The referendum is behind us. The electorate has spoken loudly; the logical question is – what’s next; what do the voters really want? What do citizens that never came forward in Monday night sessions, but voted overwhelmingly in favor of the referendum really want to see?
It is not that hard to figure out. We should be the very best that we can be and need to be. This is what Falls Church citizens have consistently desired throughout the last decade, made clear in referendums, and what we want – going forward – are the very same things that City Council has memorialized in their strategic guidance document but, sadly, has managed to lose sight of over the past two years. The voters want the Council, as elected leaders, to do the things it said it believed in and then promised to do. The citizens of the City of Falls Church want their tax dollars to count for something. They want proper conservative spending. Among the last things they want are elected politicians who levy and increase taxes without any tangible benefit. The path forward for our elected leadership calls into play three principles:
Maintain focus on priorities. We want great schools and recognize that revenue generation is the only way to get them. Voters are properly beyond simply unhappy that property taxes continue to escalate out of control without reason and without improvements to things that matter: obsolete schools, consumer parking, storm-water management, cut-through speeders and lack of commerce in our City. Citizens don’t understand the City’s position when it refuses to negotiate with developers who propose building less than 100% commercial facilities. We reject coded insinuation that says we want less young families in the city since that will only increase the pressure on our school system. Voters recognize that without school-age children, we cease to have a reason to exist.
The voters want the Council, as elected leaders to do the things it said it believed in and then promised to do.
We need a new high school. We have many resources already in hand. We have an extension university facility. We have a concrete plant. We have a City maintenance yard and a car storage lot. True leadership would do much with that information. True leadership would not have turned down a combination of Federal earmark funds, State tax credit investments and private equity committed to financing mixed-use commercial affordable housing totaling nearly the entire external capital requirement. A financial institution would have moved its data center and customer service operation into our city if we could have provided affordable housing for its workers.
Recognize opportunities and plan to live in the future. Soon, the Silver line will be operational. What sorts of parking, shuttle services and commercial ventures have we sought, in partnership with our adjoining jurisdictions, to take advantage of the new line to Dulles Airport?
What is proper conservative spending? Stop endless spending on studies that validate what we already know. Numerous studies over the past ten years have concluded that we really have a storm water problem. After spending nearly a million dollars on studies on City Hall, it was concluded that the building is obsolete for its intended purpose and now need to spend another three million just to keep the court contract with Arlington. Let’s review what has happened over current and prior councils. The past city council exhibited unprecedented leadership in engaging with the development community. They foresaw that by taking advantage of opportunities and exhibiting far-sighted leadership, our City could diminish the need to finance itself on the backs of the residential tax payer. Prior councils brought about a slew of environmentally-sustainable mixed-use developments conforming to economic prosperity needs and meeting many of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) definitions for buildings that will survive the test of time. These include The Spectrum, the Read Building, Byron’s, BJ’s, the Hekemian mixed-use rental complex, the Flower Building (USGBC Gold Rating) as well as moving the ball close to the goal line in negotiations for the Gateway, City Center South and Broad Street Hotel projects. Without real estate and sales tax income from these projects, residential taxpayers could expect another four million dollars of taxes each year.
Do the right thing – always. The prior council voted to move elections to November to enable more voters to exercise their franchise as citizens. The current council is considering reducing the number of voting wards from five to three. If successful, this will exacerbate access and will result in further voter restrictions. I remain unalterably opposed to any further activity on this diversionary issue.
Let’s hope that the current council is up to the challenge. Now that November balloting has passed by overwhelming assent, we ask our elected leadership to pay attention to what is truly important. Council: Let’s be honest with ourselves. The work remains. Please don’t make us wait for another November.
Dan Sze is a City of Falls Church resident and former member of the Falls Church City Council.