After the joint meeting of the Falls Church City Council and School Board earlier this month, it is evident that we are in for one of the toughest budget cycles during my tenure on council. During the city manager’s presentation he explained the tough road ahead and so both groups have to work collaboratively as we make some tough choices to begin the process of stabilizing our “Little City.”
The purpose of the meeting was to share the city revenue projections to ensure both bodies begin this year’s budget process on equal footing. Therefore, when the schools begin developing a budget they know and understand the challenges the City Council faces.
I am here to inform you that the city has some pretty big challenges in front of it and now more than ever our citizens need to take an active role in critically thinking about the decisions being made and express their concerns to the leaders, so that their principles are protected.
Based on the presentation, we are starting this journey to develop a process much earlier than ever before. It will be transparent and allows citizens as many opportunities to comment on the budget as possible. Again, the difficulties the council faces this year are very painful. Everything is on the table from consolidation of services between the city and school, reduction of services, raising fees, increasing property taxes to additional staff reductions.
It is my hope that we begin this process in November as opposed to waiting until March. Being proactive will allow us the opportunity to work collaboratively, which is the responsibility of all our elected leaders.
Although the meeting seemed a little tense at times, we began the process of laying out our values versus the reality of revenue expected. The projections shared earlier this month show the rising cost to run both the city and educational system. So the challenge is determining what can be considered for a possible reduction and what is untouchable.
This is where you, the citizen, come into play in this process. This is where I ask you to take an active role in your government and tell us what you value and love about living in our “Little City.”
I ask you to share with the City Council and School Board what you value about living here in Falls Church and would not like to see cut any further. On the other hand, I would like you to explore what areas you are willing to see some reductions or raised fees.
Here are some of my suggestions as we begin to move forward in a positive way:
1. We must come up with a schedule that allows both the schools and council to work to provide accurate budget numbers so that the schools can craft a budget and get it to us as soon as possible.
2. We must provide documentation to the public, so that they can have an opportunity to review and give comments to both bodies that can be included in the budget presentations.
3. We must increase the amount that is in our fund balance. There are several proposals about how much of the tax rate should be dedicated to restoration of the fund balance. It will have to be considered carefully, but bottom line is that without this fund we could have been in a much worst position then we are now.
4. Give the manager early guidance before he crafts his budget so that we are not at the 11th hour trying to find pennies to cut from the budget.
I am willing to work with whoever has good ideas that make sure that the City of Falls Church is here for the long haul. I am not willing to buy into the notion of joining Arlington because we are an independent city for a reason and I will work hard to keep us that way.
I challenge all of my colleagues on the City Council and School Board to work together and not allow personal feeling or politics to cloud the work that we have been elected to. I want to make sure that our City continues to be one of the best communities to live in with world class schools.
This is what our citizens have elected us to do and I am certain we will rise to the occasion and work together for the long term viability of our Little City.
Lawrence Webb is a member of the Falls Church City Council.