Local Commentary

Editorial: Maximum Development At Campus Site Needed

If it’s March, it must be annual budget time! The Falls Church School Board has done its part, voting 4-3 to forward a budget request to the F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields who will add it to his budget recommendation that he will unveil to the City Council in two weeks.

Can the City Council hold the real estate tax rate to its current level of $1.315 per $100 of assessed valuation, or will it have to inch that number up to meet the pressing needs the City has, including the 6.8-percent enrollment growth in the City’s schools?

There are a lot of demands on the City’s purse strings right now, including the unhappy news from just last week that doing the renovation and expansion of the Mt. Daniel Elementary School that voters approved two Novembers ago is going to cost about $2 million more than originally thought. That’s what emerged when the bids were opened last week. Delaying that project a year had a big impact on the cost of construction.

Then there is the $8.5 million renovation and expansion of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, which voters approved the bonding for this past November. After that, there is the $17 million expansion and renovation of City Hall, which the voters do not need to approve because it relates to public safety.

On top of all those, there is the big one, the construction of a new high school that could range in cost from $70 to $120 million, depending on how many bells and whistles are included in what the Campus Process Working Group decides and wins support for from both the City Council and School Board.

All this is over and above the operating costs of the City government and the schools, with an annual budget in the range of $88 million annually.

This raises the question of the only way the City can raise revenue to offset the impact of new expenditures on the backs of City taxpayers. That is, economic development. The City is fortunate that it runs its own affairs, so it can push for as much economic development as the market will bear, a luxury that residents of the its much larger neighbors Fairfax and Arlington counties don’t have.

So, we advise our readers to consider the new Campus Economic Development Working Group that has just been formed and will have its maiden meeting this Friday morning. Its issue will be to examine options for putting new economic development on up to 10 acres as the high school campus site. To this point, some have said they want more, some less economic development up there.

But looking at the City as a whole, we’re convinced that the absolute maximum economic development yield off that site needs to be pursued. It’s the viability of the City as a whole that is at stake. The campus land represents a unique opportunity for the Little City to thrive.