Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields shocked tonight’s F.C. City Council meeting by announcing halfway through that he now recommends increasing the real estate tax rate not a single penny (from $1.24 to $1.25 per $100 assessed valuation) as he previously proposed, but now by four cents, from $1.24 to $1.28. While Shields’ proposal was based on projected costs of added compensation to City employees, restoration of the City’s beleaguered fund balance and bonded funding for improvements to City Hall and the Schools, it was met with solid opposition from Vice Mayor David Snyder.
“I want to put down a marker. There is no way I am going to $1.28,” Snyder said, and even more especially if other tax hikes, including the prospective commercial tax overlay of an additional five cents for commercial properties, go forward.
The sudden development set the stage for a budget work session of the Council tonight at City Hall, when the details of many of these matters will be hashed out. The Council hopes by this Thursday to set the initial parameters for the budget it is tasked to finally adopt in two weeks, on April 25.
Shields said his new proposal to increase the real estate tax rate by four, and not one, cents is based not on the needs of the coming Fiscal Year 2012 budget, but the major storm on the horizon that is Fiscal Year 2013. In that year, funds that the schools are receiving this coming year enabling them to reduce their demand on the City to only 76 percent of their total will evaporate, requiring a return to traditional funding levels from the City of more like 82 percent of its budget. Then there is the uncertainty about the requirements of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) to maintain the pension funds for school employees.
Mayor Nader Baroukh tonight spoke sympathetically about Shields’ new proposal, based on projected numbers for the “outer years,” and said that raising the tax rate by four cents this year might “build in some cushioning to smooth out increases” in years to come. “I am open to going above $1.25,” he said.
City Council member Robin Gardner announced the number she’d received from Shields to increase the compensation to City employees so they wouldn’t face a net decline in take-home pay in FY12 compared to the current year. That number was reported as $200,000, and also contributed to Shields’ suggestion that the tax rate go above the $1.25 he originally proposed.
In the context of these developments, the City Council learned tonight that: 1. the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce is likely at its monthly board of directors meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) morning to officially endorse the recommendation of its Legislative Committee to oppose Shields’ proposed five-cent commercial property tax overlay, which was designed to fund some transportation-related improvements in the commercial corridors of the City, and, 2. the City’s Public Works Department is proposing an increase in a number of fees related to solid waste and yard waste disposal. The latter caused Mayor Baroukh to comment that such fee increases could lead to “mass protests” by citizens if not explained carefully and thoroughly.
What’s needed, he said in comments echoed by Snyder, is a public education campaign that shows proper use of the new “single stream recycling” capability of the City, in which almost any household waste can be placed in a recycling bin now, can minimize citizen liability to increased waste disposal costs. However, Public Works Chief Bill Hicks noted that the City will be able to defer over 40 percent of the cost of its waste collections by increasing rates for yard waste from 50 cents per 30 gallon bag to $1, for special bulk rate collections from $65 per two cubic yards to $75, for major household appliance pickups from $25 per item to $30 and by imposing a new “excess refuse fee” of $1 per 30 gallon bag.
The Council’s final vote on that item will come on April 25 as part of its final adoption of the coming fiscal year budget. This Saturday, the Council will hold its second public hearing on the coming fiscal year budget at the Community Center at 10 a.m.