F.C. Council Seeks Public Clarification On Issue of $4.1 Million Budget Surplus

Members of the Falls Church City Council Monday night prevailed on City Manager Wyatt Shields to present greater clarification to the public on the nature of the $4.1 million surplus emanating from a final review of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget that was presented to the Council at its work session last week. A flurry of intense discussion of the subject broke out just before the Council was to adjourn into a closed session at its meeting tonight, which included angry allegations by one Council member of “mischievous,” “misleading” and “shorthanded” reporting in some of the media accounts on the subject.

“It is very important” Council member Johannah Barry stated, that the surplus “is not based on any miscalculation, and it is not brand new money we just found.” Shields clarified that the $4.1 million surplus, in a total budget of $64 million, on both its expenditure and revenue sides, falls “within reasonable bands” of forecasting, and involves not excess, but unspent money, adding however that “this is a better place to be than having some of the shortfalls we’ve encountered in recent years.”

Councilman Ira Kaylin chimed in that the surplus was not based on “a series of missed projections.” Of it, $1 million is a carryover from grant money that was not used and $700,000 was from a budget line item set aside for legal expenses that were not used, “but still may be,” he said. Barry not that the remainder was from unexpended money that merely “kicks expenditure needs down the road,” stressing, “This is not found money.”

While the reports on the announcement of the surplus last week spurred a lot of citizen comment, Mayor Nader Baroukh noted, the other matter foremost on the public’s mind has been storm water management, especially in the wake of the heavy rains from earlier this month which, in one storm, dumped up to eight inches in the City. Citizens complained loudly about two feet of water in their basements and other inconveniences. Baroukh pressed Shields to set up a public forum on the subject, which was tentatively set for October 11 prior to the City Council meeting of that date.

As expected, the Council, by a 4-2 vote, also gave a preliminary OK to the plan by the City’s Electoral Board and its voter registrar to reorganize the voting precinct arrangement in the City, reducing the number of polling places from five to three, as discussed and reported at earlier Council sessions. The final approval of the new arrangement, which would effectively change the voting location for half of the City’s residents, will not be sought before this November’s general election on Nov. 8, however, such that its first application will be in presidential primary of early March 2012. The electoral board noted that this November’s election will maintain the current polling locations and will be used, as such, to provide educational information about the change to voters.

The vote was 4-2 Monday, with Baroukh and Council member Robin Gardner voting no. Vice Mayor David Snyder was not present.