1st New School Bond Fact Sheet Stresses Site’s Economic Offsets

Last-minute changes made to a one-page information sheet issued yesterday by Falls Church City Schools on the November school bond referendum put added emphasis on the potential cost offsets of the proposed new $120 million high school. The combination of the sale or long-term lease of 10 acres on the George Mason High School property site for commercial development and the annual tax yields from that development will play a major role in the City’s ability to absorb the $120 million cost without a blow-out impact on City taxpayers.

The first draft of the information sheet did not make that point. But before a final version was signed off on by Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan, information provided by City Manager Wyatt Shields and his finance office was added.

The paragraph of the fact sheet titled, “Sale of Lease of 10 Acres of GMHS Campus to Help Offset the Cost of the School,” now reads, “An economic feasibility study by the firm of Alvarez and Marsal estimates the City would earn potentially $43 million from a long-term lease or sale of 10 acres on the existing campus. In addition, City staff estimate net tax revenue from the site could exceed $3 million per year once fully developed. The payments related to the land lease/sale would be expected to begin in 2022; tax yield would be expected to accrue in 2025 as development is completed in phases. To bridge the financing gap, the City would rely on a combination of capital reserves (current balance is $10 million) as well as real estate tax increases.”

In fact, in presentations made in Council and School Board sessions and at a town hall last month, it was estimated the tax impact on citizens might be limited to three cents per $100 of assessed real estate value at least for the first three years, then dropping to two cents for the next 13 years (the current tax rate is $1.33).

“This is one of the important points to make about this bond referendum,” Dr. Noonan told the News-Press in an interview Wednesday. “If the referendum is not approved, then about $40 million in costs to make the school ADA (“Americans With Disabilities Act”) compliant, to replace the HVAC, fix the roof and make other patchwork fixes would have to be absorbed by taxpayers without any provision for an economic development revenue offset.”

The fact sheet is one of the first steps in mounting a campaign of citizen education on the bond referendum, coming right after the City Council’s final vote to move the referendum onto the ballot made at its July 24 meeting.

A more detailed “frequently asked questions” paper is still being prepared by Shields’ office that, as Shields told the News-Press, will be a “deeper dive” into the more complicated issues of land use and financing matters. It will be posted onto the City’s website when it is ready, he said.

In addition, Noonan has spearheaded the formation of a citizens committee composed of city leaders and stakeholder groups to educate and advocate for the referendum. Names of that group have not yet been made public, but it is almost complete in its formation stage, Noonan suggested.

“This referendum is about needed facilities that matches the instructional programs with the community’s expectations for excellence,” Noonan said. “The opportunity has never been better than now to do something that will reflect this community’s values.”

Noonan said, “This is one of the reasons I was excited to come here [he was chosen for the job in April], that I could have a chance to help build and create something that I know will have a powerful impact on outcomes for our kids.”

A meeting of the campus Process Working Group’s Economic Development Committee is still on schedule for this Friday at 7:30 a.m. at City Hall, and the Alvarez and Marsal consultants are scheduled to present a final draft of their first-stage analysis later this month.
Meanwhile, the F.C. City Council has only one scheduled public business meeting this month, on Monday, Aug. 14.