Among the best and most active realtors in Falls Church are all telling us the same thing: home prices are continuing to climb in the City way beyond the tepid two percent growth projected so earlier this month by City Hall’s Financial Planning office. Anecdotal information from prospective home buyers is confirming this, as well, and the most convincing evidence comes from school enrollment figures.
Enrollment in the Falls Church City Public Schools, as reported elsewhere in this edition, is up with the start of the new school year by a record percentage (4.5 percent) for the second straight year, or, the last two years taken together, by a whopping nine percent.
That means, in short, that families are piling into Falls Church, and its not because property here is cheap. On the contrary, it confirms that for many, “price is no object” when it comes to enrolling their children into what numerous sources in the wider world continue to proclaim as one of the best school systems in America.
The population growth reflected in the last two years’ school enrollment leap is driving up residential real estate values, in exactly the way that our realtors are telling us. The market continues “on fire” in Falls Church, according to one of the most prominent and energetic realtors.
So, Falls Church could be experiencing a significant fiscal anomaly by virtue of the combined factors of its small size and outstanding schools, something that would defy factors assumed to apply to larger jurisdictions. It presents a significant challenge for the City’s planners to anticipate what this will mean when it comes to projecting growth rates for revenues, as well as expenditures, in the coming period.
We don’t feel the two percent revenue growth projection presented to the City Council earlier this month corresponds to the reality being experienced “on the ground.”
It would be a terrible shame if the Council followed the similar under-projections of the past couple years and imposed inappropriate limits on expenditures, on the one hand, and tax rate increases on the other, only to wind up with a repeat of what just happened, an extraordinary surplus that accrued from the Fiscal Year 2012 year that ending last June 30.
On the one hand, taxpayers in Falls Church should be paying extra-close attention to this, so as to insure that the taxes they’ll be ask to pay next spring do not simply fatten the City’s fund balance rather than pay for things the City really needs.
On the other hand, beneficiaries of City services, which is almost everyone who lives here, should watch carefully to see if shortchanging some important services is really called for, given a more accurate notion of what the revenue-expenditure balance sheet may really look like.
“Long term planning” in Falls Church has to be based on assumptions unique to the City’s actual circumstances, not simply by overlaying regional or national trends.