The Falls Church City Council and School Board met for two-and-a-half hours in a joint work session at the Henderson Middle School library tonight to begin familiarizing themselves with the issues and trends that will shape the next six months’ crafting of City and school budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1 next summer.
Efforts at examining long-term trends were tempered primarily by limitations on the ability to project rates of growth, and conservative numbers hovering around two percent were used throughout. Still, the City and its schools seemed poised in a strong position to move forward with a fully-stocked fund balance and a capital improvement plan that will complete renovations at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, begin major capital improvements at City Hall and address pressing storm water management issues. However, these modest projections over the next five years will be in the context of recent years’ recession-pressured trends toward a smaller City staff, down from 205 employees in June 2009 to 177 now, a 14 percent decline, consistently rising school enrollment.
Constraints on funding the schools while enrollment continues to rise, it was noted, has led to an annual decline in the City’s funding transfer to the schools on a per-student basis, down from $15,275 in Fiscal Year 2008 to $12,792 in the current fiscal year. However, both the City and school programs continue to maintain their high quality levels of service and educational excellence, it was emphasized. The reported $4.1 million City surplus accruing from the end of the Fiscal Year 2011 last summer was assessed and noted that only $1.6 million was due to actual growth beyond expectations (other parts being programs that didn’t get done, charging more for the same level of service and money posted on the books but never spent). Legal contingencies, warnings about consequences for Falls Church of the Virginia Retirement System being $11.6 billion in the hole, and prospects of cutting off state funds for transportation improvements, and of higher costs for contracted services with Arlington County were all thrown into the mix for awareness purposes.
However, words of encouragement from City Manager Wyatt Shields opened the meeting, noting that 120 jurisdictions in Virginia were reporting themselves in worse financial condition now than 12 months ago. That is not the case for Falls Church, he said, “because we’ve made big, hard decisions.”