Move Back to Renovated F.C. City Hall Set This Weekend

AT THE FALLS CHURCH City Council budget work session last week, City Manager Wyatt Shields chatted with Council member Dan Sze during a break in the action. (Photo: News-Press)

While many Falls Church City residents will be focused on finding their Easter baskets this weekend, and the many eggs that will be planted Saturday morning at Cherry Hill Park for the City’s annual hunt, movers will be packing and moving the City government back into its newly-renovated and expanded digs at the Falls Church City Hall. The building will be open for business to the public this coming Tuesday after being closed for 16 months for the upgrades.

The move begins tomorrow (Friday) such that the temporary City Hall at 400 N. Washington Street will be closed all day, and no City Hall services will be available until the following Tuesday when the new facility reopens at 300 Park Avenue.

Still, it won’t be until June that the City Council chambers will be ready to hold meetings, and court, there, and an official ribbon cutting marking the completion of the renovation will wait until then, too (no specific dates yet provided).

So, this Monday night, when the F.C. City Council meets for its final public hearing, deliberations and vote on the $99 million Fiscal Year 2020 operating budget, it will still be at its temporary location in the Community Center.

On the other hand, for many City Hall employees and services, the move back to the new facilities at the historic City Hall location will represent a big relief and improvement not only over the way things used to be at City Hall, but also at the cramped and often dysfunctional temporary facilities.

Back at City Hall and open for business Tuesday will be the offices of the Commissioner of the Revenue and Treasurer, Voter Registration, Planning, Police Records, Public Works, the Sheriff and City Administration (City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk, Communications, Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology).

Visitors will find that the renovated City Hall will have a central public entrance in front of the building, a west side door with stairs and a wheelchair accessible ramp, and an east side door with stairs. All other entrances will be closed to the public, and visitor parking will be available in the front, side and back of the building.

The Housing and Human Services offices will remain in their current temporary location in the Gage House behind the Community Center until May, and the Falls Church operations of the Arlington Circuit Court and court services will move back from their current location at the Arlington Courthouse in June.

According to a City statement, the renovations will accomplish three things: increased public safety, improved accessibility for persons with disabilities, and clearer wayfinding for visitors. Security was a major factor in the decision to undertake the renovations in the interests of the public, generally, but also for the operations of the circuit court at the site.

The central front entrance will increase the security for everyone in the building, and disability accessibility was central to all decisions made, from a ramp in the new City Council chambers to wider hallways throughout the building, to updated restrooms. A new parking garage for police, sheriff and the courts will provide for secure prisoner and weapons transport.

The renovations were years in the coming, urged by the circuit court for more than a decade.

Meanwhile, at Monday’s City Council meeting in the Community Center, the Council will take its final action on the approval of the coming fiscal year budget, and it is already established that there will be no change in any tax rate, including the real estate rate that will remain at $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Due to a robust increase in overall real estate assessments, most City property owners will see their net taxes rise, however, and this has led to a move to adopt an expanded tax deferral and abatement program for low income seniors, disabled and veteran citizens.

There has been some pushback on that plan on the City Council, led by Council members David Snyder and Ross Litkenhous, who favor expanding deferral options but not abatements.

City Treasurer Jody Acosta has told the Council, based on the results of a task force study of the subject completed earlier this year, that increasing the eligibility of citizens for both options will work best at the goal of keeping seniors in their homes.

Given the City’s current penchant for tear down and rebuild efforts in residential neighborhoods, the impact of forcing seniors out of their homes will be to accelerate new home construction that will attract young families with multiple children instead. With the cost of educating a child in the Falls Church city schools in excess of $19,000 per year, the impact of a new family moving in on the fiscal bottom line for the City will be far greater than the additional $60,000 Acosta has advocated to improve the deferral and abatement program.

In her blog, Council member Letty Hardi opined this week, “If budgets reflect our priorities, then I believe we should be willing to appropriate the additional $60,000 as a commitment to generational and socio-economic diversity. As we make huge investments in the City elsewhere, are we, as one of the wealthiest and most educated communities in the U.S., willing to lift up our most vulnerable?”

The Council has also been asked by the City’s voter registrar, David Bjerke, to add $40,000 to his budget to enable the hiring of his part-time assistant on a full time basis. He has argued his request is based on the impact of population growth in the City and the large number of elections that are coming up, including the June 11 Democratic primary and a large ballot of issues in November including the election of new City Council and School Board members.