Local Commentary

Editorial: Invest the ‘Surplus’ In Human Capital

The City of Falls Church’s already-storied $4.1 million “surplus” coming out of the fiscal year that ended last June 30 does not, as Council members sought to clarify this Monday, mean that the City has all that extra money to go out and spend. Some of it was due to unspent money that was earmarked and still needs to be spent, and more was due to some extra revenues above and beyond expected, but not enough yet to make anyone feel confident sustainable commitments can be made on the basis of it.

What it does represent, most importantly, is a turn out of the red and into the black for the City, a heartening turnaround from recent years, when the City faced substantial shortfalls, some due to the weak economy, some due to some unhappy court decisions.

We’re happy to settle for that for the time being. Of course, some of the added revenue had to do with a positive performance by the stock and bond markets in the spring, and they’ve been much more volatile since July 1. No one can be certain if the wider economic picture will continue to warrant the famous “cautious optimism” that leaders in the region are hoping for.

Yes, it is all interconnected globally, as much as some citizens at the local level love the idea that they can determine their destinies through community activism. Those following News-Press columnist Tom Whipple’s compelling weekly column on Peak Oil are aware that serious resource scarcity promises to ultimately change the shape of things to come far more than anyone but the most boldly prophetic are willing to concede.

Whipple’s view is that the longer oil and gas prices remain as high or higher than they are now, they will take a toll on prospects for robust recovery more than anything else. The country and the world are simply not prepared to face up to the implications of this in terms of a stark necessity to shift gears into the large-scale, emergency development of new sources of energy.

So, at the risk of irritating those who might be saying, “What does this have to do with Falls Church?,” we think that lifting one’s gaze beyond the daily grind may provide some unusual enlightenment. We would translate the Peak Oil crisis this way: remain frugal, remain flexible, and, in particular, look for ways to limit dependency on oil and gas in the operations of our lives.
To the extent the City has added resources to deploy, they should be directed in the cultivation of a home-grown industry: namely, the development of human capital. They should go first to employee salaries and professional development in both the schools and City operations, and improving educational effectiveness and relevance for the world of the 21th century.

From the standpoint of planning on any scale, human capital development components found in specific programs and initiatives can be readily pinpointed and prioritized. They need to be.