With Commercial Tax Yield Added, New High School’s Cost Evaporates

FALLS CHURCH SCHOOL BOARD chair Lawrence Webb (left) and Superintendent Peter Noonan (center) talk with F.C. Council member Letty Hardi during last night’s work Council session

Despite a daunting estimated $120 million price tag for an all-new George Mason High School in the City of Falls Church, if 10 acres of the 34-acre Mason High and Henderson Middle School property is given over to dense economic development, the cost of the new campus to taxpayers will be far lower than previously projected. Inclusive of a $40 million land purchase and tax yields to the City from the development that will go on there, the cost of the school and other major capital projects — a new library and new City Hall — all combined will burden taxpayers with only six cents on their real estate for three years, and then down to four cents for the next 14 years and one cent by 2038.

In earlier fiscal projections, the City staff failed to add the annual tax yield from the commercial development, a decision designed to reduce risk factors, that made the burden on taxpayers of a new high school appear overwhelming, even with the sale of the 10 acres, from nine cents in the first three years and dropping to seven cents for the next 13. But last week, led by Mayor David Tarter, the City Council insisted that the projections include a likely annual tax yield, and the difference for taxpayers was dramatic.

With the annual tax yields from the commercial development not expected to kick in until 2025 and in full force until 2029, the anticipated yields will serve to permit a more aggressive use of the City’s $10 million in reserves in the early stages of the development, augmented by the land sale proceeds that the City projects will come in at $15 million in 2022, $15 million in 2024 and $10 million in 2026. Those moves will soften the burden on taxpayers in the early phases of the high school construction, which must be completed before the commercial 10 acres can be developed.

Given that Falls Church citizens will be asked to support a $120 million school bond referendum in November, the news presented to the Council tonight of a much more modest impact on their wallets is considered a boost to chances for the passage of the referendum.

The latest data will be included in a public presentation of the current parameters of the project at City Hall this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., and the Council will vote on language for the bond referendum at its regular business meeting next Monday, July 24. At that meeting the Council will also decide whether to delay the library project and downsize the City Hall project, or not. There was no consensus on the Council on whether or not to downsize the other components of the City’s capital projects, and so will have to make that decision this Monday.