It has been more than a decade since I was on the Falls Church City Council. Many would be surprised that the challenges today are pretty much the same as they were then. Being a veterinarian, I take a scientific approach when considering issues requiring problem solving:
1) Observe the signs and symptoms.
2) Examine and evaluate from experience and applied knowledge.
3) Establish a diagnosis.
4) Take action for a cure.
I dug up some of my old Council notes and have modified them to reflect today’s issues. Most of what you are about to read is a decade old but remains the critical pathway to Falls Church continuing as a viable and thriving community.
1) A Revenue Tax Base that is too dependent on residential real estate taxes.
2) A Commercial and Business Tax Base that is weak and not significantly growing.
3) A school system that will need increased revenues to maintain excellence.
4) A failure to meet the City’s stated commitment to fostering economic diversity in its citizenry.
5) A water system whose future as a revenue source is in question.
6) A Transportation system dependent on and vulnerable to outside resources and decision-makers.
Through decades of talk, referendums and planning the City has failed to deliver a doable economic plan to address long term financial concerns. In addition, we have a voting public that in increasingly high percentages has shown an unwillingness to engage in the City’s local leadership elections or volunteer significantly to serve on Boards and Commissions. Combine this with the potential loss of the revenue stream from our water system and you end up where we are today.
Like those of us that own homes and felt certain the value of our homes would go up forever, our City leaders counted on an ever-increasing revenue stream to fund City needs and then wants. We, and they, were mistaken. Also, our reserve fund has proven to be woefully inadequate. Finally, there has been very little said about the significant traffic impact of the Metro expansion to Dulles. Be aware that, to my knowledge, there is no plan to increase parking at the East Falls Church Metro stop.
Falls Church is suffering from economic stagnation and the lack of a balanced revenue stream to guarantee enough funding to sustain our core services and values.
We need to get over ourselves. We are an independent city, but we are not independent when it comes to the problems that face Northern Virginia. We need to reach out to Fairfax County now and seek mutually advantageous solutions to stabilizing our income from the water and sewer system. A continued revenue stream, and not ownership, should be the presiding goal to negotiate. In my days, members of our Council met regularly with Fairfax County elected officials to discuss mutual issues and concerns. We need to reestablish that on-going relationship now.
And while we are talking to Fairfax County, we should consider a bold plan to maximize the City’s income while solving the school facility needs once and for all. (I have no knowledge of any plans the City may or may not be considering about school sites.) Consider this: We should form a joint planning and taxing district with Fairfax County to maximize the West Falls Church Metro stop. We should extend Gordon Road to Birch Street opening up 11 – 20 acres if you include the concrete plant site. We should partner with a developer to build new schools on Gordon Road in exchange for the property adjacent to the Metro stop.
There is probably enough space for our property yard that now sits on prime real-estate. Sale of the Mount Daniel site would also generate large revenues. As part of the West Falls Church redevelopment, the City could require a large long term parking capacity to allow those wishing to take the Metro to Dulles as a reasonable parking site and magnet for shuttles to operate to the commercial district up and down Broad and Washington Streets. Just imagine the opportunities true Metro development could bring to the City.
I join many others in being concerned about the City’s future. It is time we challenge our leaders to stop studying the issues and deliver a pathway, not only to long-term viability, but to excellence in all the things that make a (little) city special.