Shields Readies FY15 Budget Plan for Council With Schools’ Request Monday

In a late development Wednesday night, the Falls Church School Board’s final vote on its budget request to the City was bumped up from an increase of 9.0 percent over last year, to 9.8 percent, or $37,075,530. The number was put at $250,000 more than the board tentatively agreed to last week, and allowed for four new teachers to be hired without eating up a small contingency fund.

The request split the difference between F.C. Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones’ original recommendation and a subsequent number that was the lowest the School Board felt it could justify. In the end, the School Board members fell back on the notion that their duty is to ask for what the schools really need, rather than what they think the City Council may go for.

“I’d rather go forward and get knocked back, than retreat and still get knocked back,” School Board member Michael Ankuma said.

With their request to the City now official (the vote was unanimous), the ball is now in City Manager Wyatt Shields’ court to take the School Board request and add it to his recommended overall City operating budget that he will present to the City Council on Monday.

Shields’ Fiscal Year 2015 operating budget recommendation, and 2015 to 2019 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) recommendation, will be the marquee event of early March, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. next Monday.

Next Thursday, March 13, the City Council and School Board will sit across the table from each other to assess Shields’ budget. That’s when the first clues of any lines drawn in the sand – either that of Council members refusing to accede to the School Board request or agreeing to it, and the School Board’s reaction – will come to light.

Then the Council will conduct its first Town Hall meeting open to attendance by and comments from the general public, to be convened on Saturday, March 15. There will be public hearings on March 24, April 14 and April 28, a second Town Hall meeting on April 5 and Council work sessions (public invited to watch, but can’t speak) on March 17, March 20. March 27.

In its final vote on the FY 2015 budget April 28, the Council will adopt its real estate tax rate needed to balance its total expenditures. The rate is currently $1.305 per $100 assessed valuation, and with real estate assessments up almost nine percent on average for single family homes, at least some on the Council will hope to hold any rate increase to zero.

The other variable is the first time adoption of an annual storm water abatement fee, which is due for final Council approval Monday. That sum will be added to the May semi-annual tax bill going to City property owners, and there remain a lot of uncertainties about what that may look like. The only thing for sure right now is that the City currently has no relief options for low or fixed income homeowners for the new fee, as it does for real estate property taxes.

The Council, hoping to hold the storm water bill apart from the real estate tax bill, even though it will be in the same billing in May, will probably discourage public comment on that bill during the official public hearings or Town Hall meetings on the budget.

The FY 2015 budget once adopted will apply to the period from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. The accompanying CIP plan will cover a five-year span, and will include proposals for construction of a new high school, and major renovations and improvements to the Mt. Daniel school, City Hall and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.