News

Founders Row Project Gives F.C. City Taxpayers a Break

THE FOUNDERS ROW project is intended to be a boon for the City’s tax base, with its revenues allowing for a lower real estate tax for residential property owners. (Photo: News-Press)

It’s about that massive construction project taking shape on 4.3 acres at the intersection of W. Broad and N. West Streets. City of Falls Church residents can thank it the next time they drive by for the fact they will be enjoying a reduction in their real estate taxes this coming year. “Thank you, Founders Row!”

That single project, the largest in the City’s history to date (although one twice its size is advancing on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished old George Mason High School further to the west), is adding a big chunk of the $72.7 million in new taxable revenues that is making possible the astonishing news in F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed $106 million Fiscal Year 2022 City operating budget that he presented to the City Council on Monday night.

The news is that for the first time since the salad days before the Great Recession in 2007, City taxpayers may enjoy a one-cent reduction in their real estate tax rate (from $1.355 to $1.345 per $100 in assessed valuation) starting in their next semi-annual bill.

Some on the Council want an even steeper cut. Councilman Ross Litkenhous, for example, thinks cutting the rate so that residents have no net tax increase can happen. Given the also bigger-than-expected growth in residential real estate assessments announced last month, even with a small decrease in the tax rate, the tax on an average residential property here will go up (by $291 for the average $752,000 home).

At any rate, the news of the tax rate cut is amazing given the adverse effects of the year-long pandemic on the local, regional and national economies and the cost of building a new $120 million high school. In addition, Shields’ proposed budget does not factor in any of the stimulus money that may be coming the City’s way with the signage into law this week of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid Relief bill.

That will be sending $100s of millions to state and local governments, and an equitable share of that even to tiny Falls Church could make a major difference.

The Little City is also enjoying the benefit of a $3.75 million grant from the Amazon Reach program, a voluntary gift from the Amazon company targeting regional jurisdictions’ affordable housing needs in light of its plans for a massive Northern Virginia planned expansion. That money will go with $100,000 being allocated in Shields’ budget for affordable housing, the first time the City has made any such earmarked designation of funds to that purpose in over a decade.

City Manager Shields’ proposed a Fiscal Year 2022 budget presented to the City Council Monday night provides for a 2.3 percent ($946,567) increase in general government operating expenditures and a 2.5 percent ($1,068,894) increase in local funding for public schools, as requested by the School Board.

Shields presented the proposed operating budget and the Six-Year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to the Council.

F.C. Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan and School Board Chair Shannon Litton provided a briefing on the School Board budget component of Shields’ overall request.

The Council has set forth a schedule of two budget town hall meetings and three public hearings, prior to adopting a final budget on April 26. The first is a virtual forum at noon slated for today, March 11.

The proposed FY2022 Budget proposes funding for body worn cameras for the City Police Department, and adds additional civilian positions to support the functions of the department, which is a first step in addressing recommendations of the recent Use of Force Review Committee.

The FY2022 Budget funds the six major flood mitigation projects that were recommended by the Stormwater Task Force. A two percent increase in the stormwater fee is also recommended to pay for the series of smaller stormwater projects completed this year.

A series of state grants for transportation improvements, including the Park Avenue “Great Streets” project, the Oak Street Bridge, and the Washington and Columbia intersection improvements are allocated through the Capital Improvements Program.

The FY2022 Proposed Budget also includes $200,000 in contingency funds to address uncertainties resulting from Covid-19. This is intended to address either revenue shortfalls or increased demand for services and assistance as the City recovers from the pandemic.

Debt service will decrease by $500,000, or 3.8 percent, due to the cancellation of planned debt issuance in FY2021 and refunding prior bonds from 2011 and 2013 at lower interest rates.

The budget uses $4.05 million in capital reserves towards the debt service, as planned. The budget allocates $4.5 million in FY2022 from the 10-acre land at the high school campus, under the Amended Comprehensive Agreement that was executed with the Falls Church Gateway Partnership to capital reserves, in accordance with the plan of finance for the new high school.

Additionally, the City expects to receive voluntary concessions from the Founders Row project for $1.8 million in FY2022 which is also being placed into the capital reserves in this budget.

The complete text and charts included in the City Manager’s proposed FY2022 budget can be viewed at www.fallschurchva.gov/Budget. The schedule of budget meetings and public hearings is also available on the website.

Two virtual town hall meetings are scheduled today at noon and April 15 at 7:30 p.m. The City Manager and School Superintendent will give presentations and answer questions on the proposed budget, the Capital Improvement Projects budget, the high school project, and more.

These town halls can be viewed live through a link on the City’s website fallschurchva.gov, and available for viewing later on the City’s website, YouTube channel, and FCC-TV cable rebroadcasts (RCN 2, Verizon 35).

Public comment is open at the City Council’s regular meetings, including March 8, March 22, April 12, and April 26. Those who wish to provide public comment during those meetings should register on the City’s website.

The City Council’s work sessions do not allow for public comment but are open for the public to watch: March 15, April 5 and April 19. These town halls can be viewed live through the link on the City website and FCC-TV (RCN 2, Verizon 35), and will be available for viewing later on the City’s website, YouTube channel, and FCCTV rebroadcasts.