City Manager Proposes $80.9M Budget With 4.5¢ Tax Rate Hike

March 12, 2014 8:53 PM11 comments
FALLS CHURCH CITY MANAGER Wyatt Shields (foreground) gestures before the City Council to a projected presentation of his Fiscal Year 2015 proposed budget Monday night. The budget deliberation process may become one of the more contentious in years over the next five weeks. (Photo: News-Press)

FALLS CHURCH CITY MANAGER Wyatt Shields (foreground) gestures before the City Council to a projected presentation of his Fiscal Year 2015 proposed budget Monday night. The budget deliberation process may become one of the more contentious in years over the next five weeks. (Photo: News-Press)

The recommended budget presented by Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields to the City Council Monday night calls for an increase in the real estate tax rate from $1.305 to $1.35 per $100 of assessed valuation to balance an $80,986,664 Fiscal Year 2015 sum of expenditures.

Shields introductory statement noted that without the transfer sought by the School Board, the tax rate would drop by a penny. But it acknowledged an increase in assessed home values by almost nine percent for single family homes and – entirely separate from this budget – the introduction of robust new annual stormwater fees that vary widely depending on impervious surface measurements on individual properties.

Right out of the gate, however, a stumble ensued with the postponement for a week of a joint budget work session that would have put the Council and the School in a face-to-face meeting tonight. It was announced yesterday that it will be put off until March 20, and suggests that the School Board’s needs may be at odds with the City Council’s goals more than usual this year..

A clarifying statement about the postponement from the City’s Public Information Office, sought by the News-Press yesterday, said, “In working with the Schools, we found it’s more convenient for them to present next Thursday, March 20, instead of coming to two work sessions. It’s possible that the Schools will be invited to another session for a follow-up meeting, if needed. Everyone is on board.”

School Board chair Susan Kearney told the News-Press that her board is now calling on the City Council for the formation of an on-going “joint work group on matters of budget and finance.”

This may be due to the fact that, breaking from tradition, a number of Council members weighed in at their Monday meeting in direct response to Shields’ proposed budget, and seemed to have little difficulty embracing the notion of big cuts in the School Board’s request.

The Council is definitely concerned about a citizens’ uprising if on top of an average nine percent increase in single family home assessments, a 4.5 cent increase in the tax rate and a stiff first-time stormwater fee, the cost of living in Falls Church becomes untenable for any significant percentage of the population.

PROJECTED ON THE WALL at Monday’s City Council meeting was a graph showing comparable tax rates of jurisdictions in the region. (Photo: News-Press)

PROJECTED ON THE WALL at Monday’s City Council meeting was a graph showing comparable tax rates of jurisdictions in the region. (Photo: News-Press)

For the School Board, on the other hand, the view is held uniformly and passionately that faced with explosive enrollment growth, at the highest rate in the state, already too much may have been trimmed from their budget ask in ways that will hurt their system’s ability to maintain its high level of performance.

They drew down the Superintendent’s recommendation of a 10.6 percent increase over last year to 9.8 percent, and that still omits about $3 million in costs that were not even asked for.

In facing what may devolve into one of the more adversarial confrontations between the Council and the School Board, the Council will anticipate pressure to reconsider some of its current plans, such as its present desired level of a fund balance, a one-time use of $16 million in net cash proceeds from the sale of the City’s water system, an adjustment of the new plan to tax property owners to pay for stormwater system upgrades, and a selective downshifting of its current aggressive capital improvements calendar.

Rather than pressuring an over-taxed school system, citizens may decide that the Council should provide relief through these means instead.

Shields’ proposed budget, up 7.2 percent over the previous year, will be modified by the Council over the next month and a half to be ready for final approval on April 28. It will fund City and school operations from July 1 to June 30, 2015.

The first public hearing on the budget will come at a town hall meeting this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Community Center, 223 Little Falls. There will be a public hearing on March 24, a second town hall meeting on April 5, a second public hearing on April 14 and a third public hearing on the night they will vote on the budget, April 22.

Work sessions will include the one with the School Board now set for March 20, and others as needed and not already scheduled.

Shields’ proposed budget includes big increases in the qualifying incomes for persons over 65 and/or totally disabled to receive tax relief or deferrals. However, no such relief is in the works to be provided for the stormwater fees.

 

  • Mike Smith

    All I can say is “ouch.”

  • David

    What’s driving the increase? New year, new increase. And City services continue to be nothing special.

    • Ronnie Trout

      What’s driving the increase? Did you read where it said without the school transfer the rate would actually drop?

      City services nothing special? They just plowed the entire city with a 5-man crew due to 7 vacancies. Get over yourself.

      • JFallsChurch

        How many plows does the city have?

      • David

        Wow, they plowed the streets of a 2.2 square mile city with only 5 snow plows? Unbelievable. During the last storm (not yesterday’s), they did a terrible job on many of the major roads, as compared to ArlCo (where taxes are lower). And I could offer several harrowing stories of my interaction and my neighbors’ interactions with several City departments that were slow and incompetent.

        Are there bright spots? Sure. FCPD does a great job, and I’m sure there are many talented and dedicated employees throughout City government. But I haven’t seen services that justify our incredible tax burden, which swells each year (despite tax assessments continually going up).

        • Ronnie Trout

          I’d love to see you plow an entire city with the skeleton crew they have thanks to half their workforce going to ffx water.
          Also, as this article and my above comment make clear, the burden is higher thanks to the schools, not the government whose services clearly aren’t up to your standards.
          Take a look at who is eating up the biggest piece of the pie. It’s not the government, not by a long shot.

          • David

            I saw your comment. Noted. Last I checked, the schools are part of our city government. And I’m not the one focused on snow plowing with a skeleton staff, you are. I’ve lived in numerous cities and counties, and I don’t think FC’s gov’t services, by and large, justify the taxes we pay. That conclusion isn’t based on snow plowing during one storm, it’s based on my experience and those of my neighbors over the years dealing with various arms of the FC Gov’t. And I’ll note that the other places I lived also had top-notch, desirable schools…and lower property taxes.

            I’m all for reigning in the schools’ spending, if that’s what you’re proposing.

          • Ronnie Trout

            You comment about the increase while putting down City Services. We can debate snow plowing all day long but my point it (which I thought pointing out the skeleton crews would me clear) is that the actual staffing and pay of the very services you decry have only been slashed over the past few years while schools got increased funding, teachers received raises, and students received iPads.
            Yes, schools and government share the same budget but in no way do the increase in taxes have to do with the government. Again, take a look at the pie. It speaks for itself.
            Be safe on those streets.

          • David

            The City gov services that I’ve dealt with specifically have not seen their resources or budgets slashed, as a matter of fact. You’re making a lot of assumptions. And the City has been using contractors to plow/haul snow, so I’m not sure your facts are accurate there either.

            In any event, we’re in agreement: the schools are sucking the City dry at the expense of both taxpayers and other City services. I’m all for top-notch schools, but I don’t understand why our per pupil spending is so exorbitant compared to other districts who do similarly in national rankings and, frankly, send more students to top universities.

  • jimbledsoe

    My immediate reaction is to say Wyatt Shields has hit the ceiling in his ability to manage this crazy town. What a thankless job it must be to be the city manager of this hot mess. We have smart people on the school board and smart people on the city council……I have said before that he isn’t up for the job, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe he’s not the problem…..we are.

    • Mike Smith

      Unfortunately, there is ample blame to go around.

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