Falls Church Council Takes Step Toward November School Bond Referendum

CHET DELONG of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library Board of Trustees spoke at Monday’s City Council meeting in favor of keeping the schedule for the renovation of the library as it currently stands, which would begin this fall. (Photo: News-Press)

Taking its first formal step to place a school bond referendum on this November’s ballot, the Falls Church City Council was unanimous in giving preliminary approval to the step Monday night, and to move ahead with the discussion on how much debt such a move the City should absorb at this stage.

For the sake of getting that debate underway for a final month before final approval of the language for a bond referendum needed to be adopted by late July, the Council OK’d the preliminary OK of a “capital improvements projects” (CIP) budget that includes $120 million for a new high school, $11.7 million for a renovation of the City Hall, and $8.7 million for the renovation and expansion of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library. Along with some other CIP expenditures, the package totaled $167.5 million and, if approved in its form this way, would more than triple the City’s debt from $50.1 million to $218 million with daunting consequences for the real estate tax rate.

But offsetting factors touched on Monday included the $43 million the City hopes to get if it can sell 10 acres of the land on the 36 acre campus site for commercial development, and revise the CIP to postpone the library improvement plan to Fiscal Year 2022. The plan proposed last week called for delaying the library plan to 2025, but on Monday it was revealed that it would need a postponement only until 2022.

Still, the library delay brought out the most impassioned opposition among citizens Monday night, who pointed to the fact that voters overwhelmingly approved a bond referendum for the library work last November and that improvements, including basic ADA compliance needs, should not be delayed.

A modified CIP combined with the land sale could result in a new high school that would cost taxpayers nine cents on the tax rate above its current level (currently at $1.33 per $100 of assessed valuation) for the first three years, then drop to seven cents for two years and four centers through the end of the next decade.

There is bound to be a lot of animated discussions of all the moving parts in this scenario over the next month. The Council is slated to settle on the final language for the November bond referendum at its July 24 meeting.