Local Commentary

Editorial: Schools & Home Value Growth

Now that Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields has presented the parameters for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, the sticker shock has begun settling in.

The deliberations between now and when the budget needs to be adopted by the City Council ought to be focused and clarifying, and not in the slightest predicated on such foolish notions as “equalizing the pain.”

From the start the priorities of the budget need to be spelled out based on clear notions of what will contribute most to the successful and sustainable growth of capital (intellectual as well as in the form of tax revenues).

Those who pit full funding of the schools, for example, against the perceived interests of taxpayers, and vice-versa, are making a big mistake. The two are not at odds, but in a symbiotic relationship that can work be to the benefit of both when handled properly.

The core of the relationship is in the connection between the perceived quality of the school system and the soaring values of real estate properties in the City. Both are hand-in-hand skipping far ahead of other jurisdictions in the region. The enrollment in the City schools is growing at the fastest rate in Virginia, and the appreciation of residential real estate values is doing exactly the same, rising at the fastest rate in the region. The correlation between these two factors simply cannot be ignored.

There is a reductionist fallacy in the notion that enrollment growth translates into a net negative in revenue generation for the City. It is based on a narrow minded approach based solely on empiricist accounting data that cannot fathom or account for the existence of so-called “intangibles” that, in fact, are more substantially real than stupid numbers in a ledger book and add to the net value of a community.

Intangible “net value” is defined by such subjective notions that people simply “like” and want to live and do business here. Some will raise their kids here, but they will also pay more for their homes, shop and invest more of their dollars in local businesses and agree to contribute more to the maintenance of quality of life elements.

By contrast, formal accounting numbers don’t really exist, at all, at least in terms of how budget categories of revenues and expenses are reported. That much touted so-called “fund balance” is an example. It is far more elusive and squishy than the City’s finance office can credibly and definitively pin down. There was $800,000 more reported in it than actually existed, for one, because the bills for improvements to the Howard Herman Park from six years ago were overlooked at the time and simply had not been paid.

Another accounting fiction is the idea that some things are called taxes and others are called fees, such as those for the new Stormwater Fund. Do people at City Hall really think citizens are that gullible?