As the New Year 2023 came upon us this week, leaders in the City of Falls Church have been discussing what they want to see happen this year, and some shared their views with the News-Press.
Falls Church Mayor David Tarter stated his goal for the 2023 year is to have the city “continue to be a welcoming, vibrant, fiscally sound community” that invests in its schools, locals and important services while preserving “its special small-town character and charm.”
Environmental sustainability will continue to be a top priority according to Tarter, as the city will do its part to “reduce carbon emissions community-wide.” Through a grant facilitated by U.S.Rep. Donald Beyer, the city will convert the majority of their public works fleet to electric and hybrid vehicles.
Tarter also stated the city will continue to re-examine its practices and policies to ensure equity and social justice, including the implementation of recommendations of its Police Use of Force Review Committee and the joining of the Government Alliance for Racial Equity.
Continued economic growth is a critical priority for the new year, he said, stating that growth to date has helped the city reduce the tax rate by 12 cents over the past two years and will allow for further reductions over time.
“We’re investing in ourselves and our future,” Tarter said. “I am very optimistic for the City of Falls Church.”
Vice Mayor Letty Hardi said her priorities for 2023 will primarily focus on the community and “what can be built upon from the momentum of 2022 in terms of investments that were made.”
Two big projects are underway, she noted, the 10-acre West Falls Church project and the Broad and Washington project that will be the new home of a major Whole Foods store and the non-profit theater troupe, Creative Cauldron.
A third project “coming out of the ground” is the demolition of the former Rite Aid and carpet stores at the opposite corner of Founders Row.
The continuing and “doubling down” of street transportation and safety projects will be of importance this year, Hardi told the News-Press.
Investments in sidewalks, speed cameras near school and speed zones, and the Council approval of a move to 20 mile-per-hour speed limit in residential neighborhoods are hoped to be put in place by the spring of this year.
The conversion of the city’s streetlights into LEDs and a community energy plan to determine climate goals are priorities on Hardi’s environmental agenda.
A special event for 2023 is the marking of the 75th anniversary of the City’s incorporation. Hardi said the city is planning a year-long celebration for the community centered around the event next August.
A priority “personally important” for Hardi is the community’s housing policy and the investments made into affordable housing and the creation of a homeownership program where the city can buy unit-to-market rate and then resell them at a more affordable rate to people in the community.
“I think there’s a lot of good stuff that we started in 2022,” Hardi said, “that hopefully people will see it come to fruition in 2023.”
City Council member Phil Duncan stated the “biggest opportunity” for the city is economic development. He said he hopes the Broad and Washington project as well as the demolition across from Founders Row will “create momentum” to bring new amenities and help the city meet high expectations for services and education.
Duncan went on to state that he would like to see the city build its new buildings “in a way that is well inspected, safe and as little disruption as possible to the neighbors around them.”
“I think the biggest challenge is to retain our sense of a small-town community as we move toward becoming a full-service city,” Duncan said. “Falls Church, I would argue, was founded with pretty high aspirations.”
As for what 2023 looks like for local schools, Falls Church City Public Schools’ board chair Laura Downs and vice chair Tate Gould noted that they are entering budget season.
Recently, the schools were given a 4.2 percent increase target for the upcoming budget by the City Council, and Downs said additional money may be needed to ensure that the salaries of the school’s employees and staff fall in line with six surrounding school systems.
Gould said a big priority for the school system is navigating the process of collective bargaining for public sector staff. Downs added that the school board has been working with teachers on an agreement of how a union would work in the school system.
This will be a huge change for our school system to have a union,” Downs said. “We just want to make sure when Tate and I someday are off the school board, we’ve left the school system with a good working agreement with the teachers.”
A discussion on school start times will occur this year, according to Downs, with a proposal for the high school starting later in the day and the elementary schools starting earlier.
Gould said he hopes the school system will see “a positive budget experience with our City Council partners, as well as a positive collective bargaining agreement.”
Updates to report cards to make them more user-friendly and having both in-person and virtual events are ways Downs said the School Board wants to incorporate both pre-pandemic and post-pandemic values going forward.. Downs and Gould affirmed they will continue to hold office hours at local restaurants every month this year for parents and guardians of students.
“A big effort by the school district is to try and bring people back together and remind them that we are a small community,” Gould said. “We want to try to keep engaged, but we can’t do that unless we’re connecting, so we’re gonna try to create as many opportunities to bring in parents, students, staff, teachers and the school board.”