F.C. Referendum Foes Craft Organized Campaign Effort


Cite Impact on Taxes, Schools Of a ‘Yes’ Vote

Fearful of the negative fiscal and quality-of-life impacts on the City of Falls Church that would occur if a charter-change referendum on the City’s May 6 ballot were to pass, leaders of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce moved swiftly this week to forge a “Citizens for a Prosperous Tomorrow” campaign to defeat the ballot measure.

The referendum would mandate that no new development will occur in the City’s commercially-zoned corridors unless it has less than 60% commercial use. Its opponents fear that, if passed, it would bring an immediate halt to the mixed-use development process that has already begun generating millions in new revenues to the City.

An informal task force of five members of the Chamber’s Board of Directors drew up the initial parameters of the campaign, and recruited long-time City resident Ira Jekowsky to spearhead the effort. Jekowsky has lived on and off in Falls Church for over 40 years, spending the last eight years on Park Avenue, in a town home right behind some of the most dense new commercial development to date. “I’ve kept track of the whole process closely the last seven years,” he said.

The referendum issue, “is really an economic one that impacts everyone in Falls Church,” Jekowsky told the News-Press in an interview yesterday. “It’s black and white, really straightforward. If it were to pass, it would jeopardize the fiscal condition of the City, its quality of life and its very viability as an independent jurisdiction.”

He said proponents of the referendum who say its passage is needed to “save the City” are wrong. “It will have the exact opposite effect,” he contended.

Meanwhile, proponents of the measure have no formal campaign plans, according to Sam Mabry, former Falls Church vice mayor and an architect of the referendum. “We don’t have any special interests on our side with a lot of money. But there are significant policy issues. We feel the push for short-term financial gain from mostly-residential projects will create a terrible burden in the future,” he told the News-Press in a phone interview yesterday.

But Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner, in comments to the News-Press yesterday, noted that the new predominantly-residential mixed-use developments completed or under construction currently, have already had a significant effect of easing the burden on City taxpayers while maintaining the quality of the schools.

Gardner cited news reports yesterday that Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted a new budget with a whopping 19% increase in its real estate tax rate, a jump from 96 cents to $1.14 per $100 of assessed valuation. The boost, which will increase the average homeowner’s tax bill by 6.5%, was required because of a steep drop in real estate assessed values, as experienced throughout the region, including in Falls Church.

But in Falls Church’s case, it appears the tax rate will increase only three cents, from $1.01 to $1.04 and that the average homeowner’s tax bill will actually drop by $112. In the meantime, the School Board’s funding request will be granted in full.

Gardner said it was just the kind of development that the referendum, if passed, would kill, that provided the offsetting revenues to keep taxes under control, and the schools intact. A lot more revenue from those projects will come in future years as they are completed, and newly-approved ones are built.

Jerkowsky said that his fledgling “Vote No” organization will make a concerted effort to reach out an enlist alliances with community groups, including school-based organizations.

The task force initiating the effort was composed of Falls Church Chamber executive director Sally Cole and board members Dave Lasso, Bob Young, Carol Jackson and Chris Bergen.