Local Commentary

Editorial: Why Insist On Austerity?

The financial projections for the next budget cycle in the City of Falls Church presented the past week to the City Council and School Board was a jaw-dropper.

That’s because they forecast no increase in the value of residential real estate in the City, with a 3.4 percent overall revenue increase coming entirely from new commercial development and some major improvements of some residential properties.

Where is City Hall’s information coming from to justify this projection, which flies in the face of local, regional and national trends in the eyes of almost everyone?

Apparently there was no solid data provided to make City Hall’s case, such as a comparison on sale prices for homes in the City compared to a year ago. Every realtor the News-Press has talked to (many advertise with us) says the market is red hot around here, which coheres with the data provided by the Metropolitan Regional Information Service (MRIS), showing average prices in the area up by over 16 percent.

Our concern is that City Hall’s projection is politically, not data-based, motivated, though we’re not pointing fingers at anyone in particular or prepared to assign a motive.

But we know that underestimating revenues to the City in recent years created a lot of chaos, including last summer’s tiff over what to do with a whopping (for the City) $3.4 million surplus swimming around in the City’s bank account.

That led to a highly-contentious City Council fight over what to do with the money, with three of the seven Council members insisting on denying the City Schools’ request for vital technology upgrades, denying a rebate to taxpayers and wanting to cling to the taxpayers’ money by ballooning the City’s fund balance to a grotesque 24 percent.

Fortunately, four Council members saw otherwise. But the track record of revenue projections has not been good in recent years, to say the least, which was apparently OK with some on the Council.

What the most recent projections do is frame the coming budget debate with the School Board once again set behind the eight-ball.

It’s already been proposed, with all the imprimatur of a formal financial document, that anything above a 3.4 percent increase in the School Board’s budget is going to wreak havoc with the fiscal stability of the City.

So the guts on the School Board have already been set to churning mode, a terrible shame. Given the incredible rate of enrollment increases in the City’s four public schools, and the deserved reputation for their excellence by any measure, to have to start a budget deliberation from the standpoint that there will be a war between the schools’ needs and those of tax paying citizens is a disservice to everyone.

Revenue projections have been so far off as to be worse than worthless in Falls Church in recent years. Therefore, we counsel everyone to ignore them, and wait for actual data before drawing any assumptions or conclusions.