By a vote of 5-2, with Phil Duncan and David Snyder voting “no,” the Falls Church City Council Monday night gave a preliminary OK to City Manager Wyatt Shields’ recommended four cent tax rate increase for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. The four-cent hike above the current $1.315 per $100 of assessed real estate valuation includes a penny added for the school system and three cents, or $1.2 million, to set aside in the event voters approve a bond referendum in November to construct a new high school. The final numbers, however, await a final adoption of the budget on April 24, and this Sunday afternoon will provide the public with its first opportunity to react at 3 p.m. in the Council chambers.
None of the Council members were willing to commit to supporting the same tax rate when the final rate is adopted in less than a month. Duncan said he wanted to register a “no” vote right off the bat to send a message to the community to pay attention to what is happening. He said adding three cents to the tax rate this spring for a set-aside to pay for the new school would be to preempt the the public’s right to invest in the process even before critical information about the cost of such a new school has been established.
Snyder offered a similar point of view, as much as he said the Council cannot afford to undercut the excellence of the schools for the impact it would have on the “financial underpinnings” of the City. He noted that taking $1.2 million from taxpayers to hold in a bank will restrict its return to about one percent, while that money in the hands of citizens could contribute a lot more to the wealth of the community. Council member Karen Oliver argued, on the other hand, that citizens are going to need to “get used to the idea’ that a new school will be expensive.
Council member Letty Hardi said she recognizes the need to set aside something, but is not ready to commit to how much.
The Council voted to postpone a decision on whether to invest another $2.3 million in the renovation and expansion of Mt. Daniel Elementary until April 11.