Despite $1.1-$1.7 Million F.C. Surplus, Shields Still Wants Higher Tax Rate

April 11, 2013 10:17 PM16 comments

At its work session in City Hall tonight with 11 days before adopting its next fiscal year budget, the Falls Church City Council learned that, based on actual revenues from the just-completed January-March quarter of the current year, it will have an extra $1.1 to $1.7 million to contribute to meeting its next $70 million budget.

However, no sooner had Chief Financial Officer Richard LaCondre presented the news than City Manager Wyatt Shields presented a revised set of recommendations to the Council on how to spend the surplus, all of which maintained his proposal to increase the real estate tax rate from $1.27 per $100 valuation to $1.33.

Shields proposed using part of the surplus to defer the first payments of fees on the Storm Water Utility Fund that has been proposed until June 2014 and to buoy the City’s 17 percent (of annual expenditures) fund balance, creating a new reserve fund for school construction and funding the maintenance of the City’s cable TV station.

The Council will welcome public input on these new proposals, and the budget overall, at a town hall set this Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the Community Center, and then will resume its efforts to preliminarily mark up the budget at a work session that has been moved from Monday to Tuesday of next week, with the final vote on the budget scheduled for Monday, April 22.




  • I do not agree with the need for yet another hike in our real estate taxes (the highest in the NOVA area), but we do have capital expenditures that need to be covered. The main cost driver is the school system. We need to bring that one under control or we will have taxes at $1.90 per $100 of assessment. At those rates – FCC shall only be for upper class types – that is, zero diversity.

    • Mark, considering the increased student population how do you suggest we reduce the funding needs of the schools? The only obvious answer, to me, is to increase the number of students in each class so we don’t have to hire as many teachers. Any other ideas?

  • Andy: Yes, increasing class size is one option to contain costs. Many countries with much higher scores (math, science, etc) have larger classes than us (USA and FCC). Teacher salaries (and overhanging benefits and retirement) are another: we do NOT have to have the highest paid teachers in VA.
    Our main issue: FCC is an attraction for people with school age kids … but not businesses that will increase our tax base. This model is not sustainable. We cannot have real estate taxes at $1.90 per $100 … otherwise we will need to be re-incorporated into Fairfax County (from where we came).

    • I’m curious to see how we get to $1.90 – sounds pretty scary but I haven’t seen how we get there.

      Personally, I wouldn’t want to see the class sizes rise very much, and certainly paying our teachers less than market standard will lead to substandard teachers. I think we’d save money in the short term, but I think many people in Falls Church wouldn’t support substandard schools (me included).

      You touch on what I think is the long term mitigating factor: increasing the commercial tax base in the City. We have a handful of development projects kicking around now and hopefully we’ll see more down the road. Our location should be very attractive to businesses – we need to welcome commercial development.

  • Andy, no correlation of class size and test scores – thus no harm to increase size. Pay and teachers: no reason FCC needs to be in the highest bracket – there are intangible factors that will keep good teachers in FCC. Most important, student performance comes from parents (i.e., college educated, books at home, nurturing environment, etc). Tossing more money (beyond reasonable growth) is NOT the answer.
    FCC will only be attractive to commercial development if we have elected city leaders who want development … versus those nitpicking away at projects (see Harris Teeter and unwanted involvement of some leaders to downsize the project).

    • Mark, you might judge the quality of the school experience by test scores but I don’t. I feel strongly that for my kids having a relatively small class size is important, just like I like having a relatively small school system. That’s why I live in Falls Church.

      As for pay, in my experience if you want to hire and employ the best people you can’t come up much below the market pay for those people. You might be able to save a little bit by promoting intangibles – but not much. Again, I want the City to have the best teachers, not just pretty good ones.

      We’re in total agreement on the commercial development issue!

      • Andy,
        I am pleased that the citizens and taxpayers of FCC get to subsidize your whims and wishes. There is scant evidence that small class sizes improves student performance; nonetheless, happy to pay for your lifestyle. Have you considered if this is fair? There are other things in FCC that require money. Have you considered private school for your kids?

        In terms of pay for teachers … I guess FCC is a bottomless pit of money. So hey, let’s pay them top dollar. I am sure that based upon your vast business experience that this is the best decision.

        Have you considered the burden of all these expenditures (to satisfy your desires at the cost to others) on the homeowners? If FCC taxes us more … doesn’t that leave fewer dollars for college, retirement, savings, etc?

        • Mark, thanks for the sarcasm – sorry we couldn’t keep this more civil.

          Anyway, before I moved to Falls Church I did consider the option of sending my kids to private school. However, I saw that Falls Church has a long tradition of community support for a small school system with small class sizes and it seemed like a great fit for what I was looking for. So I moved here and I also moved my business to the City (and I’m sure I’m not the only business attracted to the City because of the schools).

          I do think it’s fair to expect the community to continue to support something they’ve supported for years. I think it’s a little unfair for people who gladly enjoyed sending their kids to a small school system with small class sizes for years to suddenly decide they’re not willing to pay for it now that they’re not using it. That said, unfair or not, the City can choose a new course and reduce teacher pay and increase class sizes to keep the tax rate lower (but still well above our neighboring areas). I’m not sure what the impact of that move would be – might not be as positive as some people think.

          I didn’t say I had vast business experience or even what the best decision is. I just said that in my experience it’s hard to employee the best people without paying close to the market salary. What is your experience?

          • I moved here for the same reason as you Andy. Falls Church does have a long tradition of community support for a small school system with small class sizes. Historically, Falls Church also has a history of funding the Schools at a much higher percentage of the overall City Budget than has been the case in the last few years. In the past, people in the City have been willing to pay higher taxes to fund excellent schools. This is especially true considering that our tax rate is actually flat if not falling behind previous historical rates when adjusted for inflation.

            Also, I don’t have an issue with my tax dollars funding storm water repair even though I don’t have flooding problems. I don’t have an issue funding the community center or library even though I rarely use them. I don’t have an issue funding the Parks even though I hardly have any time to enjoy them. I guess one could describe funding those areas as funding the whims of others. I just view it as pitching in to have a great community. That said though Andy; your whimsical view of wanting great schools must be shared by more than just thee and thou. We just exceeded 2300 students in the system for the first time. We’ve grown by over 6 percent this year alone.

            -Greg Rasnake

  • Many people seem to take it on faith that that smaller class size works, but the body of research shows that it doesn’t do any good, despite its enormous cost. The progressive think tank Center for American Progress has a good summary in this report:

  • Since the stormwater fund appears to be a done deal I can swallow using the surplus to start it instead of adding a fee on top of the large tax increase scheduled for the upcoming year. And putting aside money for capital expenses that we know are coming up makes a lot of sense.
    I know the drumbeat is there to buy down the tax rate using fund balance, but if you go to the City’s website you will see that the Council passed a policy just a couple of years ago that sets 17% as the fund balance goal. Has anything changed since then to make this a bad policy? Not that this guy can see.

  • Thanks to all the citizens who are sharing their views on the budget. Saturday’s Town Hall meeting on the budget (10am, Community Center) will be an excellent opportunity for you to be heard by key City and schools staff, and by those members of the Council and School Board who are able to attend.

    Council has only two more work sessions (next Tuesday 16th and Thursday 18th) before the budget is scheduled for passage April 22. At last night’s Council work session, there was an animated discussion about spending for City and schools, property taxes and a new stormwater “fee,” and how to remain faithful to Council’s fund balance policy, which calls for 12 to 17 percent of total City revenues to be held in a reserve account.

    Mr. Tarter and I, and Mr. Kaylin and Ms. Barry, had a frank and open exchange of views, refereed ably by Vice Mayor Snyder, who was in the chair because Mayor Baroukh was away on new-baby duty (Congrats to Nader and Bernie!). Mr. Peppe was on business travel.

    Based on what I heard last night, it’s still my view that if there is willingness on all sides to deal with some genuine philosophical disagreements by making reasonable compromises, we could keep our schools and City services excellent, maintain a robust fund balance in compliance with policy, pay our work force fairly, and hold the tax rate at $1.27.

  • JFallsChurch

    Raise the taxes some more….means less going out for dinner and little less tax revenue. By the way, VA legislators passed bill to increase sales tax by 1% in Northern VA and Hampton Roads area (.3% elsewhere in state).

  • Andy,From someone who seems to be promoting economic segregation (i.e., your statement that some will need to leave the City due to rising taxes) … your statements deserve sarcasm and mocking. We want diversity in our city … including economic diversity. Otherwise, we start looking like Great Falls, McLean, etc.
    What is the pre-occupation with small class sizes. The research does not bear any correlation to student performance and class size.
    Why should the citizens be burdened with ever increasing taxes? When is enough, enough? The City has other expenditures (infrastructure, pensions, library, etc). Plus, the citizens need to save for retirement, pay for college, maintain households, etc. etc. Every dollar out of our pockets means less for many other things.
    We need a reasonable amount of growth in the school budget. This guidance was provided at the start of the budgeting process.
    FCC needs to move beyond being solely a destination for people with school age kids … and enhance our reputation of being a place of businesses (i.e., tax base) too.

    • Mark, I see you’ve been reading the Falls Church Post! I assume you’ve been reading the blogs long enough to know that I won’t usually take the bait from name callers (although Lou occasionally gets me).

      I guess you’re saying that anyone that supports a tax rate increase from $1.27 deserves to be mocked? What is magical about $1.27? I’m sure that even if we keep the rate at $1.27 some people will need to move out of the City – so anyone supporting $1.27 should be mocked also?

      I’m not happy that the City’s tax rate is so high and I would love for it to be lower. I’ve been a proponent of economic development in the City since I moved here 5 years ago – and not just from the sidelines. In addition to putting my money where my mouth is (by locating my business in Falls Church), I have volunteered my time on the Economic Development Authority and now the Planning Commission. I’m hopeful that in the coming decade we’ll finally have enough success with building up our commercial tax base to help reduce the tax burden on residents.

      I also appreciate diversity in the City and as a community we should keep looking for ways to achieve that. Lowering the tax rate will help (hence my economic development efforts) and looking at things like the tax relief program for the elderly and disabled would be smart. Maybe there are other things we can do also?

      However, if we’re worried about becoming like Great Falls or McLean, I think that ship has already sailed. Look at the housing prices in Falls Church today compared to 10-15 years ago. We can argue over whether or not the increase is due to the schools or something else – but houses aren’t affordable anymore. We’re already like McLean – not because of our tax rate but because of the cost of housing in the City. Unfortunately, undoing that (i.e. reducing the value of homes in the City) isn’t likely a good way to go.

      Look, I’ve been pretty honest about my willingness to pay a higher tax rate. I’ve acknowledged that it will be a problem for some people, and that doesn’t make me feel good. But I feel like the community has historically supported the schools – and the community is now faced with a historic school population. It’s okay with me that some people disagree with my view of things – heck, maybe most people disagree with me. But I’ve tried to keep this discussion polite and fair, and I’ve tried to respect those who disagree with me. I think most people reading our exchange will think of you as a bully.

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