It’s coming down to that time when the City of Falls Church’s City Council votes to adopt the coming fiscal year operating budget, which this season tops $99 million and includes no changes in any of the tax rates in the City, including the real estate rate currently at $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation. Special features of this year’s budget are the almost record-low increase in the transfer to the schools at just 2.1 percent, the flat tax rate, and the fact it is all occurring while the City is engaging in the most ambitious capital improvement package in its history. The final vote on the budget will occur on Monday, April 22.
What can be frustrating with the annual budget crafting process, however, and from which this years’ deliberations have not been immune, are the ways in which a big budget of $99 million so often comes down to contentious arguments over veritable nickels and dimes in the final hours. There are four areas where this is happening this time.
First, there is a dispute among members of the Council over whether a task force-recommended modest increase in City funds to allow for tax abatements for senior citizens, the disabled and veterans will be approved. This increase is deemed important to help seniors stay in their homes, rather than move away and their homes be sold to families with bushels of school aged children that the City will have to educate at $19,000 a year. From that standpoint, it is just smart and in the interest of all taxpayers, but some argue that increasing the abatement option is unfair. The Little City’s new rate would still be lower than what neighboring jurisdictions do, and it is self-evident to us that this is a very modest cost that should be allocated.
Second, there’s the small request from the City’s Registrar of Voters to increase the hours of his assistant from part to full time in the face of the City’s torrid population growth and history of high voter turnout. Again, we support this added allocation request. We want the City to continue to enjoy its stellar reputation at the ballot box, one of the most valuable amenities we all enjoy. Yes, there are other “unmet needs” requests in the budget, but our registrar has gone to the trouble to make his needs well-known, and deserves to be given his request.
Third, there is the issue of affordable housing, and we’re being promised it will be addressed more effectively soon. But it is a woeful shortcoming as of right now. Finally, the City is doing so many things, yet devotes so little to public information and outreach through the media, even though it enjoys one of the region’s very few remaining quality community newspapers. It needs to allocate funds to take advantage of this asset to the benefit of the whole community.