News

F.C. Digs Out, Digs Back In Making Tough Budget Choices

Double Whammy Storms Lead Into Saturday Forum

High winds accompanying blizzard conditions drove the snowfall sideways in Falls Church and along the entire eastern seaboard yesterday, paralyzing the operations of government, business, schools and households even more than the storm’s predecessor that dumped 20 inches of snow last weekend. Due to the sustained winds, worries of more widespread power outages grew this afternoon.

In a conference call with the media yesterday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said the situation in Northern Virginia was “very dangerous” with zero visibility, 7-14 more inches of snow due, 39-54 mile-per-hour winds and wind chills of 5-15 degrees.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, officials said that nine inches of snow fell in Falls Church from the latest storm, on top of 20 inches from the storm last weekend.

While some reports indicate a third major February blast may be on the way next week and temperatures are not forecast to approach 40 degrees in the foreseeable future, the urgency of the impending budget crisis facing the City of Falls Church has compelled officials at City Hall to redouble efforts to bring out a large contingent of citizens to two town hall meetings in the coming week.

The first will be this Saturday, Feb. 13, at 10 a.m., and the second will be Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. Both will be held in the Falls Church Community Center, 223 Little Falls St.

Faced with a recession-driven shortfall for the coming fiscal year of almost 10 percent from its $66 million budget, City officials are hoping that representation of all interests in the community will show up to make the case for their priorities.

Titled, “Balancing Priorities,” the forums will be hosted by City Manager Wyatt Shields and School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin, who will solicit citizen input on “which City government and schools lines of services citizens value most.”

The meetings will involve small group discussions as well as an “open mic” Q-and-A about budget options and priorities. The right balance of program cuts and tax rate increases will be sought in one of the most difficult budget environments in the City’s 60-plus year history.

The coming forums will be videotaped for broadcast on the Falls Church cable TV channel and on the City’s website.

Numerous other opportunities for the public to weigh in on options for the coming budget will also be provided in the period leading up to the City Council’s final adoption on April 26 of the FY2011 budget (for the year running this July 1 through June 30, 2011).

Public petition periods at all City Council and School Board business meetings will afford such opportunities, including the next regular City Council business meeting on Monday, Feb. 22. On that night, Shields will precede the meeting with a live appearance on F.C. Cable TV’s “Falls Church News-Press Live” TV show at 7 p.m. to outline the budget choices and any progress to that date.

No numbers were available as of press time on the cost to the City, much less the region, of the unprecedented sequence of storm blasts that began with the historic Blizzard of 2009 on Dec. 19, the heavy snows of Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, and the record-setting blasts of Feb. 5-6 and Feb. 9-10.

Falls Church Chief Financial Officer John Tuohy told the City Council at a work session than, in addition to cost burden on City’s budget to operate snow removal and public safety functions during the storms, the Dec. 19 blizzard, in particular, took a major toll on City sales tax revenues, suppressing spending on the Saturday before Christmas. Similar impacts from the almost-universal retail and restaurant closings during the more recent storms will also have a major impact.

However, some businesses stayed open even in the teeth of the worst conditions in the past days. The News-Press was meeting its deadline for this week’s edition by having lodged key employees in a hotel across the street from its offices Tuesday night, and Panera Bread was open for business as usual at 5 a.m. yesterday, though it closed at 2 p.m.

Last Saturday night, a surprising handful of sturdy Falls Church restaurants were open in the tight downtown area near the intersection of Routes 7 and 29, despite virtually impossible road conditions. As featured elsewhere in this edition, as reported elsewhere in this edition. In addition to the Ireland’s Four Provinces, Anthony’s Restaurant, Clare and Don’s and the Dogwood Tavern, the Caraquena restaurant was also open to relieve nearby residents of “cabin fever.”

News-Press distributor Julio Idrobo reported that while side roads in the City of Falls Church remained difficult to handle in the past week, the conditions are far superior, he said, to areas around the City in Fairfax County. A case in point was Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, snowed into her home for days since last Friday’s storm hit, who resorted to handwriting her column for the News-Press this week, and faxing it in.

The widely-reported partial collapse of the snow-burdened roof of the Bailey’s Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department facility at 3 a.m. Sunday, with 18 firefighters inside, none of whom were injured, caused Fairfax County officials to release cautionary information about snow and roof safety.

Fearing more power outages due to high winds last night, Falls Church Public Information Chief Barbara Gordon sent out a memo urging City residents to keep their porch lights on if they have power as a signal to City Police that they’re OK. Meanwhile, brutal storm conditions caused Pepco to suspend efforts to restore power in D.C. and plowing crews were idled in Montgomery County.

The following reminders were issued by officials late Tuesday:

1. Evacuate if you notice any warning signs of roof distress. 2. Do not attempt to clear the snow off a roof; do clear roof downspouts and drains. 3. Call 911 if the roof has collapsed. 4. The Fairfax County Snow and Roof Safety web page offers important safety measures for flat roofs.

Some warning signs that a roof may be giving way under the weight of snow were also noted as follows: 1. A sagging ceiling beneath a flat roof, 2. New cracks on the ceiling drywall or plaster, 3. Popping, cracking or creaking sounds, 4. Doors and/or windows that can no longer be opened or closed.

D.C. Metro Region Fire Chiefs issued fire and related safety tips Tuesday in the event power goes out in a home or business. They include: 1. If the power goes out, all appliances should be unplugged. When the electricity goes back on, power surges can start fires. This is especially important if computers, TVs and entertainment systems are not plugged into surge protectors. 2. If the power is out, flashlights, not candles, should be used. Candles can start fires. 3. Gas or charcoal grills, propane heaters and stoves, kerosene space heaters or generators should not be used indoors because they can be fatal. Not only can these items start fires, but also they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when used inside. 4. Electric space heaters should be kept at least three feet away from anything flammable.

If someone is using a car to warm up, they should be sure the tail pipe is clear or snow or ice. If warming up in a car in a garage, persons should make sure the garage door is open to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide. 6. Fireplace ashes should be discarded safely by putting them in a metal container away from the house. Ashes can stay hot for several days after a fire. 7. The batteries in smoke alarms should be checked to make sure they are working. Extra batteries should be on hand for a portable radio and flashlights. 8. All exits should be snow free in case it is necessary to evacuate a building in a fire. 9. Downed power lines should not be touched, nor anything that the wires are touching.

 

 

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