Local Commentary

Editorial: Don’t Delay & Downsize

The small air conditioning motor fire on the roof of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library yesterday morning caused minimal damage and little disruption of the functioning of the library, which wasn’t slated to open until 1, anyway. But it has underscored the seriousness of the need for the library’s renovation.

Right now, the City of Falls Church leadership is preparing to revise plans it made in the spring. The revisions include delaying the $8 million library renovation approved by voters last November until Fiscal Year 2022. That, and downsizing revisions to the City Hall renovation plan, are designed to make the impact of a $120 million new high school project that will require voter approval in a referendum this November less burdensome on City taxpayers.

We are certainly in favor of limiting tax rate increases for anything superfluous here in the Little City. A meritorious effort at economic development, as reported elsewhere in this edition, certainly contributes to that, and it should not be lost on anyone whose “not in my backyard” opposition to robust economic growth that their actions would, if successful, only drive their own taxes (and those of the rest of us) much higher than they are now.

But people in this community are also quite well-heeled. In fact, the City of Falls Church has been listed as having the highest household income per capita of any jurisdiction in the entire U.S. While this seems to defy appearances, it is accounted for by the fact that most households are dual income. City residents, by the same token, are by and large frugal and not prone to extravagance. A lot of focus is on making sure the funds are there for the higher education of the young people enjoying the benefits of one of the best public school systems in America.

No wonder the School Board has gone for the option of an all-new high school even at the cost of $120 million. It is adequate yet not extravagant, the best “bang for the buck” of an array of alternatives carefully studied. Given that with a plethora of factors that include the delay of the library project and the sale of a long-term lease on 10 acres of the school property, the school bond referendum for an all new high school could result in a remarkably-modest four-cent increase in next year’s real estate tax rate: From $1.33 today to $1.37 per $100 assessed valuation. There will be more increases, to be sure, but nothing outrageous.

Given this is the case, we question the wisdom of the City to delay and downsize the library and City Hall work. The voters already OK’d the library, and the City Hall should include more than the bare minimum. This simply won’t cost that much more, and pushing them off may be typical of the City’s approach, but won’t serve the needs of the community well.