News

F.C.’s 1st Budget Town Hall a Dud; Schools Push for Revenue Sharing

Minimal Citizen Input At Public Event as FY13 Budget Crafted

The attendance was sparse, to say the least, at last Saturday morning’s Town Hall meeting on the Falls Church budget, more due to the beautiful weather than lack of important issues to discuss, it was presumed by City Manager Wyatt Shields. The number of citizens who showed up, independent of paid City staff and citizens elected and appointed to City boards and commissions, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

 

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Seven candidates running for the Falls Church City Council this spring appeared at the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday. (Photo: News-Press)
Minimal Citizen Input At Public Event as FY13 Budget Crafted

The attendance was sparse, to say the least, at last Saturday morning’s Town Hall meeting on the Falls Church budget, more due to the beautiful weather than lack of important issues to discuss, it was presumed by City Manager Wyatt Shields. The number of citizens who showed up, independent of paid City staff and citizens elected and appointed to City boards and commissions, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There will be only one more such Town Hall meeting before the Falls Church City Council adopts the Fiscal Year 2013 budget next month. For the record, that will be Saturday, April 14. Time for public input will also be provided at the Council’s regular business meetings next Monday and April 9, and the budget is slated for final adoption April 23.

Lack of public interest in the budget at this stage, aside from the weather, could be associated with the idea that it seeks no tax rate increase, that it begins, at least, to address the City’s storm water management shortcomings, and that there appears to be no opposition on the Council to giving the City schools all they’re asking for.

While almost no significant issues have been raised by the City’s rank-and-file citizenry so far – except for storm water, which was raised angrily by numerous citizens prior to the unveiling of Shields’ recommended budget on March 12, all the contentious issues have arisen from within the City’s bureaucracy, itself.

City employees are agitating for better compensation than is in the current plan, noting that it represents a fourth straight year of no net increase, while burdened with greater shares of pension and health care costs. Poor morale at City Hall already exists, it was noted, and surrounding regions are compensating at much higher rates this year.

Some, including at least one on the City Council, are questioning the decision to keep two months’ worth of revenues locked in the City’s bank account as a fund balance reserve. In the past, the City policy limit was at least one month’s worth. The difference is $6 million.

The School Board seems unified on two points, beyond their budget request. The first is for the City to peg its projected growth numbers to forecasts by the best regional economic forecasting experts rather than an arbitrary two percent annual growth number. The second is to obtain an agreement with the City Council of a “revenue sharing” arrangement, whereby the School Board knows it will get a fixed proportional share of annual revenues.

As the School Board’s Joan Wodiska stressed in colorful remarks to her Council counterparts during a joint Council-School Board-Planning Commission work session last Thursday, when revenues are down, the School Board has cooperated by scaling back its requests accordingly. But when the revenues start to rebound and rise significantly, the School are usually told to continue holding its line, nonetheless.

“Where’s the beef in your economic development proposals?,” Wodiska asked the Council members sharply at the work session. “Only 2 percent growth? If we did this with our students, we’d be run out of town. It is worse than the national and regional economies.”

School Board member (and former City Councilman) Kieran Sharpe chimed in that “we need some projections based on reality, not a simplistic 2 percent across the board.”

Vice Mayor David Snyder shot back at Wodiska, saying her comments were “unproductive and confrontational.”

“I’ve lived and breathed development in Falls Church. There are reasons why we haven’t done better,” he said.

Council member Johannah Barry chimed in, saying to Wodiska, “You are a thoughtful, smart, attractive woman and a snappy dresser,” while urging her to be more conversational and less confrontational. “No one on the Council doesn’t want the schools to succeed,” she added. “But a ‘let’s get bold’ approach can end up badly.”

Still, Council member Ron Peppe backed the School Board request for a revenue sharing agressment. When Planning Commissioner Melissa Teates asked why a revenue sharing deal hadn’t already been struck, she was reminded it takes four votes on both the Council and School Board to do it.

Copies of a power-point talk on the regional economy by the area’s most respected economic forecaster, Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, were circulated, which projected regional growth rates of 4 percent and up.