Local Commentary

Editorial: A Strange Dance At City Hall

Welcome to 2013, such as it is. Perhaps forestalling bad news until after the holidays, as readers can see on Page 1 of this edition, the Falls Church City Council wasted no time at its first meeting of the new year to begin figuring out how to best wrest another $4.5 million annually from the wallets of its citizens.

There will be plenty of opportunities for the Council and the City staff to explain to citizens why this hefty surcharge on all their other local fees and taxes – real estate, personal property, business license, etc. – is absolutely necessary. Our point here is not to question the need for some improvements to the City’s stormwater system, although it might be to question when and how much.

What concerns us most at this stage is the curious morph of the Council in its deliberations from figuring out how to best use a $3.4 million surplus, which was what all the fuss was about last fall, to now how to best fleece citizens for $4.5 million.

To those on the Council and in the bowels of the City Hall bureaucracy, the two issues are like the proverbial “apples and oranges.” They have nothing to do with each other, so they say.

But from the standpoint of the taxpayer, they are part and parcel of the very same reality, which is how fat or not their wallets will be after City Hall is through with them.

It’s a strange dance, so it seems, whereby first of all, the Council overcharges taxpayers for the services it promises them, then wrestles with what to do with the overcharge, and then rolls up its sleeves for another major taking.

All three stages of this exercise are deserving of some major criticism. First of all, what really accounts for the overcharges the City imposed on every taxpayer last spring? Secondly, why was there such a grudging reluctance by half the Council to give at least a portion of it back? Then third, why was all that undertaken without regard for what they all knew would be hitting the public this month – the idea of a Storm Water Maintenance Enterprise Fund with a very big price tag?

At City Hall, there is a woeful lack of an overarching game plan comprehensible to the taxpaying citizen. As small groups of Council members skulk around City Hall in tiny conferences that no one knows about (technically in compliance with “Freedom of Information Act” law by papers tacked on a City Hall bulletin board), secrecy, rather than transparency, is the effect.

This is the Council leadership that torpedoed the laudable effort by the late City Manager Dan McKeever to enhance citizen awareness through City-managed weekly “Focus” pages in your local newspaper.

In this week’s meeting, this same leadership called for holding off on informing the public of the stormwater options until some key decisions were locked in.