The City of Falls Church’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget adopted this week includes a projected big 42.7 percent increase in its debt service line item to begin to cover the cost of borrowing $170 million over time for a new high school and renovations at City Hall and the public library and more.
So, the next challenge facing the City will be to get Wall Street to cooperate to help keep the interest rate on all this borrowing at a minimum. That effort began through the budgeting process leading up to the budget adoption vote this week, with City Manager Wyatt Shields and Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa making sure that embedded components were in the budget to comfortably meet unassigned fund balance policy goals and define a path forward keeping the City’s total debt within policy guidance, as well.
The next step in this is for the City’s heavyweights to step aboard an Amtrak train and head to Wall Street to meet with representatives of three credit rating agencies. Those meetings are scheduled for next Monday, and the Falls Church team of Shields, Bawa and Mayor David Tarter, armed with all the City’s relevant financial data, will hit the Big Apple on Sunday night in advance of their three meetings.
Shields told the News-Press that he’s hopeful the top rankings the City has enjoyed for years from Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and the Fitch group, will remain in force. Still, after Monday’s meetings, it will be some time before that will be confirmed, or not.
It is not known what macroeconomic factors may impact the decision, such as projected inflation rates or early warning signs of the onset of a new recession.
Shields told the City Council during the budget process that contact with the agencies seemed to indicate that, while the City will be taking on a lot of added debt to pay for the new capital improvement projects, there has been no indication this has raised the blood pressure of the credit rating agencies.
Still, Monday will be a big day for the City of Falls Church, and fingers are crossed at City Hall that Shields, Bawa and Tarter will be on the Amtrak back Monday night as cautiously optimistic conquering heroes.
Meanwhile, in another important development in the West End high school and economic development project, the Falls Church School Board voted in a special meeting Monday to retain the firm of Brailsford and Dunlavey to serve as “owner’s representative” for the George Mason High School construction project.
The firm will function as a representative for the School Board in dealing with general contractors and the technical aspects of the complex high school construction project. In a statement released by the School Board Monday, it was noted that “a team of skilled construction management professionals is needed to protect the interest of the project’s owners. Brailsford and Dunlavey (B&D) will represent Falls Church City Public Schools beginning with the review of the returned detailed proposals from companies currently bidding on the new high school project, which are due on May 17.”
The move will save the project a considerable amount of money, Superintendent Peter Noonan told the News-Press this week. The firm of Arcadis, which has represented the City’s Schools in this role for more than a decade, will continue as the Schools’ representative for the Mt. Daniels Elementary construction project currently underway, but will not be involved further in the new high school undertaking.
This step was not included in the original timeline for the West End project that was first released last December.
B&D has planned or managed the implementation of more than $35 billion in completed construction projects. According to the Schools’ statement, the firm “brings to the George Mason project a strong team that knows the local market. B&D managed the new geothermal powered Dunbar High School and the LEED Gold Certified HD Woodson High School construction projects. It specializes in school program planning, RFP development, project management, and community engagement, and has experience in the delivery of PPEA projects and other forms of public-private partnerships.”
Brailsford and Dunlavey, a certified minority-owned company, won the contract with the Falls Church City Schools through a competitive process that included nine interested firms. The F.C. School Board authorized the superintendent to sign the contract with B&D at its April 23 special meeting.
This Friday, the coordination effort between the City and the Schools for the development of the West End project will resume with another joint meeting at the School Board offices, 800 W. Broad, at 7:30 a.m.