Some modest resources have been added to the arsenal of the City of Falls Church’s efforts to assist residents suffering from the economic effects of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the F.C. City Council learned at its online work session Monday night.
Dana Lewis of the City’s Housing and Human Development department reported that $39,095 in federal CARES Act funding has come to the City to buoy its emergency rent assistance program where, so far, 14 requests for help have been received.
Lewis noted the requests came without any announcements about the availability of the program, and expects that with notoriety there will be more.
The program is set up to provide $700 a month of rent assistance for up to three months. “We expect our existing funds to run out quickly,” Lewis said, even with the added CARES Act money augmenting the only $6,000 the City usually has set aside for the purpose.
She said the program is being expanded to include anyone earning up to 80 percent of the region’s average median income (AMI), and that most of those who’ve stepped forward to date are laid off restaurant workers.
Lewis said she expects that soon, when the current funds run out, there will be a waiting list in hopes the City can come up with more funds to help, even as the City faces the pressure to make unprecedented cuts in its operating budgets for the current year requiring an estimated $1.36 million in cuts in the current fiscal year (which runs through the end of June) of $5.6 million, a 5.4 percent cut, in the originally projected budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1.
Some Council members, led by Ross Litkenhous, sparred with City Manager Wyatt Shields over the deployment of the City’s resources, in spite of the precipitous collapse of business and sales tax revenues due to the lockdown of the economy, to fund neighborhood traffic calming and sidewalk and road improvement programs.
Shields has recommended holding off on all spending, including $228,000 for these programs, until it becomes clearer just how devastating the effect of the lockdown will be on the City’s budget.
While Litkenhous pushed Monday to add that money back in when the Council votes final, if tentative, approval of its FY2021 budget next week (the virtual meeting will be Tuesday, May 26, the day after Memorial Day).
But Shields counselled waiting, and it was noted that the projects impacted by the funds, led by improvements at the intersection of Great Falls and Little Falls, are not “shovel ready” right now, anyway, and will not require funding until at least the end of June.
Major hits to the budget will come from reduced revenues from sales and use taxes, meals taxes, transit occupancy taxes, business gross receipt taxes, investment revenues and charges for services for recreation and parks activities.
Closing the gap caused by these impacts will involve the elimination of salary increases for employees, cuts in all training and travel expenses, freezes in all hiring to fill vacant positions.
The plan at present involves no tax rate increases (the current real estate tax rate is $1.355 per $100 of assessed valuation), increases in the storm water and sewer funds and no depletion of the City’s unfunded capital reserves, and no layoffs or wage cuts for City as well as school employees.
Shields reported that a bigger tranche of CARES Act money is due the City, of $1,275,277 of the $3.5 billion designated for Virginia, will be considered for deployment at a later date, given that the funds are required to be spent only to restore programs hurt specifically by the pandemic response.
It was suggested some of it could be used to supplement the small business microgrant program run by the City’s Economic Development Authority that will this week be providing $2,000 in funding grants to small businesses in the Little City.
Meanwhile, the Council voted to deploy $87,154 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) funds to the same four groups designated earlier this year, the F.C. Housing Corporation, Homestretch, the Mt. Daniel Family Outreach and the Community Services Council.
The Housing Corporation funds will be used to rebuild 15 aging decks and railings at Winter Hill Senior Housing units.
Homestretch will use its grants to pay for five household rents for persons transitioning out of homelessness.