2024-05-23 5:23 AM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Shields Offers Budget With No Change In Tax Rate

At the Falls Church City Council meeting Monday night, City Manager Wyatt Shields presented his recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2024 (beginning July 1) that proposes no change in the City’s real estate tax rate which now stands at $1.23 per $100 of assessed valuation. This comes despite the efforts by both the City government and the Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) School Board to offer higher than usual compensation packages for their employees in the context of post-pandemic malaise, and heightened competition for quality work in the surrounding region. 

The overall budget recommendation is to fund $118,382,643 in government ($48,346,511) and school ($49,583,251) services (the rest for debt service and capital reserves) for the City’s 15,000 residents in its 2.2 square miles, up 4.9 percent from the current year.

Deliberation on the proposed budget will begin with a town hall at noon this Thursday at the F.C. City Hall, and final adoption by the Council will be May 8.

As Shields, along with FCCPS Board chair Laura Downs and schools’ superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, stated Monday, this budget proposes a 5.25 percent growth for general government expenditures, not including debt service (there being no new debt proposed for the coming year except for the sewer fund), and a 5.25 percent increase to the local funding for the public schools.

The 5.25 percent number is above the 4.2 percent increase anticipated in December, when “guidance” for the City departments and schools was set. But the real estate assessments that were provided in February came out, the expected revenues for the coming year became considerably higher, boosting the expected revenue increase. 

Under the recent years’ commitment to revenue sharing between the City operations and schools, each component has come in with about $250,000 in added revenues. On the school side, it was noted that the added funds would go to employee compensation, and that this would help boost the schools’ compensation level to almost match the regional average.

“It doesn’t put us ahead, but into the mix of regional compensation levels, to within 95 percent to 100 percent of the regional average,” Dr. Noonan said. The final decision may be modified when a major compensation study is expected at the School Board’s next meeting on April 18.

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, a final vote to approve collective bargaining for the system was adopted unanimously, and it was noted that should bargaining for three-year contracts put estimated costs above the agreed upon revenue sharing, that a process would need to be developed to sort that out.

In addition to compensation increases, the School Board voted to include six weeks of paid parental leave to new parents, and the same level of employer paid health benefits afforded full time employees will be available to part time employees as well. The schools’ advertised budget includes a step increase, a cost of living adjustment, a bonus for those at the top of the salary scale, pending the results of the compensation study.. 

 With a  projected enrollment next fall of 2,552, the system is the largest employer in the City with more than 500 employees, and is ranked the best school system in the state.

On the City side, Shields’ budget proposes merit pay increases of six percent, same for general employees and the police. 

Shields noted in his remarks Monday night that “Growing With Vision” is the new watchword for the City in its budgeting. 

“We are in a period of growth, which presents both new revenues for the City as well as new budgetary needs,” he said. “‘Growing with Vision’ means upholding excellent government services, sustaining award-winning City schools, executing a transformative capital plan, and advancing the community priorities in the Council’s two-year work plan, the city’s Comprehensive Plan. It means investing in the City’s workforce to meet challenges and focus on high-level service to the community.”

 With no proposed change in the tax rate, the average homeowner’s real estate tax bill will increase $364 or 3.4 percent due to a rise in the assessed property values.

The proposed budget includes increases of other tax rates:

– An increase of 50 cents in the personal property tax (or “car tax”) rate for a total of $4.80 per $100 of assessed value; however, a projected decrease in assessed value of vehicles will result in an average decrease of 8.8 percent in the bill;

– An increase of three percent in the sanitary sewer rate to $10.48 per 1,000 gallons to keep up with inflation, which equates to about $16 per year for an average household;

– An increase of 4 percent in the stormwater fee to $20.05 per 200 square feet of impervious area, which equates to about $11 per year for a household.

The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) provides a plan for investment in City schools, parks and fields, library, government facilities, transportation, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure.

The six year CIP totals $154 million, and provides funding for transportation ($93 million), sanitary sewer ($24 million), facilities and parks ($23 million), and stormwater improvements ($12 million).

The CIP relies heavily on federal and state grants. No new taxpayer supported debt is proposed until FY2027 in the General Fund and debt issuance is planned only for the Sanitary Sewer Utility Fund in FY2024 to be paid by developer connection fees.

New initiatives in the proposed budget stem from the opportunities and challenges that come with growth. Examples include funds to allow the Mary Riley Styles Public Library to open for two additional weekend hours, an additional school resource officer, two new positions related to construction management, additional traffic camera enforcement, neighborhood traffic calming, new sidewalks, and adding to the Affordable Housing Fund. 

Two Town Hall meetings include today’s, Thursday, March 30, at noon, and a second one is slated for Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. Both are open to in-person attendees and virtual attendees.

Public comment is open at the City Council’s regular meetings, including April 10, April 24, and May 8. The City Council’s work sessions do not allow for public comment but are open to the public: April 3 and May 1.

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