At Monday night’s joint work session of the Falls Church City Council and School Board, their first take at the next fiscal year budget, it was confirmed by F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields that the tentative deal struck between the City and the team chosen as the master developer for 10.3 acres at the City’s West End, if it comes to pass, means that the new $120 million George Mason High School will get built without costing City taxpayers any additional money.
As much as it was hoped for as the outcome of the dealings with the EYA, P.N. Hoffman and Regency team that wants to put a $500 million development onto the City’s site where the current high school sits, it was not stated openly that the plan would enable a cost-free high school. But this was the cornerstone of the preliminary joint session Monday night, signalling that the upcoming budget deliberations, even with an unusually modest projection for a net 2.0 percent revenue growth in the City, may not be as painful on City taxpayers as many are braced for. Not only will the new high school come at no additional taxpayer cost, but so will the $17 million renovation of City Hall, currently underway, and the coming $8 million renovation of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.
The numbers are predicated on the West End development team’s following through on its $45 million 99-year ground lease on the 10.3 acres, which will cover the City’s added debt service costs to the tune of $6.5 million next year, and $7 million annually after that. Other contributors to covering the debt costs are projected as an annual $640,000 return on investment from the City’s pension fund, which is the result from the decision taken by the Council to use $9.2 million of the proceeds from the sale of the City’s water system three years ago to buoy its pension fund, and a prudent measured use of the City’s reserve fund (which will continue to maintain a balance of between $14.7 and $18.1 million the next five years.
The combined effort will cover an increase in the City’s annual debt service obligation from its current $6 million annually to $9.8 million to pay for the debt incurred for all the new projects. Only School Board member Justin Castillo chose to comment on the overall result, saying, “Good job!” to team that negotiated the preliminary deal with the West End development team and the other decisions that contributed to the City’s capacity to manage the increased debt at no cost to the individual taxpayer.