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F.C. Council Hears Capital Improvement Plans, Funding Options at Work Session

In a Monday night work session, the Falls Church City Council, School Board and Planning Commission joined to discuss the Capital Improvement Program for the Fiscal Years 2012-16.

With a tag-team presentation from Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester and Superintendent Lois Berlin, Council members got their first look at the school board and planning commission’s five-year plan for development.

But before the presentation even began, Mayor Nader Baroukh made it very clear that nothing near a decision would be made during this work session.

He said the session was to “begin the discussion,” allowing for those in attendance to “put various ideas on the table” that the council would need time to consider.

The plans laid out call for about $45 million in funds over the next five years, with about $12 million each being allocated to school facilities and general government facilities.

“We have significant projects on both sides this year,” Mester said. Those projects include repairs and new construction on City Hall and City schools.

Much of the funding — $8.5 million — of the government facilities plan costs come from a proposed expansion and renovation to City Hall that would add about 17,500 square feet of new and reused square footage to the building through additions between the east and west wings of the building. Additional funds are called for to address repairs in the ailing City Hall, in particular those to make the facility ADA and OSHA compliant and to address security concerns.

Plans for the schools largely address the question “where will the children go,” according to Berlin, which comes about as George Mason High School nears its 900-student capacity with a student body of 848 currently. Through construction, and some grade-level shuffling, the school board hopes to accommodate the growing student population. By increasing capacity at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, and acquiring the Child Development Center to house preschool programs, the school board hopes to move 5th grade to the elementary schools and 8th grade to the middle schools, leaving only 9th through 12th grade at Mason. The plan would allow for the removal of all trailers which have been used as classrooms as the student body has expanded.

The plan allocates other funding for “keeping up our aging facilities,” Berlin said.

And with the school having secured $3 million of an applied-for $5.9 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds, the projects are more likely.

“It’s better than a zero-interest program because there are interest earnings,” said Joe Mason, of Davenport and Company, LLC, the City’s financial advisor. Mason was on hand to reveal another plan — one for funding the proposed CIP plans. Mason outlined six different strategies for funding the projects in a chart, which ranged from what Baroukh considered a “more traditional” funding plan, to other plans that weighed rewards with risks such as economy-dependent market and interest rate dangers, using funding options like Bond Anticipates Notes which would provide short-term bonds with the expectation of security long-term bonds down the road.

“What we’re trying to do is balance your priorities,” Mason said, adding that “everything comes with a trade-off.”

Baroukh and council member Ira Kaylin made their preference for the lowest-risk funding options known, but City Manager Wyatt Shields said that might not be feasible.

And while the CIP has been proposed to the Council, there is still some debate as to whether or not all of the proposed projects will be funded, and if they will be funded on the timeline the plan suggests. One portion of the plan that Baroukh eyed for revisions and cuts during the tail end of the meeting was the City Hall project, which he said he favored scaling back in order to meet salary and public library needs, and adjusting the timeframe on so that the City wasn’t dealing with a two large construction projects — the City Hall project and the schools project — at once.

But the CIP itself is not without cuts. Mester outlined five projects — IT server consolidation and phone system replacement, purchase of a fire pumper truck, storm water utility initiation, utility relocation and undergrounding, and roadbed reconstruction — that those building the CIP deemed not financially feasible.

But with the budget deadline looming, Baroukh repeatedly stated that the Council needed to make its decisions by April 14, in order to allow for public hearings. The issue of which projects to fund, and how to fund them, however, is still up in the air.

 

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