Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Surplus Revenue & Wisely Investing in the Little City’s Future

I’ve been following the recent debate on what the City Council and School Board would like to do with the budget surplus, and you should too. I find it ironic that we never considered strategically using some of those resources to help generate additional revenue in the future, when we might not be so fortunate to have a surplus. This solution might even prevent a future real estate tax rate increase. It will also create more equity across the City amongst those that pay their fair share of taxes and those that don’t.

What I’m talking about is adding a person in a revenue-generating office, namely the Commissioner’s Office. We could easily solve how to pay for most of this technology investment and reduce the City’s future borrowing costs by raising more revenue during this budget year. We are less than two months into the City’s twelve month fiscal budget year. All of the revenue generation categories in the Commissioner’s Office are up this year, which is amazing considering we’re shorthanded. Why not keep those trends going up by providing the tools to more efficiently do our job and thus help the City’s bottom line both today and in the future?

This idea, with supporting documentation, is made every budget year and is rejected by the City Manager and the City Council. I don’t mind competing for limited resources and losing, but my suggestions are never really given a chance. I don’t have a general manager that I can turn to, like other departments, or a specific board or commission that supports my office. This year I asked the City Manager, in meeting attended by others, what would it take to justify adding a position in my office and he refused to answer my question. I’m not sure what forces are in play here but I’m never given a reason why it can’t be done by the City Manager or the City Council, yet positions have been added elsewhere.

I want the public to be aware of decisions that are being made that will affect where the City puts its human and financial resources as we recover from the recession and begin to hire people back to solve imbalanced workload issues. These decisions can ultimately affect what City services are provided, the quality of those services and most importantly, it can also affect your pocketbook.

This simple solution of allowing me to use some of the existing hard-earned DMV Select commission money in the front-end of my budget (versus the recent trend of using it to reduce the City’s costs to fund the office, and previously it was used to plug other budget holes) so I can get more help raising revenue in an already busy office. This could go a long way towards the School Board’s request to spend the money now, to provide these needed technology improvements earlier in the school year, and do it without using a lot of their roll-over funds for next year.

This is not a new tax, but simply collecting revenue that is duly owed to the City from existing revenue sources that’s currently not being collected due to the failure to comprehensively address this problem. I’m not one to complain without first having offered solutions. I’ve done this many times including a wide-ranging three page letter to the City Manager and City Council back in November explaining how we got here and how to solve it. It would require modest additional resources and a few departments working together; that direction has to come from above. I think my passion and dedication to the City in my ten years on the job speaks for itself. I believe you should always look internally for additional revenue from existing sources before asking residents and businesses to pay more.

The compelling case that’s been made to keep our schools at the forefront of best education practices by having technology readily available to students and teachers will not only help our students do well on state tests that are mandated to be done on laptop computers, it will also allow us to recruit and retain the best teachers. We don’t want to be known as being “behind the times” regarding education technology. We can quickly solve this if we really want to get serious about our revenue generation efforts outside of real estate.

More efficient assessment and collection of existing car and business taxes reduces the need to raise the real estate tax rate which affects all homeowners, apartment building owners, business owners and eventually tenants, as this forgone revenue is passed on through rent increases. I’ve had many people complain about neighbors not paying their fair share of car taxes because they see cars with no decals on them in plain sight. Keeping taxation equitable for all citizens, no matter where they live, is another good reason for aggressive assessment, enforcement and collection of money owed to the City.


Tom Clinton is the Commissioner of the Revenue for the City of Falls Church.