News

Bond Sale $$ Goes To Stormwater Efforts

THE FALLS CHURCH CITY COUNCIL made moves to fund both stormwater projects and put money in the City’s Affordable Housing Fund at its work session this week. (Screenshot: News-Press)

The City of Falls Church was in the process of selling municipal bonds in the amount of $11.7 million as the News-Press went to press Wednesday, acting on a unanimous vote taken by the Falls Church City Council Monday night to press on with the City’s stormwater mitigation efforts. It came also as the Council voted to allocate $100,000 from underspent general operating funds this year to the Affordable Housing Fund, in a precedent-setting move that also harkened a new way forward for the Little City.

Moving quickly to the bond sale yesterday, according to the City’s Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa in remarks to the News-Press Wednesday, came as a result of concerns expressed Monday night that next week’s election could complicate the markets, especially if the large numbers of early votes cast cause delays in declaring winners.

Of the $11.7 million total bond sale, $400,000 was dedicated for the advanced engineering work ahead of six major storm water mitigation projects that have been identified at an eventual cost now claimed to cost between $5.1 and $7.4 million. Called the “Big 6” at the Council meeting Monday, they address the needs at the Harrison Branch, Trammel Branch, Hillwood No. 2, Sherrow Lane, Hillwood No. 1 and Lincoln Avenue.

(The rest of the bond sale went to $250,000 for storm sewer mitigation and to achieve a lower interest rate on existing bonds. The City did save a considerable amount selling the new round below the 3.5 to 5 percent rate of current obligations, Bawa said.)

Dave Gustafson, chair of the City’s Stormwater Task Force, said the Council’s unanimous 6-0 vote Monday to move forward was “a win-win-win-win-win for many Falls Church neighborhoods that have flooded repeatedly.” He added, “Many stakeholders who have been a part of the City’s robust stormwater discussion over the past month are all in general agreement: we all want sufficient, cost-effective drainage that’s as future-proof as possible and maximizes the use of green infrastructure.”

It was Council members Letty Hardi and Ross Litkenhous’ focus on the need to also address the upstream issues of so-called “green infrastructure” (as well as the “grey infrastructure” of only pipes) that made the vote Monday work for the unanimous vote to move forward for the City.

Hardi said in a social media post Tuesday, “Behind last night’s 6-0 vote on stormwater funding were two important call-outs, some of which we’ve been fighting to do for months if not years.

“As we’ve advocated consistently,” she continued, “stormwater management needs to be a multi-pronged effort. With climate change and increased impervious surfaces in our residential neighborhoods, adding only pipes is insufficient. Yet this was the plan in front of us to advance engineering and design dollars and eventually bond $12 million for six grey infrastructure projects prioritized by our citizen Stormwater Task Force, which would eventually double everyone’s stormwater fees.”

Hardi added, “This is a case of ‘both/and’ decision making for me: we should invest in grey infrastructure and ‘upstream’ work, aka green infrastructure, and a thorough review of development policy and enforcement opportunities and more equitable fee structures, such as more credits to incentivize natural solutions like on site detention and preservation of mature trees and surcharges to discourage maxing out lot coverage or impervious surface limits.”

Litkenhous, in the Council discussion Monday, said “it is very unwise and fiscally irresponsible to raise fees” in the current environment,” stressing that the pursuit of “micro solutions” should be studied. He expressed concern about “committing to more than we can bite off with all six projects now.”

While it was agreed to bond for the preliminary stormwater work, Mayor David Tarter said that the City should hold onto as much of its cash as it can because “there is a lot of risk and uncertainty facing us now.”

Nonetheless the Council included in its decision Monday to allocate $100,000 of its operating budget underspending to the Affordable Housing Fund, which currently has $315,000.

Both Hardi and Councilman Phil Duncan said they could not remember the last time the Council dedicated any money to the fund in this way. While a small amount in terms of the City’s affordable housing needs, it still represents a major symbolic step.

It came in the context of the report on Richmond developments by State Senator Dick Saslaw, along with State Delegate Marcus Simon, at the beginning of the meeting. While Saslaw reported that the Covid-19 pandemic crisis forced the legislature to rescind $2 million that he’d arranged to have committed to City of Falls Church Affordable Housing last spring, he said it is going to be a top priority for him to get that money restored.

Saslaw and Simon were on hand to present two special commendations from the General Assembly in Richmond in honor of the late Falls Church Council member Daniel X. Sze, identical versions passed in the House and Senate. Mayor Tarter invited the two legislators to a special reception honoring Sze, who passed away in July from cancer, at some point to be determined in the spring.

The Council delayed until January a decision on more funding for Neighborhood Traffic Calming pending more information on potential funding sources.

Federal Cares Funds for the Falls Church Community Services Council are already being used to assist 57 households in the City with rental relief due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was reported.