Meeting online Monday night under the social distancing constraints of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the Falls Church City Council voted to extend the June 5 deadline for one of the City’s two real estate tax collections to July 6 as a gesture to help the City’s small business community. The extension will apply to residential real estate taxpayers, as well, and the Council also moved to make it legal for local businesses to use signage to promote their wares that may be technically banned under prevailing zoning laws.
Still, with the whole nation shutdown to fight the deadly virus, the City Council was confronted with the tough decisions it will be facing in the coming period about how to react to a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year that, according to Chief Financial Officer Kiran Bawa, could range between $2.35 and $5.15 million compared to the current fiscal year budget. City Manager Wyatt Shields presented the Council with a revised timeline for deliberating on the budget, proposing a first reading of the FY21 budget occur on April 27, with a public hearing and work session on May 11, and a second hearing and final adoption on May 26.
He suggested the budget document might by a slim six-page memo, since so much of what is to come is right now is entirely up in the air. Shields said that his approach would be to focus on maintaining a hiring freeze and delaying capital projects rather than a reduction in the City labor force. The timing of the proposed new budget schedule is also with a mind to the Falls Church City Public Schools and their May contract signing deadlines, he said.
A goal, he said, will be to make ends meet in the budget without violating the City’s fund balance limit. “We need to keep our powder dry by not using reserves if at all possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said the City “remains open and active, through online and phone operations and its full provision of public safety services and trash pickup. He urged citizens not to take the current “shelter in place” to do too much spring cleaning and overburden the solid waste pickups, to slow down and show courtesy on the roads and on the very busy W&OD Trail. “Treat each other gently,” he admonished.
The City’s leaders are working with local leaders of other area jurisdictions to appeal for as much state and federal assistance through this crisis as possible, he noted, citing the statistic that taken all together, local governments are the largest single employer in the nation. He noted that the state legislature is due to reconvene for a special session in Richmond on April 22 when it will consider its options.