All property owners in Falls Church (and most other places as well) have now received their new real estate assessments in the mail, and most are showing a marked increase in value that will translate into a bigger tax bill this year, even if the tax rate remains unchanged. But in the case of Falls Church, a second mailing about a new annual storm water fee signaled that City Hall will be reaching significantly deeper into the public’s pockets this spring.
For anyone paying attention to the unfolding process that led to the dual mailing this week, none of this comes as a surprise. But who really pays attention unless they are part of that unusual cadre of local political junkies that the City Council and Planning Commission see on a regular basis? These represent only the thinnest layer of a general public that is more apt to move past the front page of their local newspaper to get to the crossword puzzle or favorite cartoon.
Time and again, for example, City officials encounter someone who shows up at a meeting angrily protesting that something impacting their lives was happening without them hearing about it before. It is little solace to such persons that the matter had been the subject of many open public meetings, and published notices for weeks or months before.
So, City Hall can expect that there will be plenty of public turmoil and angst associated with this week’s dual mailings. However, because the mailing about the new storm water fee didn’t include any dollar figure means that it can be expected to be simply ignored by a lot of people for the time being. It will only be when that first actual bill, combining the real estate tax and the storm water fee, will there be a cacophonic chorus of loud howls emanating from points throughout the City.
There may not be scary black-and-white scenes of frightened, angry citizens bearing flaming torches hunting down the town werewolf, but there may be some at City Hall who will suffer from nightmares of that type.
The storm water fee is going to take a very heavy toll on properties that have a lot of impervious surfaces, such as churches with asphalt parking lots. Parishioners will be asked to give less to mission work and more to City Hall once those bills become due. In other cases, like the many strip malls in Falls Church, the charges will be added to the monthly rent of small retail tenants, many struggling to begin with, who will try to pass them on to customers with higher prices.
But it’s the residential homeowners who are likely to be startled most by the size of their new bills coming in May. Complex and complicated “mitigation” measures to earn credits against the amount owed are just that: complex, complicated and expensive.
If only those Chesapeake Bay oysters were more grateful for our sacrifice.