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‘Stark & Sobering’ Says Shields of Falls Church’s Coming Budget

MONDAY'S JOINT SESSION of the Falls Church City Council and School Board took a first "sobering look" at the parameters for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018 budget cycle. (Photo: News-Press)
MONDAY’S JOINT SESSION of the Falls Church City Council and School Board took a first “sobering look” at the parameters for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018 budget cycle. (Photo: News-Press)

The first look at the parameters for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2018 budget process was characterized by City Manager Wyatt Shields as “stark and sobering” at Monday night’s joint meeting of the Falls Church City Council and School Board. Though, as major new fixed expenses eat up huge chunks of a revenue growth picture, the situation is actually better for the City than for surrounding Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

Despite projected revenue growth (before any tax rate increases) of up to $3.5 million (comparing favorably to a projected 2.1 percent for Arlington, and 1.4 percent for Fairfax County), Falls Church will be required by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to increase its annual cash contribution by $500,000 and in addition to take on a new $1 million debt liability to the regional transit body that will cost an additional $130-170 per year to service. Other new costs include $220,000 for the retirement fund, $270,000 in health insurance costs and $300,000 in needed pay-as-you-go maintenance.

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Despite the hefty added contribution to WMATA (to help pay for the “Safe Tracks” rehabilitation effort and resulting decline in ridership), the City will not see the return of 3P WMATA bus route that served it along Route 7 until recently, Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester said Monday night. When asked by Council member Dan Sze if the route might be restored, Mester at first said, “Maybe,” and then added, “But it you want a definitive answer, no.”

On the school system’s side of the upcoming budget, F.C. Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimble said that enrollment as of this September 30, when an official number is designated for the school year, was 2,670, or a 6.4 percent growth over last year’s 2,509, and significantly ahead of the 3.4 percent projected. Class sizes are now running above the school policy level in three grades. Newly hired interim school superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller told the meeting between teacher and staff compensation costs and required supplies and so forth, fully 95 percent of school costs are fixed. But with these this year come a $450,000 increase in payments to the Virginia Retirement System’s retirement fund, a 15 percent increase in heath insurance premium costs for $439,000 and the VRS life insurance system for $211,900, along with other factors totaling $890,000 in new fixed costs. On top of that, he noted that a single “step” increase for teachers would cost $988,000, and a 1 percent salary hike would cost $374,000.

The School Board also met Monday to begin setting the parameters for its January budget request to the City Council. The deliberations on the overall FY18 budget will run through next spring to the end of April for adoption prior to the start of the new fiscal year next July 1.

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In their joint meeting Monday, the Council and School also mulled the latest data developed for options in the renovation or new construction of George Mason High School, a matter that will come back to a working group of the two bodies this Thursday morning..

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