At its work session tonight, the Falls Church City Council in its final meeting before voting on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget Monday, roughly narrowed its options to two, both calling for an increase in the real estate tax rate from its current $1.27 level (per $100 assessed valuation) to around $1.31, but below the $1.33 recommended by City Manager Wyatt Shields and far below its advertised rate of $1.41.
An option to maintain the $1.27 rate by cutting $1.3 million from the School Board request was swiftly dismissed following Tuesday night’s rancorous session, and another plan for a $1.27 rate that almost fully funded the Schools presented by Councilman Phil Duncan tonight was also deep sixed because Shields said it would involve “use of one-time money” which he said is bad for budget planning purposes.
Of the two variants that will be debated and voted on Monday, one calls for fully funding the School Board request by drawing down the City’s “paygo” reserves by $468,000, and the other calls for cutting the School Board request by $344,700 while reducing “paygo” by $44,000.
Both scenarios call for using surplus funds expected from the current fiscal year to postpone the imposition of Storm Water Utility Fund fees until June 2014, and it was decided to delay setting the fee structure for that new fund until this July.
However, the biggest variable tonight was the absence of Vice Mayor David Snyder and how he might cast his vote Monday. Snyder was a major presence in spirit, with his colleague Ron Peppe insuring the Council that Snyder supports full funding for the Schools, but also the hiring of an additional police officer which the Council tonight deleted from both options.
Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin said that, with a larger cut from the Schools off the table, they would support the version that cuts the Schools by $344,700. Both objected that a spirit of compromise was being undermined by the continued discussion of the alternative option to fully fund the Schools.
A large contingent from the Schools was present again tonight to witness the deliberations.
Duncan said he was not happy with the idea that tax payers will be asked to pay a considerable increase in their tax rate, only to be told this summer that here is a hefty leftover surplus from the just-finished fiscal year. “They’re going to begin to ask how the math is being done at City Hall, and I am not going to be in a position to give them a good answer,” he said.