Editorial: Options Still Open For the Budget

February 26, 2014 7:10 PM10 comments

Though they won’t cast their official votes until next Tuesday, members of the Falls Church School Board appeared to draw a line in the sand at their work session Tuesday night, unwilling to send a budget request to the City Council with less than a nine percent funding increase over last year.

This is a far cry – about $1.5 million, in fact – from the five percent hike members of the Council say they are willing to support. The five percent hike could permit the Council to adopt an overall budget for Fiscal Year 2015 (beginning July 1) without imposing a tax rate increase on property owners above the current $1.305 per $100 of assessed valuation level.

The differential of $1.5 million is about five cents on the tax rate, or would raise the rate to about $1.355. The problem is that the schools have experienced the most rapid rate of growth of any jurisdiction in the surrounding region, something that itself is a major driver of higher real estate values in the City and arguably, thereby, the City’s premier “industry.” And, it is hard to look the School Board budget options in the eye and say they’re not pretty serious and essential.

Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones proposed a budget with a 10.6 percent hike last month. She presented the School Board with five scenarios ranging down from that level toward slightly below a nine percent increase. No one on the Board was willing to consider any number below that, noting among other things that there is a long list of unfunded needs of the school system, valued at $2.3 million, as it is.

So, upward pressures on the budget at play for the Council in the next couple months are the following: 1. a School Board request of a nine percent increase, 2. a robust increase in assessed real estate values in the City, jumping by almost eight percent for single family homes, 3. a new Stormwater Utility fee that will be added onto the real estate tax bills this spring.

With still very modest increases in revenue, the City Council’s only options to mitigate the effect of all these added costs on citizens are two: 1. to revisit the plan to impose a complicated Stormwater Utility fee on citizens, and instead to either pay for the costs through bonding or to include it in the general operation budget, or both, and 2. to use the timely windfall from the sale of the City’s water system. The cash amount of the January sale of the City’s water system to the Fairfax Water Authority is now edging up toward $16 million.

The prevailing wisdom is to never use one-time windfall cash for ongoing operating expenses, but the City is faced with three extraordinary developments, 1. the explosive growth of its school enrollment, 2. the sudden, partially federally-mandated costs of implementing stormwater infrastructure improvements, 3. the big leap in property assessments.

  • FallsChurchCitizen

    $1.27? I could have sworn we were paying $1.305 currently.

    • fcnp

      You are correct. We have made the correction above. Thanks!

  • Mike Smith

    The problem (ok one of the problems) with this discussion is that we hear about the growth rate (in percent) and the amount of money (in absolute dollars). How about we compare the actual number of students to the absolute amount of money? Are we keeping up with our neighbors regarding the cost per pupil? Are we falling behind? Or, worse from the taxpayer point of view, are we gaining or moving ahead?

    • Aghast AtYou

      Paying taxes is how we as a society function. The tax rate for Americans and the citizens of Falls Church is absurdly low when compared to other places. Of course the problems we face because of low taxation cause us to pay far more in many other costs (prisons, lost opportunity, stagnant city centers, etc). The better question is what damage have you done to our school staff and city staff with your ridiculous demands for lower taxation.

      • JFallsChurch

        Compared to where?

      • cpplymire

        Poor argument. Damage done? None when compared to say low income areas and their schools. You are getting SO MUCH MORE THAN ANYONE you cannot admit it. Indeed, you want MORE! Ugh..spoiled! If you can afford a $1M+ home in this City you can afford a private education for your children rather than leeching on people like me to pay for your kids. You folks want a Cadillac education with IB programs etc….how about you reconsider and go for a good basic education at the taxpayers expense. Paying taxes is INDEED how we as a society function. Therefore, why don’t you re-allocate your high taxes paid here to low income areas in say Southwest Virginia so those kids can have a chance just like yours? Get it? I doubt you do. WHY?
        because, you, like many here, are all about YOU and no none else.

    • RPeppe

      I don’t think I can post a link here, but the best resource to compare enrollments, per pupil costs, construction and debt service costs, salaries, etc. across school systems in the region is the annual WABE report. If you search for 2013 WABE report you can find it on the Fairfax Public Schools site.

      Lots of different opinions about how much to spend and what we can afford, but this is a good place to find an apples-to-apples comparison of the facts.

      Ron

  • Aghast AtYou

    The problem is that for years now you have kept the taxation rate artificially low. You have starved the schools to the point of absurdity, and it affects your children-no matter how much teachers and staff deny this truth. This City was created for the education of our kids. It costs money. This has been a fact of life since 1949. You have for the last seven years or so squeezed the life out of our school system. You have destroyed morale. If you choose to believe that the value of your house/property should not be taxed. at an ever increasing rate, then move to a place that does not value education.

    • JFallsChurch

      BS

    • cpplymire

      Just like an elitist yelling from the rooftops! Goodness..get a grip. STARVED SHCOOL SYSTEM? you folks have it good. Try going to other parts of your own state and compare them to you. You spoiled people in this city make me sick. If it costs money beyond what our citizenry can reasonably pay, you pick up the tab. Your want Harvard? Then go pay it out of your own pocket and stop leeching on those who are just trying to live day to day.

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