Final Step Now in Hands of 3-Judge Panel Next Month
Although handled as almost a mere formality following the landslide referendum approval last week, the Falls Church City Council cast its final vote Tuesday to ratify the sale of the City of Falls Church water system to Fairfax County. It was by a unanimous 6-0 vote.
It took a reminder from F.C. City Attorney John Foster to awaken the Council to the fact that “this is it” for its role in the sale of the system, a second-reading vote on all the stipulations of the deal that had been hammered out during mediation just a year ago.
Now the matter is in the hands of a panel of three circuit court judges who will be appointed by the State Supreme Court and will give final approval to the deal next month, which is expected since both parties to it are in agreement. With that, the “closing” of the deal will come with signings that will take place right after the first of the year.
“This is really a big deal,” Councilman David Tarter suddenly seemed to realize Tuesday night, although the matter had been described as a mere “procedural requirement.”
“It is a watershed moment,” chimed in Mayor Nader Baroukh, apologizing for the pun. “This sale has definitely changed the tenor of conversations between us and Fairfax County, and we are headed in the right direction.” He said the deal will have positive implications in this regard for generations to come.
Tarter noted that it marked the first time in the history of the City that it has expanded its borders as part of the agreement. Almost 40 acres will come within the City limits in the part of the deal that is the most promising, economically, for the City, since nine of those acres can be developed for commercial use that sit within walking distance of the West Falls Church Metro.
Discussion already began by the Council’s Budget and Finance Committee last Friday morning (that was attended by all the new Council members-elect who were voted onto the Council last week) about how to optimally deploy the cash component of the deal, about $10 million net, that will come to the City presumably in January. Ten million amounts to about 15 percent of the City’s annual operating budget.
Committee head Ira Kaylin said that among the options, figuring out how to leverage the funds to add an additional $10 million might offer the best way to strengthen the City’s position without requiring an increase in the tax rate.
The only citizen speaking to the Council Tuesday night was a member of the board of the Friends of the Falls Church Homeless Shelter who thanked the Council and City staff for, in the negotiations, arranging for the current site of the shelter to remain in the City limits.
But after the meeting, Council member Phil Duncan posted a statement on the News-Press website, saying, “For the record, let me share some of my thoughts from Tuesday’s Council meeting. I think it was no certain thing, around Labor Day, that the water sale referendum was going to win as handily as it did. I express my thanks to City staff, my Council colleagues, numerous citizen organizations, and to our City’s print and online media outlets, for conducting an ambitious outreach and education effort on the referendum in September and October. All the efforts to share information, invite questions, and encourage citizen dialogue led to a community-wide consensus that the water sale and boundary adjustment is a good deal for our City and schools.”
“On Tuesday night,” he added, “I was pleased and proud to vote for the enacting ordinance to ‘annex and incorporate’ land into the City of Falls Church – something that, as far I know, hasn’t been done since the City was established in 1948.”
A widely circulated e-mail was also sent out by Carol Loftur-Thun, the citizen who spearheaded the last minute “Citizens for a Sustainable City” political action committee effort to urge a “Yes” vote on the referendum. She hailed those who played a role in securing the 87.4 percent landslide vote. She said that because of the landslide vote, “Our City Council now has this level of support to go forward with executing this sale and transfer.
Former Councilman Dan Maller, who was a major spokesperson in a number of the forums on the referendum, noted, “I was particularly gratified by the small ‘under-vote’ which was only 262 voters out of 4,969 voting,” compared to a higher ‘under-vote’ for Falls Church Council members on the ballot.
Loftur-Thun, who thanked a long list of volunteers and the News-Press for its “strong endorsement,” promised there will be a victory party for those who volunteered in the “Vote Yes” effort after the final documents are signed in January.
Meanwhile, Fairfax Water chimed in with a full-page ad in this edition of the News-Press addressing City of Falls Church residents. “Thank you for your vote of confidence! We are pleased to welcome you to our family of 1.7 million northern Virginians who receive drinking water from Fairfax Water,” it states. “We look forward to providing you with exceptional service and reliability.”