Truth be told, it’s a problem unique to a small town. Faced with tough choices on budget cuts, the Falls Church City Council is up against a deadline and it seems bound to make someone unhappy.
In little old Falls Church, with its 11,400 residents, citizens, City employees and school staff and advocates are known by its government leaders in intimate and personal ways that simply don’t factor into big organizations where impersonal statistical data suffices to justify tough choices. Layoffs are never easy, but corporate executives in the private sector are making them in big numbers during this nasty recession while making sure to remain insulated from their myriad of painful personal impacts. They do it by the numbers, and don’t want to know about the consequences, because they have no choice, anyway.
One could argue that even in Fairfax County the process is much less personal, as the County Board is about to adopt its budget including 300 layoffs. But not so Falls Church. Here, there is enormous heartburn on the City Council over the prospect of three layoffs; so much so, that they’re considering taking a knife to a bare-boned City schools’ budget, instead, even as the School Board insists there’s no way doing so won’t wound deeply the quality and reputation of the system. It apparently is not helping the City Council that City Manager Wyatt Shields recommended the layoffs himself, on grounds presented by him last month that though cutbacks will hurt, the City can afford to make them.
Caught in the same squeeze are harmless little fish, like the City’s New Year’s Eve and Halloween celebrations, who should simply be cut free and tossed back in. They’re just not relevant to the big picture (for Falls Church) that revolves around how to deploy $170,000.
The once-controversial funding of a scaled-back GEORGE local bus system was resolved by tapping the City’s part of the regional transportation trust fund. It gets the cost of GEORGE off the City’s operating budget ledger this time, but it’s only a temporary solution. Picking up an additional $170,000 to keep the three City employees and the School Board both happy by raising the real estate tax rate a half-cent (above the four-cent increase recommended by Shields from $1.03 to $1.07 per $100 assessed valuation) should be the price the Council has to pay for rejecting Shields’ proposal for the layoffs. But with an election year looming in 2010, that could be political poison (although the same issues will be back in spades next spring, as well).
Here’s what we think is in the best interests of the City overall going forward: Keep the school funding whole, plain and simple. If it must be, cut something inanimate in the budget to keep the three employees. What can be curtailed or postponed a year, while a much more serious scrub of budget and staff redundancies can be undertaken before next year’s even tighter budget decisions loom? It works temporarily.