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8 F.C. Council Candidates Differ on Causes of City’s Budget Woes in Debate

councildebatefront008WEBEight candidates vying to fill four seats on the Falls Church City Council in the May 4 election presented sharply different views on the causes of the budget difficulties facing the City in a debate before a standing-room-only crowd in City Hall tonight.

 

councildebatefront008WEB

The eight F.C. City Council candidates at the League of Women Voters/VPIS debate Tuesday night. (News-Press photo)

 

Eight candidates vying to fill four seats on the Falls Church City Council in the May 4 election presented sharply different views on the causes of the budget difficulties facing the City in a debate before a standing-room-only crowd in City Hall tonight.

Four candidates, including one incumbent, cited “errors,” “dysfunction” and “mismanagement” in decision making on the Council’s part while others reminded the audience of the impact of the wider global recession and other special circumstances for the current squeeze that will result in major cuts in services and a large tax increase in the City’s next budget due for passage next week.

Incumbent Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, in his concluding remark, stated, “No one tonight has mention the function of the recession” in the problems facing the budget. He said the budget represents “a perfect storm” of problems, ranging from the wider recession, caused by a 13 percent decline in the value of commercial real estate and other manifestations of the recession, to the January court ruling denying the City a return on investment from the water fund, and an audit in Richmond of sales tax revenues to the City that led to a major loss of funds.” He said that the water and sales tax matters accounted for 10 cents on the tax rate, in themselves, and the commercial real estate decline another five cents. “I am comfortable the Council, all of us, responded quickly and effectively to these circumstances,” he said.
But challenger Johannah Barry, who is running on a two-person slate with candidate Ira Kaylin, shot back that the analogy to “the perfect storm” is “not appropriate,” citing faulty projections, bad decisions on the use of the water fund and “mismanagement” as the culprits. She said that the size of the coming tax hike “is the result of a lack of strategic planning and missed economic opportunities.”

Also highly critical of the functioning of the current Council was John Lawrence, one of the four candidates running with the formal endorsement of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC). Departing from the thrust of the remarks of the other CBC-backed candidates (Barry Buschow, Ron Peppe and Lippman), he spoke of “alienation on the Council” and quipped that “the knives should be out on the Council for cutting the budget, not fellow Council members.” He also said the Council “has appeared dysfunctional in the last few years,” creating a “toxic atmosphere” where the “Council has become more of the problem than the solution.” He was also critical of some of the new mixed use projects in the City, citing the lack of tenants in some of the new retail spaces.

This came in sharp contrast to his fellow CBC candidate Lippman who spoke highly of the work of all on the Council to address the current budget crisis. Lindy Hockenberry, former vice mayor and current Planning Commissioner running as an independent, said she has “great concern for the dyfunctionality remark,” citing her experience of “respect for all colleagues, staff and citizens” in her public service. Calling herself a “positive person,” a 31-year veteran teacher in the Falls Church schools, she concluded, “You have to care about everybody.”

Peppe also took issue with his Lawrence on the mixed use projects issue, saying that some have been more successful than others in the City in filling their new buildings, saying that “you need more (space) rather than less before it gets going better,” and strongly advocating for a downtown parking garage as a way to “jump-start development.”

Incumbent David Snyder, running for a fifth term since first being elected in 1994, spoke strongly in support of his votes for school funding and the Wilden affordable housing project, but said “it was a tragic mistake to sue our neighbors,” referring to the water rights litigation between the City and Fairfax County. Snyder emphasized his support for the long-range plan to bring light rail down Route 7 through Falls Church, connecting Bailey’s Crossroads and Tysons Corner.
Buschow, who has lived in Falls Church since 1951 and has served on 18 boards and commissions during his 22 years of public service here, became choked up in his closing remarks about the importance of a good attitude in serving, saying “there can be no I, but only we” and vowing to be a voice for volunteers.

Kaylin implied a criticism of City Hall when he called for “much greater transparency on the City Council,” and “information provided in a timely fashion” to the public. He and Barry stressed the need for long-term planning and an expansion of the economic base. He said that he’s found citizens responsive to his plan for more commercial density on the perimeters of the City.   The candidates were also roughly divided on the question of what they’ve found the citizens of Falls Church are most concerned about. Some placed the emphasis on preserving the excellent school system, and some were more concerned about high taxes.

Lawrence said he’s found that citizens “don’t want a canyon (of high-rise development) on Broad Street,” while Lippman said that “people are willing to pay for services they expect and need, and for the schools.” His conversations going door-to-door, he said, “have found people friendly, interested and receptive,” far from what he expected to find as the incumbent vice mayor actually in the process of determining their tax rate and scaled back services.

Hockenberry said she’s found strong support for the schools, and a public “recognizing we’re facing a couple of rough years.” She said she’s often been asked when the new brew pub is opening, and about the prospects for more businesses coming in.

Peppe said “there is no single will of the people” and that the key is for persons with differing opinions to work together. Each of the four CBC candidates made brief references to their slate, and Peppe noted the diverse opinions of the candidates making up the slate.   The debate was hosted by the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society. Olga Hernandez, a Centreville resident who is the president of the state League of Women Voters organization, moderated the event, asking the candidates to pull written questions from the organizations and from the audience out of a hat. The event was videotaped for later airing on Falls Church Cable Television.

 

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