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Shields Recommends Budget to F.C. City Council With 4-Cent Tax Hike

Falls Church City Manager presenting his budget to the City Council Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)
Falls Church City Manager presenting his budget to the City Council Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields having presented his full recommended budget to the F.C. City Council Monday night calling for funding the FY 2016 fiscal year budget with a four cent increase in the real estate tax rate, the public will have its first opportunity to issue its feedback at a town hall meeting this Saturday morning. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the Community Center, 223 Little Falls St.

Shields’ recommended budget issued Monday, which as by law included the total School Board request, would increase the real estate tax rate in the City from $1.305 to $1.345 per $100 of assessed valuation. The final decision on this, and all matters pertaining to the budget for the next fiscal year beginning this July 1, are now in the hands of the City Council, which has until the end of April to review all the options, hear from the public, and make its final decisions.

While the size of the City’s operating budget grows by 1.59 percent in Shields’ proposed budget – as he is by law required to adopt in full the budget request from the School Board, which voted unanimously last week – it also includes the School Board’s request for a 5.3-percent increase.
Thus, the overall budget with these aspects included comes in at $83,068,154, or a 3.1-percent increase over the current fiscal year’s budget.

After this Saturday’s town hall meeting, the Council will begin its deliberations in earnest this coming Monday night with its first budget work session. That session will begin with representatives from all the City departments present to answer questions from the public in a sort of walk-around format for some time before the work session actually begins.

The City Manager’s proposed four-cent tax rate increase means that for the 2015 median home value of $643,900 in the City, a $724 increase will be absorbed, including $467 due to assessment growth and $257 due to the four-cent tax rate increase.

The budget proposes no increase in the storm water fees that citizens began paying this last year (a cost per average home of $250 a year). The sewer fee will increase by 3.5 percent to $9.73 per 1,000 gallons.

Aside from these proposed changes, there are no other changes in tax rates pertaining to personal property, food, entertainment or the Business Professional Occupational Licenses, or BPOL, tax, a business gross-receipts tax that the local Chamber of Commerce has complained is significantly higher than in surrounding jurisdictions.

Monday, the School budget request, adopted by the School Board with a unanimous vote last week, was summarized for the Council by School Board chair Justin Castillo, with Board members Kieran Sharpe and Lawrence Webb and Superintendent Dr. Tony Jones in the room.

The City’s capital reserves are now swollen to $12.9 million, including $11.3 milllion from the one-time sale of the City’s water system to Fairfax County last year, the leftover portion of the deal’s cash component once the Council determined to set aside about half of it to shore up its pension fund. The budget proposal shows $9.6 million of the residual reverse component being held for long-term capital improvements, and $1.7 million for immediate capital projects, such as improvements to the area around the intersection of Routes 7 and 29.

The Council will adopt a final budget on April 27 after three public hearings and two town hall meetings. The 2016 fiscal year runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

In the budget document, Shields wrote, “The FY2016 Budget will require tough decisions given the gap between expenditure growth and revenues generated from economic growth in the City. As the Council and community work through these decisions, the City’s long standing financial policies will serve as a guide to keeping debt within manageable levels and avoiding the use of one-time money (such as the fund balance or sale proceeds) for ongoing expenses.”

The City Manager’s proposed FY2016 Budget includes a General Government operating budget (not including debt service or pay-as-you-go capital projects) of $35.7 million. The 1.5 percent increase in spending upholds the Council’s official budget guidance for no increase in the tax rate to pay for general government expenditures (not including schools).

The proposed budget also includes increased debt service of $816,000 per year for the Mount Daniel Elementary School expansion, which was approved by the voters last fall.

As the proposed budget fully funds the School Board’s adopted budget request of $38.8 million, a a 5.3 percent increase over the current year, the total School Division operating budget of $46.7 million represents a 4.7 percent increase.

According to a City Hall statement issued Tuesday, “Absent an increase in tax rates, incorporating the School Board request results in a shortfall of $1.4 million. Accordingly, the proposed budget requires a four cent increase in the real estate tax rate to fully fund the School Board request.”
The Capital Improvement Projects, also known as CIP, component of the proposed budget contains significant projects in FY2016 and the subsequent four year planning period. The CIP includes funding next year for a replacement of the turf field and track at George Mason High School, Howard Herman Park Improvements, and reinvestment in the City’s Commercial Downtown with improved streetscape, lighting, and pedestrian crosswalks.
“Over the coming weeks, the City Council will thoroughly review and consider the City Manager’s proposal and listen to input from the community,” Mayor David Tarter said in the City’s press release. “We encourage our residents and business owners to attend the upcoming City Council and Town Hall meetings and to offer your thoughts to your elected officials.”

The complete text and charts included in the City Manager’s FY2016 proposed budget can be viewed on the City’s website and at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library (120 N. Virginia Ave.).

The schedule of budget meetings and public hearings is also available on the website and in the budget document. Town Hall meetings are scheduled for Saturday, March 14 and April 11, both at 10 a.m. in the Community Center. Public comments can also be sent by mail or email.

Some citizens did not wait until this Saturday to begin weighing in on the budget, among them former Council member Ira Kaylin. As for brief Council member comments, Vice Mayor David Snyder said that the presentations by Shields and Castillo were “very professional,” adding that, “While I will not sacrifice the quality of the schools and services, I will want to know why our costs appear to be so different from surrounding jurisdictions.”

Councilman Dan Sze said he wished to “associate myself with Vice Mayor Snyder’s remarks.”