Local Commentary

Editorial: A New Low for F.C.’s Council

There’s always tomorrow, but to date, in this newspaper’s 21 years of covering political affairs in the City of Falls Church up close and personal, week to week, we can’t recall a descent as bad as the one that took possession of the City Council in the past month.

Tuesday night’s work session finally (finally!) might have put an end to one of the most distasteful chapters in Falls Church governmental lore. The arrival of Vice Mayor David Snyder back on the scene – he was absent for almost all of what transpired before – broke the 3-3 deadlock on the Council so that, pending an expected 4-3 vote next Monday, a small portion of the $3.4 million surplus that accrued from the fiscal year ending last June 30 will be devoted to badly-needed technological updates in the City’s school system.

But it was not without efforts late in the night Tuesday that devolved into the obsessive and downright bizarre by some on the Council opposed to the idea. We can’t help but wonder what’s really going on here, beneath the surface arguments of otherwise intelligent and rational people.

This faction on the Council includes Mayor Nader Baroukh, Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry. It has been rightly criticized since the spring of 2011 for, first, supporting a grossly-missed mark for projected revenues in the last fiscal year, and, second, for proposing to sit on the $3.4 million surplus that accrued as a result.

The virtually no-growth projections adopted stymied the School Board’s options both in the Fiscal Year 2012 and in the current one. Suddenly, the Council discovered at the conclusion of FY 2012 this July that actual revenues were a whopping $3.4 million (out of a $70 million total budget) greater than its overly-conservative projections, the equivalent of a full 10 cents on the real estate tax rate.

But if mismanagement accounted for far-lower-than-realistic assumptions for revenue levels in FY 12, it was dwarfed in comparison by the handling by the mayor, Kaylin and Barry of the surplus since it came to light. All the School Board asked for in July was for some of the surplus, a half-million, it was forced to do without last spring to squeeze their budget request into the unrealistically-small projected revenue growth.

Stunningly, that Council faction has proposed keeping that surplus sit in the bank, earning almost no interest, until next spring, leaving the schools on their own. Kaylin has gone so far as to argue that the schools have the money, but that it is cloaked by budgetary smoke and mirrors.

This group wants to simply squat on the surplus, swelling the City’s fund balance (taxpayer dollars just sitting in the bank) to almost 23 percent of the total annual budget. Instead, in today’s low-interest rate environment, the City should be investing more in its biggest asset, the schools, including borrowing now to build while rates are so low.