This is uncharted territory for everybody. One of the biggest unknowns is what the economy will look like in just a few months and beyond that, for years to come.
The City of Falls Church City Council is taking an optimistic view by proposing a Covid-19-revised annual operating budget on the basis of what has been projected as a “moderate” scenario for the coming period, rather than a more drastic one. But at this juncture, it is wholly a guess rather than an estimate, although the Council appeared fixated on the little stuff at its budget meeting Monday night in a way that suggested they’d prefer to believe what is actually not yet at all secure.
We are in the midst not of a recession, or of a very bad storm, we are in the midst of a pandemic whose course is unprecedented although it now seems safe to say the worst in 100 years, and by definition potentially the worst ever, period. To the extent people want to think in these times of things like budget planning in the context of a knowable economic downturn projection, then they do so with the risk of applying blinders to an overriding reality that could become much worse than anyone wants to imagine right now.
At least City Manager Wyatt Shields, as reported on Page One of this edition, had the wisdom to tell the City Council Monday that, “We don’t know how bad things might get.” Complicating the problem is the fact that there are great pressures on the nation to act prematurely to call off its war against the Covid-19 virus and the pandemic, and to accept the greater death toll that will arise from an early ending to ”social distancing” by reopening business activity when all the public health experts are saying it is not yet safe to do so. They think the death rate, although it will go up, is containable, condemning only a marginal number of human beings to deaths they might otherwise not be relegated to. But that is another risky assumption.
The discussion at the Falls Church City Council meeting Monday embraced some of this delusional thinking, from those on the Council like Dave Snyder who huffed and puffed as if social distancing mandates reflect anti-business political prejudices. Then there were those who lamented the cuts in neighborhood traffic calming and stormwater management, almost all the rest of them. Aside from Council member Letty Hardi’s questions about the number of calls coming to City Hall for emergency help with life’s basic essentials, like rent and homelessness, in this crisis it was all about keeping promises to better off citizens.
This was a disappointment. In this crisis, it is basic livelihood which is the priority, and the Council Monday met for three hours without a clue about how much that was being placed in grave jeopardy for many of our citizens.