By Richard McCall
For over 50 years the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) has promoted responsible local government, excellence in education, and citizen stewardship in the City of Falls Church. Most recently, CBC has focused on educating the public on important issues and helping potential candidates for office understand our City’s electoral process. It has also been educating and encouraging citizens to serve on City Boards and Commissions, as well as initiating and continuing to coordinate the successful CBC Youth Representative Initiative – a program that provides opportunities for George Mason High School students to serve on those Boards and Commissions and with other local civic organizations.
Several weeks ago, CBC’s Executive Committee discussed the possibility that the organization publicly support the School Bond Referendum, whereupon an Advisory Committee was appointed to study the issue. After the Advisory Committee’s presentation of its findings and a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons, the Executive Committee voted unanimously in support of this idea. The reasoning behind this decision is explained below.
A Yes vote on the School Bond Referendum
1. Authorizes the City to obtain up to $120 million for the construction of a new high school to replace the existing building, which is widely viewed as being well beyond its normal lifespan and inadequate in terms of meeting 21st Century educational needs.
2. Reduces the direct tax impact to the citizens of Falls Church by providing revenue from commercial development adjacent to the new campus site. The Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel’s October, 2014 study and subsequent analysis by the City’s expert consultants estimate that the 10-acre economic development zone could generate $40-$43 million in sale/lease income, with an estimated $3.1 in annual tax revenue when fully developed.
3. Based on the projected sale and tax revenue from this development, as determined by the expert consulting firm, Alvarez and Marsal, City officials have calculated that the annual cost of the new high school debt could be reduced from $7.4 million to $2.0 million. For an individual homeowner, this translates into a tax rate increase of 4.0 cents (versus 15.5 cents without economic development). In terms of total dollars, the increase is $280 for an average home in the City versus $1,085 without economic development.
4. Shows the development community that the City supports smart growth on the 10-acre development tract, which is adjacent to the West Falls Church Metro – a fact that adds value to the project and helps meet its long-term economic goals.
5. Attracts sound, high-value economic development that serves community needs beyond just providing funding for the new school. Having a good mix of stores and places to visit within our City boundaries, including the positive effect on existing businesses, is something that has significant value in its own right.
6. Helps sustain the quality of the Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) – a core principle of CBC since its founding.
A No vote on the School Bond Referendum
1. Forces the City to face an unfunded high school renovation estimated to cost at least $40 million for immediate repairs, and require an additional $25 million for new classroom construction to accommodate projected increased enrollment in future years. The addition would add 100,000 square feet to the existing school, resulting in $3.7 million in annual debt service and a potential 9.25 cent increase on the real estate tax rate ($650 per year for the average household).
2. Requires another bond referendum to approve the renovation and expansion cost – delaying construction, escalating costs, and only temporarily staving off a more expensive replacement.
3. Leaves the school on its current sprawling footprint with no land available for economic development.
4. Eliminates the potential for tax revenue resulting from commercial development of the site; the full cost of the repair/renovation would fall completely upon City taxpayers.
5. Locks FCCPS into a building that will require additional renovations in the future, as evidenced by those completed on the current structure, rather than having a modern and efficient school with at least a 50-year lifespan.
6. Shows development interests, taxpayers, and the community at large that the City is willing to risk the excellence of its schools by not making the financial investments required for a modern school building, and by continuing to rely on an outdated academic environment for our students.
In support of its decision endorsing approval of the School Bond Referendum, CBC will be working with other groups and organizations, such as Yes! For Falls Church, and invites others to join us in this undertaking. Additional information on the Referendum can be found on the CBC website www.fallschurchcbc.net.
Richard McCall is president of CBC and a retired senior citizen.