In keeping with terms worked out through mediation with Fairfax County and its water system last fall, the Falls Church City Council tonight gave final, unanimous approval to the terms of the sale as delineated in a 67-page document. A final minor fix was added to the final OK tonight, language that makes the transfer of pension plan and retiree health liabilities of employees of the water system who will come under Fairfax employment if the sale is consummated subject to an assessment by an outside firm that such provisions are in the “financial best interest of the City.”
More broadly, the terms which were first hammered out last November include the sale by the City of Falls Church of its water system, which has over 100,000 customers in Fairfax County, to the County’s Water Authority for $40 million in cash, plus the giving over of 40 acres of Fairfax County land to the City, including the campus of the George Mason High/Henderson Middle School, and a smaller parcel on Gordon’s Road. The terms include guaranteed three year employment for all current water system employees of the City, and that the water rates charged to users of the former Falls Church system will be equalized with all other users of the Fairfax system within three years.
The matter is subject to review by the state’s Committee on Local Government, and ultimately by the state legislature, as pertains to the boundary adjustment, and then to a referendum of City of Falls Church voters in November.
Much of the concern on the Council tonight had to do with effectively informing the voters of the referendum and its implications. The City stands to gain significantly from the acquisition of the 40 acres of land, over and above the $40 million cash price, because of the land’s potential for dense commercial development in the portion nearest the West Falls Church Metro station.
However, City Attorney John Foster cautioned the Council that state law prohibits the City Council from taking an advocacy position either for against the referendum, limiting its activity to disseminating information. When Council member Phil Duncan asked whether that meant that individual Council members, acting as citizens, were also prohibited from advocating on the referendum, Foster said he would seek a clarification of that.
Duncan read a prepared statement about tonight’s development, saying that he hopes the three-year job guarantee offers “good prospects and long careers working for one of the nation’s largest, most successful water utilities.” He then affirmed that the City’s operation of its system has been “honest and effective,” and “while its true that Fairfax was our adversary in this dispute, it was just that, a legal dispute between two jurisdictions, not a ‘water war’ with a good side and an evil side.” He concluded, “I look forward to having a chance to explain why I think the referendum’s passage will be good for our taxpayers, and will help open doors to a bright future for our City and schools.”