On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council made two split decisions that will ensure a torridity in the atmosphere of the Little City of Falls Church for at least the next three and a half months. In the more decisive vote of the two, it went 5-2 in favor of defying the recommendation of both the City staff and the City’s Planning Commission to give final approval to its commitment to the so-called “full CIP,” which means full funding for all the programs in its current Capital Improvements Program for the coming year. The funding includes the renovation and expansions of three big City projects — the Mary Riley Styles library, City Hall and Larry Graves Fields community soccer fields — and an array of other small projects, as well as the big elephant in the room, $120 million for an all-new George Mason High School that City voters will weigh in on with an advisory referendum in November.
The Council favored casting caution to the wind in their vote, with a nervous confidence that economic development yields from the high school project, in particular, will sufficiently offset the costs of the other programs to keep the impact of it all on the pocketbooks of City residents sufficiently within bounds to warrant their endorsement in the November referendum.
The “modified CIP” option that the City staff favored would have delayed the library, Graves fields and Thomas Jefferson Elementary expansion projects for up to seven years and was designed to assuage the impact of the new high school plan on City taxpayer pocketbooks, but the proponents of those programs made compelling arguments for their more urgent needs tonight, as they have in the past.
Following the dramatic 5-2 vote for the full CIP, with Mayor David Tarter casting the decisive vote in favor after keeping his intentions secret to that point to join Vice Mayor Mary Beth Connelly and Council members Phil Duncan, David Snyder and Dan Sze in that majority, the vote to officially authorize the November bond referendum followed swiftly, with almost no further arguments, by another 5-2 vote, this one with Tarter, Connelly, Duncan, Snyder and Letty Hardi in favor, and Dan Sze and Karen Oliver against.