Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Falls Church’s Challenges Can Turn Into Opportunities

Earlier this week, the City Council unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget for the City, the Six Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and the agreement for the largest grant funded transportation project ever undertaken by the City. All of this occurred in the larger context of the need to fund the $120 million new high school and the even larger context of rising costs in the region, political dysfunction at the federal level, increasing security and highway safety challenges, growing disruption from technology, a federal retreat from funding and regulatory responsibilities, and the local effects of extreme weather events.

The annual budget process started with guidance from the City Council that was adhered to by both the City and Schools. It included: maintaining excellent services and schools, no tax rate increase, competitive employee compensation, vibrant business district, support for neighborhood traffic calming, funding the capped WMATA expense and using transportation grants to the fullest. This guidance was followed well by both the City and Schools. In short, despite what may be going on around us the City Council remains committed to assuring top flight services, including public safety, and making the City safer and more attractive for business.

The approved budget is $99.3 million with no tax or fee rate increases, recognizing however, that increased assessments will result in some increased payments for property owners. The budget fully funds the Schools with compensation increases needed to retain and attract the top rate teachers that our Schools are known for. The City side of the budget added a police officer position and code enforcement officials and maintained all other services. The budget also allocates more money for transportation projects and improvements in our commercial areas.

The CIP is our recognition that we must plan and implement for the future of the City through infrastructure investments. Recently completed projects include Mt. Daniel, police firearms training facility, the Miller House, park projects, stream daylighting and now occupancy of renovated City Hall. In front of us are, of course, the high school, the library and expanding and improving fields and parks. Also included in the CIP is funding of storm water and sanitary sewer infrastructure.

The grant funded transportation project uses new regional revenues to reconstruct the Haycock Road/Route 7 area in cooperation with Fairfax County and in support of the commercial development intended to help fund the high school. This is a case where we will build the transportation infrastructure along with the development, not as an after-thought.

The only budgetary point of contention was whether to grant further tax relief by way of total exemption or by deferral and recapture of the deferred taxes for later City reuse. Both sides made their points and the majority voted to set aside additional funds for total exemptions.

As all of these developments indicate, funding and running a local government is as complicated as it is critical to the well-being of citizens today and in the future. In fact, most of the governmental services that citizens rely are provided locally. And the continued support of our citizens and especially our taxpayers is critical to our city’s ability to survive. The seven of us citizens voted on the budget our staffs worked hard to draft, as our best effort to respond to our citizens’ values and needs.

The budget did not respond to all desires, but it is a very good effort to balance all issues and to do so with a tax rate that remains competitive with other smaller jurisdictions, being lower than Manassas, Vienna and Herndon, for example.

For the future, we will need to continue to operate regionally to assure we help make policy on transportation, environmental and safety issues and receive our fair share of regional funds. We will need to assure that the most basic of services — police, fire and emergency medical — are provided at the highest possible levels and that account for our City’s growth. And we will need to continue to work on maintaining a well-served City and assuring a diverse population, excellent schools, a competitive tax rate, vibrant commercial areas, and revenue beneficial new developments, all the while maintaining our financial health and improving sustainability and resilience.

This year we did our best to balance all of that, as we have in the past. The future looks to be every bit as challenging but at the same time, with the support and participation of our citizens, we have the capacity to turn our challenges into opportunities for continued community well-being.

David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.