It’s already shaping up as a very expensive year to be living in Falls Church, given the robust rise in real estate assessments out this week, the ambitious plans at City Hall to renovate or rebuild City Hall, the library, Mt. Daniel Elementary and George Mason High School in the next few years, and the fierce intention of the Schools’ superintendent and School Board to maintain the excellence of the school system, now fastest growing in the entire region for just that reason.
The parameters of all this are now coming into definition as the annual budget process is being rolled out, geared toward final decisions on a new tax rate, City financial transfer to the schools and other matters that must wind up matching projected revenues to projected expenditures for the coming fiscal year beginning on July 1.
On top of all these matters, for the first time this year, will be a new tax on residents, the so-called Stormwater Utility Fund that will spread the misery of paying for the federally- and state-mandated environmental upgrades to the quality of the waste water that’s allowed to flow out of the City toward the Chesapeake Bay, and to pay for better management of the runoff from big storms to avoid a lot of the basement flooding and other unhappy results of such storms in recent years.
For any citizen who wants to jump in on this, there will be many public hearings and events where both learning and speaking out will be encouraged. In a City the size of Falls Church, there are plenty of opportunities for mice to roar, proverbially speaking, and be heard. But the bottom line is that there’s no way that what we’re going to wind up with – in a final Fiscal Year 2015 budget to be adopted in late April – is going to be cheap.
In our view, since so many residents are busy people working outside the City, mostly in the corridors of power in nearby Washington, D.C., when the tax bills are sent out in May – with the Stormwater Utility surcharge – there’s going to be a lot of consternation and angst. Especially for persons “aging in place” on fixed incomes here, the shock may carry more existential overtones. It is a fearful prospect for someone to be confronted with being unable to pay their bills and to possibly lose their home.
The time is already short, but the City Council needs to come to grips over the next couple of months with a much more generous tax deferral program for City residents who may be on the verge of extreme financial hardship given the rising costs here. There are programs in place to mitigate rising taxes for lower income persons who qualify, and before the Council starts adding up all the new costs, it should revisit that program with an eye to some real relief for those who need it.