The City of Falls Church will have a new mayor as of next Monday, a panel of experts consulting with the News-Press concurred this week, one of a number of important predictions, mostly upbeat, that will shape the City in the coming year.
The F.C. City Council will convene Monday, the first meeting with newly sworn-in members elected last November, and its first order of business will be to elect from among its ranks a new mayor and vice-mayor.
Word is that current Mayor Nader Baroukh will not be elected to a third two-year term, but another Council member, not from among those just elected, will have the four votes needed to take command of the gavel for the next two years. The word is that the mayor and vice mayor will have the same first name.
This was only one of an array of insights and predictions into the coming year, the blue ribbon News-Press panel provided, including the fact that the new large-scale mixed use project proposed for the Sunoco station site at the corner of W. Broad and N. West Streets will be approved and get started.
It was also held that the mixed-use senior living project proposed by Nova Habitat for the current site of the Burger King in the 500 block of W. Broad will also win approval from the new City Council, after it had been stalled by the old one.
Three new members will join the seven-member Council for the first time next Monday – Mary Beth Connolly, Karen Oliver and Dan Sze – while Johannah Barry, Ira Kaylin and Ron Peppe will no longer be serving, all three having decided not to seek re-election in November.
Baroukh will remain on the Council, along with Phil Duncan, David Tarter and current Vice Mayor David Snyder, who was re-elected in November and has been serving non-stop since 1994, including one two-year stint as mayor in the late 1990s.
How important is the job of mayor? It depends on how any given mayor uses it, experts say, even though it is technically limited in a City Manager form of government to setting the agenda at meetings and performing ceremonial functions, such as ribbon cuttings for new businesses.
But a mayor can assert a considerable amount of control over the operation of a Council meeting, and sub-committee meetings, by controlling the flow of conversation depending on who gets called on, cut off, and so forth. The mayor can also exercise clout in close quarters with staff at City Hall, metaphorically or otherwise gripping lapels and delivering wishes to the City Manager and others, if he or she so chooses.
One general policy shift the public can expect from the new City Council will involve a relaxation of funds currently sealed in the City’s fund balance, which is currently well above 20 percent of the size of the annual City operating budget.
While the previous Council insisted on maintaining that level, the new Council is more likely to work the fund balance within the range outlined as official City policy, which is between 12 and 16 percent of the annual operating budget. The difference will free up three to four million to be used on “understandable, straight forward and sensible uses,” the News-Press panel stated.
In this context, there will be no tax rate increase in the coming budget, and there will be a push to bring real estate assessments more in line with sale price values, which some on the panel insist has gotten out of alignment. Some argue that actual values of residential real estate in the City are as much as 20 to 30 percent higher than their assessed values.
The new Council will set a Saturday morning aside for a mini-retreat in late January, before the new budget cycle shifts into high gear, the News-Press learned, and the Planning Commission will have a similar retreat to begin coping with the many capital improvement projects it will be asked to act on this coming year.
The School Board has already put out a call for relevant boards and commissions to make appointments to a citizens group to oversee the process of building a new high school.
A panel of experts will be convened to begin talking about the “highest and best use” of the land that will be annexed into the City as a component of the sale of the City’s water system to Fairfax County. The critical part of that land will be directly adjacent to the West Falls Church Metro station.
It may be that the City will go for outside business expertise, including involving cooperation with Fairfax County, to find new cutting edge technology businesses, such as those dealing with the amazing potential of 3-D printing, to take up shop there.
City infrastructure will be key in the coming year, it was pointed out, with sidewalk and related improvements on S. Washington St. ahead of the construction of the Reserve at Tinner Hill and Rushmark (Harris Teeter) projects that will bookend that area of town and become a major incentive for filling the area in with new development over the next few years.
2014 will also, at last, mark real action on more than one municipal parking garage in the downtown area, the News-Press panel noted.