Two members of the Falls Church City Council during a work session at City Hall Monday night went on record opposing any increase in the real estate tax rate, a position that would leave the City short by over $1 million in its effort to fund community services and the schools at the levels City Manager Wyatt Shields and School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones and the School Board say are needed.
The Council is moving toward the April 27 deadline to adopt its budget for the coming fiscal year, and a second public town hall meeting on the subject will be held this Saturday at the F.C. Community Center, 223 Little Falls, at 10 a.m.
The current real estate tax rate is $1.305 per $100 of assessed valuation, and last month Shields presented his recommended budget, inclusive of the School Board’s request, with the tax rate at $1.345.
On top of a significant increase in housing assessed values across the City, and another year of a storm water fee, Councilman Phil Duncan said Monday that he senses there is “something different in the air this time” regarding the tax rate situation. “There is a level of anxiety and concern that is different this time,” he said.
In calling for the tax rate to remained unchanged from this year, Duncan was joined by Mayor David Tarter who said that “competing priorities that continue to raise taxes is not the solution,” and have brought the situation “near the breaking point.”
“I want a flat tax rate,” he said, echoing Duncan’s call to “keep the tax rate level.”
When Tarter first brought up the issue of the tax rate at Monday’s meeting, he was met with silence from his Council colleagues. He noted their unwillingness to make eye contact at that point, which drew a laugh.
That’s when Duncan stepped in with his desire to keep the rate level although he said that the City staff should be encouraged to “continue to scrub” the numbers and that more accurate numbers still need to come in on extra efforts by the Treasurer’s office to recover delinquent taxes.
The most startling revelation from Monday’s meeting was introduced by Vice Mayor David Snyder when he pointed out the data showing the City’s schools are significantly disadvantaged by the state’s so-called “composite index” which is used to determine how much state funding will go to local jurisdictions.
Snyder pointed out that while the average household incomes in Falls Church are not different from Fairfax or Loudoun counties, the City is getting far less in state funding. Fairfax County gets $1.9 million more and Loudoun $3.9 million more than the City, with Falls Church getting $3,000 less per household than Loudoun residents.
The index is “skewed badly against us,” Snyder said. “These are the amounts citizens of Falls Church are being deprived, and is a big factor for when people ask why we seem to be paying more for our services and schools than surrounding jurisdictions.”
Concerns initiated by Council member Marybeth Connelly about the fiscal efficiency of committing over $3 million for the construction of a structured parking garage to serve a newly renovated library were echoed by Tarter and Duncan, but Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester reminded them that although there is a “place holder” in the City’s Capital Improvements Project budget for the garage, it will not come up for funding decisions until next year.
In that context, Tarter reported that he, Shields and Snyder had met with officials from Kaiser Permanente about a wider public use of the Kaiser parking garage at the intersection of N. Washington and Park Avenue and that the meeting was productive. It has been followed with subsequent conversations initiated by Shields.
But still, Duncan said Monday, “the public needs to be educated that we’re getting a lot done already with our infrastructure projects,” adding, “A lot of work is getting done around town right now.”
Shields added that the S. Washington improvements that are slated for the coming year “will be transformative for a very large portion of the City.” Mester chimed in that five projects were completed last year, and “there are a lot underway now.”