When it is all said and done for the current and soon-changing Falls Church City Council, the achievements of its most recent term have been formidable, and we congratulate them all – those leaving, those staying – for having moved the City forward toward long-term sustainability in very significant ways.
The underpinning of their efforts has been a palpable shift in the sentiments of the citizenry, whose numbers have continued to grow from just over 10,000 beyond 13,000 in recent years. Sustaining the quality of the school system while its enrollment has veritably exploded has compelled a new majority here to welcome levels of commercial and mixed-use development, with their offsetting tax revenue benefits, that were a much harder sell in the past.
Maintaining the path of excellence of the City’s schools in tight fiscal times can be counted as the Council’s singular major achievement, and that includes setting up the preconditions for the kind of pricey capital improvements – such as a new high school – that loom in the near future.
But coming through the recent years’ water war with giant Fairfax County with the City still on its feet, and actually situated to benefit considerably from the whole process, is another major accomplishment. The City was over a barrel, and the outcome could have been disastrous with a sequence of legal setbacks, but intransigence was supplanted by dialogue and a mutually-workable outcome was achieved and ratified by the City voters last month.
A turning point in that process began amidst gridlock in the summer of 2012 when Vice Mayor David Snyder made a very public appeal for dialogue directly to Fairfax County Board chair Sharon Bulova, an appeal that made headlines in the News-Press and got results.
In the last year, two major new mixed use development projects were approved, the Rushmore project that will bring with it a state-of-the-art Harris Teeter grocery right in the center of downtown, and the other, the Lincoln Properties’ Reserve at Tinner Hill a few blocks away on S. Maple St. with its own formidable grocery, Fresh Market, that will begin the transformation of the City’s core, setting the parameters for much more that can be expected to follow on.
The current Council also oversaw the shift of City elections from May to November, resulting in much higher voter participation.
Often, healthy and heated differences surfaced on the City Council mostly over matters concerning the best pathway to secure the City’s fiscal stability. They often pitted a veteran ex-banker, Ira Kaylin, against others such as Phil Duncan who were more concerned for putting reserves (the famous fund balance, in particular, now at 22 percent of the annual operating budget) to what they felt was a better use serving the public.
But such candor and willingness to dissent made for a better political process, such that reaching a consensus was productive when achieved.