The first whiff from City Hall about how bad the next City of Falls Church budget will be was referenced only in passing by two Council members at Monday’s meeting.
They noted that each of the seven Council members were invited in over the weekend by City Manager Wyatt Shields and given preliminary projections of the situation. “Staggering,” said one Council member. “Unsettling to say the least,” was the comment of another. The initial projections will become public at next Monday’s Council work session, if not before.
Vice Mayor Hal Lippman set the context this week when he reminded his colleagues, “This has been the worst recession since the Great Depression.” He added that under such circumstances, “Our dilemma is that it’s a crap shoot to predict the future.” Shields provided Council members with some reports of how similar factors are impacting the budgeting processes of neighboring jurisdictions, as well.
The target date for the first comprehensive look at what lies ahead is a joint City Council and School Board work session on Nov. 30. If nothing else, it will mark one of the earliest starts at shaping a Falls Church City budget in the city’s history, though it won’t ease the pain.
So far, City residents have sat back and had virtually nothing to say about all this, as evidenced by the lack of public comment in the four public meetings that led to the mid-year correction taken this Monday when $5.6 million was shaved from the current fiscal year budget. Residents will remain silent at their peril going forward, however.
Some combination of severe service cuts, curtailing much of what City residents have become accustomed to over the years, and tax hikes are in store. The City Council and School Board will be severely challenged to figure the best formula for cuts and hikes.
It’s going to be “gut check” time for Falls Church, plain and simple.With the cuts introduced this week, the City is already in bare bones operating mode. To try to balance cuts evenly and to limit tax increases will seriously erode programs that are the most important to the City’s purpose and future. It is not a level playing field for all City services. Two things drive Falls Church, and will be decisive for its fiscal recovery and future: economic development and public education.
Investing in economic development will drive the creation of new tax revenues, and the high quality of the City’s schools is not only their core mission, but it is also the City’s primary revenue driver, by virtue of the “value added” it provides to real estate values. Therefore, the first priority must be to protect most these two critical components.