Another City of Falls Church annual operating and school system budget has been adopted. It involved a Solomonic solution, the term coming from the Biblical story of King Solomon’s threat to cut a baby in two in order to identify its true mother. The proposed tax rate increase, entirely for purposes of swelling the City’s reserve fund in anticipation of having to pay for a new high school, was cut in half, from $1.2 million to $600,000. That cut the tax rate increase from three cents to a penny and a half. So, by a close 4-3 vote, it has risen from $1.315 to $1.33 per $100 of assessed valuation.
In surrounding jurisdictions, the tax rate was held even in Fairfax County and raised by a 1.5 cents in Arlington. While their overall rates are lower than Falls Church’s, in Fairfax’s case in particular, a lot of taxes are diverted from the basic real estate tax to make that rate appear disproportionately low.
But this budget cycle signals to Falls Church residents that there are going to be more tax hikes coming, namely to handle a lot of long-overdue property fixes in the City, including at City Hall, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools, Henderson Middle School and in the case of George Mason High, a completely new school.
Frankly, the City’s tax rate has been held artificially low for years, cheating on the need for improvements in all these areas until they can be ignored no longer.
There exist two clear options for mitigating the real estate tax impact on citizens of the City, however. More focus needs to be placed on them.
First, there is economic development. There was a 2.7-percent organic growth in revenues in the City in the last year, better than for most area jurisdictions, because in recent years, the City government has begun to “get it” about economic development. There’s more in the pipeline assuming the regional economy holds up, but it is up to the citizens to hold the Council’s feet to the fire to make sure it happens in as robust a manner as possible.
For the new high school, as an example, the City predicts economic development on the west end campus site could offset up to 12 cents on the real estate tax rate. Yes, we’re going to have to get used to taller buildings at least on the edges of the Little City.
Second, there is the matter of the ridiculously high fund balance and reserve fund balances currently tying up taxpayer dollars in banks that yield almost no returns.
Documentation by Kieran Sharpe at Monday’s City Council meeting confirmed that maintaining this policy is simply lunacy, the result of a narrow-minded monetarist approach that aims to appease Wall Street’s every whim.
Falls Church could easily free up $12 million out of those accounts, equivalent to 30 cents on the tax rate.