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Shields Proposes 20¢ Real Estate Tax Hike to Balance F.C. Budget

page5Stiff Workforce Cut & Reduced Pay Included

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields unveiled his proposed $64.2 million budget to the Falls Church City Council Monday night, recommending a jump of 20 cents in the real estate tax rate from $1.07 to $1.27 on top of deep cuts in City services. Steep declines in real estate tax assessments and other impacts of the wider recession were pinpointed as the need for the measures.

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WITH MEMBERS of the Falls Church School Board and their superintendent seated just behind him, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields (at podium, left) unveiled his recommended FY11 budget to the F.C. City Council Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)
Stiff Workforce Cut & Reduced Pay Included

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields unveiled his proposed $64.2 million budget to the Falls Church City Council Monday night, recommending a jump of 20 cents in the real estate tax rate from $1.07 to $1.27 on top of deep cuts in City services. Steep declines in real estate tax assessments and other impacts of the wider recession were pinpointed as the need for the measures.

Overall, the recommended budget reflects a 7.12 percent decline from last year’s budget on the City side, and a 5.5 percent decrease on the Schools’ side, including a 4.5 percent decrease in its request for City support. Overall, his budget shrinks City and school operations by a total of $2.848 million from a budget in the current year of $67.087 million to $64.238 million.

Tonight, Mar. 11, the first of many open meetings and public hearings on the proposed budget will be held at the Training Center in City Hall. It will be a joint work session of the Council, the School Board and Planning Commission that will include an updated report on the City’s current financial condition. Council work sessions will also be held next Monday and the following Thursday, and the first Town Hall meeting to elicit public input will be held Saturday, Mar. 20, at the Community Center.

Shields’ proposed budget involves reducing the City’s workforce by 16 positions to its lowest level since the mid-1990s and a combination of pay freeze and health and pension offsets that will reduce the take home pay of the City’s 184 employees by 1.6 to 5 percent.

It also includes the outsourcing of the City’s trash pickup service and no use of the general fund for capital improvements.

A 13.4 percent decline in the assessed value of commercial real estate in the City, a 12 percent decline in the assessment of apartment buildings and an 18.41 percent decline in sales tax revenues were matched by a reduction in new commercial property values from $128 million in 2007 to $8 million in the current year to create the deep hole between projected revenues and expenditures that led to Shields’ recommendations of a balance between a tax rate hike and program and personnel cuts. In addition, the value of the median single family home in the City fell from $651,000 in 2007 to $587,300 in 2010.

The sales tax decline was due in part to an audit by Richmond that revealed that some non-City sales revenues were being incorrectly posted to the City, and the City is also denied the ability to draw $2.3 million as a return on investment from its water fund, pending the outcome of an appeal of a Fairfax Circuit Court judge’s ruling.

Some of Shields’ proposed service cuts include closing the public library on Sundays and reducing hours on other days by one hour per week. He also calls for the defunding of the City’s annual July 4 fireworks beginning in 2011 (as it is already paid for this year) and its contribution to the New Year’s Eve Watch Night celebration. Cuts will also be made in street sweeping and information technology services, and the GEORGE bus service will be further scaled back. However, the part-time position of curator of the historic Cherry Hill Farmhouse will be retained.

Among the key programs Shields recommends be funded at current levels are police uniformed patrols and storm water maintenance. He proposes that two cents of the tax rate (about $600,000) go to begin restoring the City’s beleaguered fund balance, currently drawn far below the level that constitutes City policy and ensures its superior bond rating.

Shields indicated that maintaining services at their current level would require increasing the tax rate to $1.37. While he recommended $1.27, however, he said the Council should “advertise” a rate of $1.30 in order to leave it with some “wiggle room” before finally setting on the next fiscal year budget at the end of April.
Council reactions to the presentation ranged from Councilman Dan Sze’s declaration that “it leaves us gasping for breath, even as much as we knew this was coming,” and Councilman Dan Maller’s urging that the Council be “more proactive than just reactive” in its budget approach to help spur an economic recovery, and he added that there is “a consensus in this community about things like education.”

“I will be looking for lower levels of a tax rate increase,” Councilman David Snyder said. Vice Mayor Hal Lippman added, “I don’t mean to minimize the financial pain inflicted on us, but I think we will get through this fine,” a comment seconded by Councilman Maller.

Mayor Robin Gardner urged citizens to participate in the many public hearings, work sessions and business meetings that will be held between tonight and the final adoption of the new budget on April 26.

Shields, who presented his budget to the board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, will bring it to the monthly luncheon of the Chamber next Tuesday at the Italian Cafe.

 

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