednesday, Duncan said that he will come with a new plan that “maintains excellent schools and City services while keeping the tax rate reasonable…as close as possible to the current $1.27.”
He confirmed to the News-Press by phone that he is determined “to give the schools almost everything they’ve asked for.”
In his written statement, Duncan said that starting with a rate of $1.36, “We’ve already knocked a nickel off the tax rate, and the proposal for the new Storm Water Utility has been improved so it will deliver results at a fee lower than initially expected. I will come to Thursday’s work session with some more ideas.”
At Tuesday’s rancorous session, with Vice Mayor David Snyder not present, there was an apparent consensus that the Schools should not get their full request, although only one of the four paper scenarios specified a cut in the increase in the schools’ request from 14.3 percent to 10 percent, bringing the schools $1,259,980 short of their request.
That scenario remains very much on the table, and Kaylin set the table for a run on the schools’ request with a scathing prepared statement accusing the schools of “fear mongering,” credibility problems, “an appearance of conflict of interest,” and more.
School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones was in the room along with School Board Chair Susan Kearney and a large contingent of school supporters. By the rules of a work session, they were not permitted to speak, and sat through an hour and a half discussion of the budget that included Kaylin repeating his charges.
Only Councilman Phil Duncan, who did not escape Kaylin’s wrath, took a mild swipe at Kaylin’s incivility by saying he must be having a bad day, to which Kaylin retorted that he is not.
Kaylin lashed out at the school board request, and Council member Johannah Barry followed suit, saying that “the rising trajectory of the school budget” has to be scaled back. Other Council members present then followed the tone of Councilman Ron Peppe’s call for compromise by all parties, even as Duncan said he felt “there is a communications disconnect at the core of this budget.”
Two points raised included (1) despite the fact that up to a $2 million surplus having just been found in the current Fiscal Year 13 budget last week, the news did nothing to relieve the pressures on either cutting the schools’ request or the tax rate and (2) on top of whatever the new real estate tax rate will be, there will also be the added burden on taxpayers of funding a new Storm Water Utility to the tune of an average $250 per household, even though annual payments on that would be put off until a year from June.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, School Board Chair Kearney issued a statement to the News-Press: “I am appalled and disappointed that members of city council still don’t get, or refuse to acknowledge school needs. The case is simple: 25 percent student growth with only a 10 percent increase in funding – while overall city revenues increased by 25 percent – means we have a huge funding gap in spite of efficiencies we have implemented since 2007. During the same period that school operating expenses grew about 8 percent, city operating expenses have grown by more than double that percentage. How can anyone who is paying attention to the actual data say that school and city spending are unbalanced toward the schools?
“The world sometimes gives you interesting moments which juxtapose events that provide clarity. Last night while Council was discussing cutting the schools’ request a similar meeting was being held in Arlington. According to today’s Post, at that meeting the Arlington Board added money to the school budget after already agreeing to use $20 million from their fund balance to meet education needs. Those actions speak volumes about their priorities.”
School Board member Greg Rasnake also issued a statement: “I am terribly disappointed by the statements by Councilman Kaylin regarding school funding. In the face of exploding enrollment pressure, it seems that his singular focus is to cut the schools no matter the cost. I personally think his approach to funding our schools defies logic and flies in the face of community sentiment on the matter. And while I’m sure he and his colleagues’ decisions will weigh heavily on the minds of voters this November, I hope the damage done by this approach won’t be permanent. I can only hope that Vice Mayor Snyder has the courage to lead the Council in another direction. If not, the School Board will no doubt face a terrible dilemma in trying to decide where to apply Mr. Kaylin’s cuts.”
The issue that drew the most applause at Saturday’s Town Hall meeting on the budget, the bloated size of the City’s fund balance, did not come up at all Tuesday night.
One of the best-attended town hall meetings on the budget in recent years in the City of Falls Church saw citizens turn out to speak up in favor funding the School Board request for the coming fiscal year budget, and to question the City’s current fund balance and Storm Water Utility Fund plans.
One option before the Council is reducing the School Board budget request, and when asked today what effect a $1.2 million cut in the School Board’s funding request of $33,682,700 would have on the schools, Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones said, “One word: devastating.” She and School Board chair Susan Kearney detailed how the budget request is “bare bones” considering the phenomenal enrollment growth in recent years, including a 6.7% growth just during the course of the current school year.