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F.C. Council Majority Favors $1.27 Tax Rate as Final Vote Monday

In its final work session before the decisive vote will be taken Monday on the revenues and expenditures for the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, the Falls Church City Council found itself with a four-member majority of its seven members agreeing to a real estate tax rate hike to $1.27 per $100 of assessed valuation, a penny less than two want (and the City Manager Wyatt Shields recommended), and a penny more than one held out for.

It was not a consensus, but it was a majority, as Council member Ron Peppe pointed out. With all other matters of import in the budget fairly resolved, tonight’s meeting adjourned just after 10 p.m. with a sense that, while some members may offer some modifications at Monday’s meeting, a clear path has been defined for what the next $64 million budget, slated to take effect July 1, will look like.

With the current tax rate at $1.24 (following a major jump a year ago), Shields originally proposed a single-cent increase in his March 14 budget presentation, but he startled some Council members when he recently revised his recommendation to $1.28, the ceiling the Council had set itself earlier this month. Grim projections for shortfalls in budget numbers for FY13 and beyond led to his new conclusion, and tonight, Council member Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin shared his view. On the other end of the discussion were Vice Mayor David Snyder and former Mayor, now Council member, Robin Gardner, who fought to hold at $1.26. Then Peppe, Council member Lawrence Webb and Mayor Nader Baroukh staked out $1.27, saying that while the concerns of Shields, Barry and Kaylin were well taken, pushing the rate to $1.28 may be more than the City’s taxpayers can handle.

Gardner held at $1.26, saying that since all the extra funds would go not to meet current public needs but to restore the City’s fund balance out of concern for the following fiscal year, that she preferred to keep that money in citizens’ hands until it is actually determined that it is needed. But while Snyder said he wants $1.26 as well, in the reality of nose-counting on the Council, he’d be willing to do $1.27 to create a majority of four.

Snyder also pointed out that as tight as the budget is, “accentuating the positive,” it does give the School Board the full amount of what it requested, keeps the library functioning at its current level (with Shields’ recommended cuts there being removed), provides capital improvement funds for critical renovation and maintenance at City Hall and the City’s parks, while providing for a major renovation and expansion at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary, is mindful of the long-term needs of the City and its fund balance, as well as of the citizens by limiting the size of the tax increase.

Kaylin said that due to the dire fiscal conditions facing the city, and citing crises facing other jurisdictions in the country, he favored shaving the City’s transfer to the schools by the amount the schools intend to spend on a one-step salary increase for its employees to be implemented after six months. He acknowledged, as Baroukh pointed out, that the City cannot determine for the schools how to spend their money, but only assigned a lump sum. But, Kaylin said, shaving the transfer would have “symbolic” value and send a message.

Among the other aspects of the budget that will come to its final vote this Monday, the Council determined modest increases in the personal property tax rate, the decal and some other fees and dropped Shields’ proposal for a five-cent commercial real estate overlay for the coming year. It includes a one-time income “offset” of $1,800 per city employee and a set of layoffs and elimination of positions spelled out by Shields in his original recommendation.

Monday’s final vote will follow a final public hearing on the budget that will commence at 7:30 p.m, in Council chambers at City Hall.