Local Commentary

Editorial: The Looming 2008

On a whole series of levels, 2008 promises to be a very “interesting” year. Seldom have so many important issues so clearly presented themselves, looming in advance of a new year. Locally, regionally, statewide, nationally and globally, we are poised for some serious developments.

In Falls Church, one of the toughest budget deliberations ever is coming soon, as the City’s lopsided dependency on residential real estate taxes will result in a monumental fiscal squeeze. The flat-lining of real estate values will confront the City with extreme pressures to fund the City’s schools below the level many will feel they require to remain competitive, with aggressive efforts by well-off surrounding jurisdictions to bolster the quality of their public school systems.

An impending Falls Church City Council election in May will add to the pressure on budget considerations to hold the line on the tax rate, which will push the current Council’s choices toward cuts in services and school requests. This current Council will try hard to preface the coming tough period with an approval for development of the new City Center. New modifications to the Atlantic Realty City Center plan suggest that once completed, the new City Center could add close to $4 million a year in direct tax revenues to the City coffers. That’s not counting indirect economic benefits that will generate far more revenue than most people take into account because it is hard to quantify. By doing this, the Council will credibly hold out the promise of better times ahead, even as it is forced to “bite the bullet” this budget cycle.

So far, only one of three incumbent Council members has indicated she will seek re-election in May. One has said he definitely will not run again, and the third, Mayor Robin Gardner, remains undecided as of this week. But having the race opened up to too many personnel changes at this juncture could destabilize the current Council’s tight-rope walk through the current challenging period.

Larger factors looming as the new year approaches will define how protracted, and how potentially harmful the current downturn will be for local jurisdictions. Many experts are predicting fallout from the sub-prime lending crisis, and related credit woes will continue and even worsen in 2008. Over the last half-dozen years, too many families with good credit were seduced by no down-payment, interest-only, adjustable rate mortgage offerings into buying far more than they could afford. More and more they are being confronted by the consequences of that. As the price of oil soars above $100 a barrel, the implications for the entire economy will be pervasive, made even more volatile by a diminishing supply and global political instabilities.

In short, decisions taken and factors unfolding in 2008 will uniquely define how the next half-dozen years, at the very least, will look.