In one of the more copasetic annual budget deliberations in memory, the Falls Church City Council Monday unanimously adopted its Fiscal Year 2024 budget with no real estate tax increase and no new general government debt. The $119 million budget was almost identical to what City Manager Wyatt Shields initially recommended last month.
Led by Council member Marybeth Connelly, high praise was afforded the recently crafted revenue sharing agreement between the City government and the Falls Church City Public schools for removing a large portion of what had been contentious budget deliberations in the past. That policy shift by the Council, long sought by the schools, has enabled the schools, in their funding request from the City, to come within their budget without having to impose on the Council for more funding at the last minute.
A late proposal to lower the real estate tax rate by a penny from Council member Phil Duncan last week, participating through a remote hookup from his hospital bed just prior to his double lung transplant surgery, did not gain sufficient support from his colleagues. So, it will remain at $1.23 per $100 of assessed valuation.
The personal property, or vehicle, tax rate goes up by 50 cents to offset an 18.3 decline in used car values and the net effect is a 8.8 percent decrease in that tax. The sewer tax goes up by 3 percent, and the stormwater fee by 4 percent.
But overall the new budget that goes into effect on July 1 continues the City’s efforts at providing excellent government services, funding its award-winning schools, continuing its transformative Capital Improvements Plan, advances community priorities and reflects excellent financial management, said Mayor David Tarter.
“It is a responsible and responsive budget to perpetuate the City’s goals to be a great place to live, work and do business,” said Council member Debbie Hiscott.
The new budget reflects what matters to the people of Falls Church, added Connelly in her remarks Monday. With the revenue sharing agreement making the process more predictable and making a “huge difference,” she said, “Things are just going to keep getting better.”
“It’s a good budget. We’re doing a lot,” chimed in Council member David Snyder. Council member Caroline Liam noted that unfunded needs not included in the budget will continue to be tracked.
Late modifications included dipping into the contingency fund to add to environmental sustainability programs and to fund special events (such as the New Year’s Eve Watch Night and July 4 events), and with use of reserves to add $850,000 to street paving, $360,000 to traffic signals and $430,000 to sidewalk improvements.
$140,000 was added to the affordable housing fund to extend offerings to families at an even lower 40 percent of area median income, and money was put in to extend the hours of the Mary Riley Styles public library by two hours on the weekends. The budget puts $30,000 toward purchasing 100 percent renewable energy credits for City government operations and new energy data management software. These energy components will help the City reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
In a statement issued out of City Hall, Mayor Tarter added, “This year’s budget continues support for community priorities like school excellence, pedestrian safety, affordable housing, the environment, and fair pay while keeping our tax rate flat for the coming year. Smart growth and economic development continue to pay dividends for our community. I want to thank all who participated in the budget process this year.”
The approved budget, it was noted, supports key initiatives, such as Competitive pay for the City Workforce, Fully funds the School Board budget, Funding to allow the Library to open for two additional weekend hours, An additional School Resource Officer, A new three-person rapid response crew that will focus on pedestrian and bike safety, Expansion of photo traffic safety enforcement programs, Adding to the Affordable Housing Fund
With no changes to the current real estate tax of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value, the average homeowner’s real estate tax bill will increase $364 or 3.4 percent due to rising assessed property values.
To keep up with inflation, the sanitary sewer rate will increase 3 percent to $10.48 per 1,000 gallons, which equates to a $15 increase per year for a household. The stormwater fee will increase by 4 percent to $20.05 per 200 square feet of impervious area, which equates to about $11 increase per year for a household.
The proposed budget invests in the City’s workforce by funding recommendations from a classification and compensation study, a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and step increase for police, a 6 percent merit increase for all other employees, and professional development opportunities.
The FY2024 General Fund budget, inclusive of Schools and General Government, totals $119.16 million, which is a 5.6 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
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 ($25 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. Debt issuance is planned only for the Sanitary Sewer Utility Fund in FY2024 to be paid by developer connection fees.