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Shields’ New Budget Proposes No Tax Rate Increases in FY21

FALLS CHURCH CITY Manager Wyatt Shields presents his proposed FY21 budget to the City Council as (seated to the left) School Superintendent Peter Noonan and School Board chair Greg Anderson look on. (Photo: News-Press)

Monday night at the Falls Church City Council meeting, City Manager Wyatt Shields unveiled his recommended Fiscal Year 2021 City and schools’ balanced operating budget calling for no tax rate increase while topping $100 million for the first time in the City’s history.

The proposed budget grows by 3.3 percent, or 4.3 percent counting its draw from the City’s reserves, to $103.5 million. It includes $41,944,309 for the general government (up 2.8 percent), $44.791,527 as a transfer to the Falls Church City Schools (up 3.3 percent), $2,708,610 for WMATA (up 19.4 percent) and $14,726,532 for debt service (up 9.3 percent) to accommodate construction of the new high school and renovations of City Hall and the City library.

With this budget, the real estate tax rate will remain unchanged at $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation, but with valuations up over 3 percent this year, the average household will pay $222 more in taxes (on a median value $725,000 home) this year.

Shields said the formulation of this budget was “one of the calmest in years” because of the robust commercial revenue growth (including robust growth in revenues from sales, meals and business gross receipts taxes) that made it easier for the schools and City government, alike, to meet budget goals, including wage and salary increases, without pressing for any tax rate increases.

He added, however, that $14 million needed for stormwater flood mitigation projects in the City would require an average additional $23 per year for the average home for next six years to fund.

Otherwise, he proposes no changes in the rates for any of the other taxes, including the sewer fund and an array targeted at businesses.

With this budget, he proposes adding a full time police officer (in addition to the one added last year and another he will propose for next year), an added police dispatcher. He proposes adding a full-time deputy registrar of voters, a part-time human resources officer and a budget analyst to oversee the annual budget process.

These are all required to address the City’s robust 30 percent population growth in the last 15 years (to 14,300 now) even as the number of City employees have remained below the pre-recession level of 2007.

It also owes to the fact that a lot of the new challenges to law enforcement are “vertical rather than horizontal” in nature (with taller buildings). The law enforcement tasks include answering over 40,000 telephone calls and dispatching over 24,000 calls for service, conducting computer records checks for 8,000 vehicles and 8,500 drivers, managing over 200 criminal warrants, 4,000 traffic citations and 3,500 parking tickets.

Another full-time building inspector is also included.

With the 30 percent population growth since 2007, the City will have with the new Shields proposed budget only two more full-time equivalent employees (210) than it had in 2007. The recession drew down the number of City employees to 179 in Fiscal Year 2012, and the numbers have been inching up since.

In terms of employee compensation, the budget proposes a merit increase of 3.5 percent and a police employee step increase of 3.0 percent plus a 0.75 percent cost of living adjustment. There is a net only $35,000 increase in City health insurance compensation with premiums for its Anthem policy declining by 5 percent and Kaiser increasing by 8 percent.

The City’s employee and police pension funds remain fully funded, benefitting annually by a $640,000 return on investment from the investment of $9.2 million made to the from part of the proceeds of the City’s sale of its water system to Fairfax County in the last decade.

Among the revenue sources for the proposed FY21 budget come residential real estate taxes (41 percent), commercial real estate taxes (18 percent), sales, meals, business gross receipts (BPOL) and other taxes (17 percent), personal property taxes (6 percent), and use of fund balance to help pay debt service on the school construction bond (5 percent).

In his budget introduction, Shields said, “Major initiatives addressed in this budget include maintaining excellent government services and schools, funding the adopted capital plan and funding the City’s obligation to WMATA.”

The proposed budget includes an increase of $650,000 for the City’s share of WMATA subsidies, $300,000 of which will be paid by the City and $350,000 paid with Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funds. This increase, according to Shields, “is due to a recalculation by WMATA of the City ridership on bus and rail and the City’s share of the Silver Line Phase II operations.” It excludes the reduction in costs as the result of the termination of the 3T bus service effective in December and assumes that the WMATA budget, when adopted in April, will comply with the state mandated cap of 3 percent growth to its base operating budget.

The budget includes in total the budget request adopted by the Falls Church School Board. Out of its total FY21 budget of $54,594,282, the School Board’s request to the Council is for $44,791,527, an increase of $1,428,250, or 3.3 percent, within the Council’s guidance as presented in December.

Included expenses are $180,000 for sidewalks and LED streetlights, $1.1 million for neighborhood traffic calming ($400,000 from the FY19 surplus, $636,000 from a current fiscal year grant and $100,000 from the Capital Improvement fund for FY2021).

Projects include work at the N. Washington and Columbia intersection from a $1.2 million grant, the S. Maple at S. Washington intersection from a $733,000 grant, and four “Hawk” signals at Broad Street pedestrian crossings from a $1,600,000 grant, the S. Washington Street project from a $9 million grant and the Haycock at W. Broad (Route 7) project from a $15.7 million grant.

Money for surfacing of tennis and basketball outdoor courts, S. Washington street art, the grooming of the Fellows Tract property adjacent Thomas Jefferson Elementary recently acquired by the City for a public park, and practice field lights at Mason High is included, along with contributions to the glass recycling program, the urban agriculture program, the Berman Park Greenway (using grant funds) and Park Master Plan implementation.

With the budget slated for formal adoption on April 27, the City will host a town hall on the budget on Sunday, March 22.