Local Commentary

Editorial: 2 Huge Council Campaign Issues

The narrow “stay the course, full steam ahead” posture of a majority on the Falls Church City Council will, we hope, become a major issue for the upcoming Falls Church City Council election.

Monday’s Council work session, as reported in front page stories in this edition, saw a majority on the Council permit some creative accounting “smoke and mirrors” to obfuscate yet another major revenue surplus at the end of the June 2013 completed fiscal year that showed no tax rate increase had been necessary last spring and, more significantly, resulted in a ballooning of the City’s fund balance once again way over 20 percent of annual expenditures. The City’s formal policy for fund balance used to be 8 to 12 percent, then was upped to a 12 to 17 percent range of annual expenditures, but to be over 20 percent is an absurdity that, if anyone really cared about the real estate tax bills they’re having to pay every year, should be generating a lot of heartburn.

But there are those Cassandras on the City Council, led by retired banker Ira Kaylin, who honestly feel that it is impossible to hold onto too much given the dark fiscal storm clouds lurking just over the horizon, and that the Council should be in a constant nut gathering and storing mode.

But if the bloated fund balance wasn’t enough, the Council then went on to prepare a $19.5 million bond issue that would maintain in place existing old, undersized buildings, spending millions on renovating them, instead of stepping back for a time and undergoing a much more thorough evaluation of whether or not pouring millions into old inadequate structures is a better idea than building new ones from scratch.

There was some strained desperation by some on the Council this Monday to railroad through the bond issue authorization before the election, now only a month and a half away. A majority on the current Council, led by two of its members not seeking re-election this fall, has been adamant that no serious attention be paid to any notion of moving the location of City Hall to a new site with a brand new, state of the art building, and that no similar consideration be given in terms of Mt. Daniel Elementary, even though the explosive enrollment growth there this month has the School Board reeling and rushing back to the drawing boards.

These two matters – the bloated fund balance and a rush to borrow $19.5 million without due consideration for alternative capital improvement approaches – we hope at least some of the five candidates running for the four open City Council seats in the Nov. 5 election will jump on and make important, defining campaign issues.

Candidate events begin tonight at the American Legion Hall. Over the next weeks every major civic organization will host one. We hope the discussions will be to the point and interesting.