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F.C. Council Tasks Shields, School Board With Far Deeper Budget Cuts

In an explosive development tonight, the Falls Church City Council erupted with a near unanimous call for F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields and the School Board to come up with draconian scenarios for trimming up to an additional $4.5 million from their budgets.

Despite a 4.5 percent cut in spending in the budget recommended by Shields last month, the result still called for a 20 cent increase in the real estate tax rate. Shields came to the work session tonight offering four scenarios for tinkering with the 20 cent number, at a maximum dropping it by a penny or two.

But animated by feedback from citizens to Council members, whether running for re-election next month or not, one by one the Council members tonight fell in line behind a proposal from Council David Snyder that Shields should provide scenarios for holding the tax rate to either a 15 or 10 cent increase. Shields said cutting 10 cents of his proposed tax rate would require $4.5 million in additional cuts.
Mayor Robin Gardner, who strongly supported the exercise, tasked Shields with four scenarios: 1. hold the tax rate increase to 10 cents, with all the $4.5 million in cuts coming from the City’s operating budget alone, 2. hold the tax rate increase to 10 cents, with half the $4.5 million in cuts coming from the City and half from the School budget, 3. hold the tax rate increase to 15 cents, with all the $2.25 million in cuts coming from the City operating budget, and 4. hold the tax rate increase to 15 cents, with half the $2.25 milion in cuts coming from the City and half from the Schools.

Shields said it would take well into next week to calculate those scenarios, beyond the coming Monday’s date when the Council and School Board were slated to meet in a work session to hammer out more budget issues. It was not known tonight whether that work session would be postponed as a result of tonight’s shocking developments.

However, the chair of the School Board, Ron Peppe, was in the room tonight to observe all that transpired. Running for City Council this spring, Peppe was there to follow the Council’s deliberations, but when the subject turned to making deep cuts in the budget the School Board already forwarded to the Council, Peppe, seated in the audience, could only say, “I am taking notes.”

Snyder initially said he wanted targets for much deeper cuts to come only from the City’s operating budget, and not from the schools. However, Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, who said “there are no sacred cows” in the budget given the extraordinary fiscal crisis the City faces, said the burden for further cuts should come from both the City and the schools. Therefore, Gardner tasked Shields with coming up with the four scenarios.

“If we say that we have certain top priorities for the City,” she said, “Then we need to see what would happen to some other programs, like the entire Parks and Recreation Department, for example, if we need to make more cuts.”

Councilman Dan Sze said he favored holding the tax rate increase to 10 cents. “I am not running for re-election, but I am hearing plenty from my neighbors,” he said. Snyder said that as he went door-to-door campaigning, he’s realized how many people in Falls Church are hurting, having their jobs scaled back or lost altogether due to the recession. Lippman chimed in, saying that as he’s been campaigning for re-election, that he has to listen to constituents speak out to him not only as a candidate, but as sitting Council member making budget decisions now.

Gardner stressed that the scenarios Shields is being asked to provide constitute only “an exercise,” with no commitments on which, if any of them, the Council may eventually adopt. Lippman said that cutting the hike back to 10 cents was unfeasible, however, given that seven cents of it was due solely to the City being denied use of a return on investment from its water fund and another three cents from a re-calculation of the City’s take from sales taxes due to clerical corrections in Richmond.