With just a week to go before voting on the parameters of the coming fiscal year budget, the Falls Church City Council at its work session Monday night learned that Richmond is about to settle on a plan to fund WMATA’s need for $500 million in extra money to repair its Metrorail system that lifts the funding burden on Northern Virginia localities. The implications for the City of Falls Church reduces its anticipated share of this from $1.1 million to just over $200,000, thus relieving City taxpayers from 2.5 cents (per $100 assessed valuation) of an increase in their real estate tax bill to only half a cent.
Although this outcome won’t be known for sure until an expected vote of the state legislature on Wednesday, F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields told the Council that “the chance for a change in this outcome is very small.” F.C. Councilman David Snyder, who is the City’s point man on regional transportation funding issues, said bulk of the credit for the imminent action in Richmond goes to F.C.’s State Senator Richard Saslaw.
But that news of tax relief for the City wasn’t all. The projected 5.5-cent increase in Shields’ original budget recommendation last month was first shaved by a penny with the determination that the City didn’t need to borrow quite so much to launch its three major capital improvement projects — the new high school and renovated and expanded City Hall and public library.
With that penny off, and the WMATA burden taking another two cents off, the projected 5.5 cent increase was shaved to 2.5 cents Monday, a far cry from the 6 cents citizens were warned of last fall when they voted to approve the school bond in a referendum last November. The big share of credit for this goes to frugal and careful City leadership, on the one hand, and the better-than-hoped-for projected 3.7 percent growth in organic revenues, one of the most robust numbers in the region, due to economic development.
Still, going into the final vote on the budget this coming Monday, the Council will mull the option for an even deeper bite into the tax rate hike, as Councilman Phil Duncan continued to insist that the growth in the School Board’s budget request be shaved to deny the teachers and staff the same three percent cost-of-living adjustment that is planned for all other City employees. If Duncan’s proposal prevails, by limiting the growth in the Schools’ budget from 2.8 to 2 percent, the wage hikes for the school employees will be less than the annual inflation rate, representing a practical decrease in compensation.
So, Mayor David Tarter, rather than working for a consensus on the issue Monday, tasked Shields with presenting two options for the budget for the Council to consider this coming Monday: one with a 3 percent COLA growth for School employees and a 2.5-cent tax rate increase, and another limiting the School budget to 2 percent and a 1.65-cent tax rate increase.