News

F.C. Churches Howl as New Storm Water Fees Would Penalize Their Parking Lots

Clergy Set Meeting At City Hall as New Plan Nears Adoption

The popular pastor of the long-established Dulin United Methodist Church in downtown Falls Church spearheaded expressions of concerns from pastors of at least four other City churches last week by calling their attention to the high cost they would all bear if a new Falls Church Storm Water Utility fee were imposed.

The Rev. M. Davies Kirkland, who in the course of his 13 years of ministry here has often approached the F.C. City Council in support of affordable housing and aid to the homeless issues, submitted a letter last Friday to all members of the City Council about his concerns for the impending fee.

He was especially concerned that no one from the “faith community” in Falls Church was included on the 14-member Watershed Advisory Committee’s deliberations that led to the development of the policy, which faced a preliminary City Council approval last night.

Davies contacted the ministers of other large and historic City-based churches – Falls Church Presbyterian, Falls Church Episcopal, Christ Crossman Methodist, Columbia Baptist and St. James Catholic – to address the problem with the plan.

Davies reported to the News-Press Tuesday that a swift response at City Hall led to the scheduling of a meeting of all the clergy with City Manager Wyatt Shields next week.

He said that initial responses from City Hall administrators had proven less than helpful. Suggestions, he said, that the churches convert impervious asphalt surfaces into rain gardens, for example, was hardly serious. “Our parking lots are indispensable components of our ministry, to enable our congregations to have access to our services,” he said.

Not arguing for special exemptions, however, his issue with City Hall dealt with the exclusion of churches from the deliberations on establishing the new policy in the first place. He wrote to the City Council, “As I became aware of the implications of the proposed Storm Water Fee on faith-based communities, and particularly that of Dulin Church, I was alarmed to realize that the faith-based community representative slot remained vacant the entire life (since 2009—ed.) of this Watershed Advisory Committee,” adding, “I am disappointed that the City did not deem it worthy to actively recruit someone from the faith-based communities to participate.”

He added that, having read all the minutes of the Watershed Advisory Committee, including when discussions of faith-based communities and non-profits were discussed in the context of whether the revenue generating policy should be by a fee or a tax, “I am very disappointed that as this advisory team met for a period of over three years and seven meetings, not once were faith-communities invited to respond or even dialogue with the City about the proposed fee which will have annual costs in the thousands of dollars for each community.” He said that his church alone will, under the current plan, pay $6,797 annually. “We have had no voice, and that is an injustice,” he said.

Davies said he initially planned a letter to the editor signed by a number of F.C. clergy to be published in this week’s News-Press, until Shields’ office responded with the offer of a meeting early next week.

Davies said that he plans to further his concerns with three other clergy who will be participating with him in a joint Good Friday service this Friday at 2 p.m. in the historic sanctuary at The Falls Church Episcopal.

Meanwhile, the News-Press has learned that some major businesses in the City that require large asphalt surface parking spaces were also not included in the deliberations, and were unaware of the impending new fees they may be required to pay.

While the City Council vote on establishing a fee-based Storm Water Utility was scheduled to be only a preliminary approval last night, the final vote will come before the scheduled adoption of the Council’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget on April 22.

Concerns for the added cost, whether as a fee or tax, has upset a large number of City residents, especially given the burden of providing funding for the explosion in enrollment in the Falls Church School System. The Council is expected to raise the real estate tax rate anywhere from six cents (to $1.33 per $100 of assessed valuation) to 14 cents in the next month.

The Council’s regular business meeting this week was postponed from Monday to Wednesday this week in deference to the celebration of Passover.