By Dan Sze
Your new City Council held its first retreat after taking office three weeks ago in order to get up to speed on all current issues: the upcoming budget for public government and schools, capital improvement projects, the state of economic development and disposition of funds available from the sale of the water system. The common definition of retreat is an act of withdrawing or moving away from a place or situation because it is dangerous or you are losing – it connotes disengagement or abandonment. The new Council did none of those things. Instead, this is shaping up to be a Council of individuals with independent thinkers who understand that our vision for desired outcomes in the long game is remarkably similar even if our perspective on the road immediately ahead may not necessarily be the same. This was evidenced in the early morning exercise in self-definition which showed seven unanimous depictions of a walkable, people-friendly future for our city filled with happy citizens walking from one happy activity to the next.
This was the first time to share key principles and it appears that this will be a collaborative council. This will be a council that understands compromise is how progress is accomplished and hopefully one that realizes that upcoming decisions will not be a choice of good or bad, but rather, of two good choices, which one or which blend of choices will have the best result for the most people. Early consensus has emerged on water sale proceeds – that the funds will be deployed not for operations but instead invested in a manner which results in high visibility, will benefit the greatest number of citizens, and have enduring value while protecting the principal amount as long as possible.
It is not yet time to have data-driven discussions on the upcoming budget – we continue for a short time longer to rely upon projections and estimates of total revenue and cost, look at past projections and past realities, how we are positioned among adjoining jurisdictions – but it is already clear that the assumed residential real estate assessment going into the budget is low by a large factor. This will have a profound consequence as much as the knowledge that our population increased by eight percent last year or that the schools propose a significant increase.
Independent living policy to assure retention of our mature/senior citizen population was established as another key area. We will look into exemption and abatement policies that result in net reduction or deferral of real property taxes on this segment of our population and look at more available services, such as taxi vouchers. These measures were promised to be examined in the election process last fall.
A major area of endeavor in the new Council work plan is focus on Economic Development and Financial Planning, including: how to create an entertainment cultural/arts district; promulgating economic development common design standards; a standard proffer package with community benefits; transparency declaration requirements and moving with deliberate diligence for Planning Area No. 8 – Development of land from boundary adjustment with Fairfax County. The right kind of well-designed economic development remains a high value instrument for ensuring our tax rate can be fair and remains stable.
A closely-related set of topics were aggregated under Built Environment. At the top is walkability and walking. Other items to be examined include: biking, bus (shelters and shared shuttle), parking (structured and enforcement), streetscape (vegetation and lighting), active recreation (playing fields and ice rink/swimming facilities) and affordable housing.
Lastly, Community Energy is an area that has the potential to position Falls Church City for the future. The council will examine: the need to accommodate increasing personal adoption of alternative fuel vehicles; what we can do to help our region decrease its greenhouse gas emissions and assist in recovery of our Chesapeake Bay resources; and whether we have the ability to insert ourselves in the emergent conversation for creating a system for distributed renewable energy generation within our borders.
This city has a proud history of civic engagement. We have more citizens per acre engaged in shaping our city’s form and future than any other place that comes to mind. Which of these topics interest you? Get to know your fellow citizens and your council member at the “see-level” by volunteering to serve as a member on a City Board or Commission. A list of openings is published in the public notice section of this newspaper – you are invited to invest in your community and your engagement will make a positive difference. Your council is always available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write to us and we will be sure to get your message. Help us fill in the blanks: “By year XXXX, our community will be XX percent walkable.” With your involvement, our City will always progress forward, never retreat.
Dan Sze is a member of the Falls Church City Council.