Updates from Letty – April 10, 2020

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since our lives have gone topsy-turvy. Despite the confirmed coronavirus cases still growing daily, social distancing efforts are making a difference. Please keep it up and stay strong – especially as cabin fever, warmer weather, and religious holidays to typically celebrate with friends and family – are upon us.

City Council, like all of you, has had to adapt. We met fully virtually this week and heard early, but sobering, estimates about the financial impact of the pandemic. We will need to grapple with what the key functions of government are and are not. When faced with tough choices, I true back to our community values and pragmatic, long term thinking. Read on for more details, and I’d love to hear your input as well. During budget season, I typically hold more frequent office hours, but this year, I will have to rely on emails from you.

A few important PSAs:

  1. The City’s listing of local restaurants offering to-go/delivery is continually being updated – now with easy one-click links to menus and ordering. Please join me in supporting them if you’re able. www.fallschurchva.gov/ToGo
  2. The popular glass recycling purple bin at Gordon Rd is still being serviced for now. There is a lot of #coronacoping, so I often hear that the bin is full. Know that the bin gets emptied on Thursdays so time your drop offs. Please also try to limit your other waste. Just like toilet paper (where there is a real demand shift) we’re making a lot more trash at home – about 40% more residential trash regionally. Bulk pick ups and many donation centers are closed, so hold onto your spring cleaning. It’s a good time to try composting too!
  3. The Easter egg hunt is cancelled this weekend, but stay tuned for an egg-scellent alternative, coming to your neighborhood

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

1) Masks – the CDC now recommends cloth masks/face coverings for everyone when going out for essential business (and still socially distanced, of course). I can personally vouch for the no-sew bandana method – easy to make and comfortable enough for a grocery trip. 

2) Financial impacts of COVID-19

  • As expected, the financial impacts of the pandemic will be severe for local governments. It will impact the last 4 months of the current fiscal year (FY20) and the FY21 budget which was just presented to City Council last month and will now be scrapped. Unlike the federal government, we have to balance our budgets each year and largely rely on tax revenue. 
  • Important callout: estimates are early and there are a lot of unknowns. On the revenue side – because of the lag in sales and local taxes, we don’t expect to get the first real data points until later in April. So far, only jurisdictions with populations above 500K will receive direct federal assistance, so it’s also unclear if or how much federal relief we’ll get. Expenses are also not clear at this point. FY21 budget timelines are moved out so we have more time to collect data. Typically we adopt our annual budget by the end of April. Instead, we’re targeting early June. No one knows when “normal” will return or the full extent of the impact on residents, businesses, or the government – so we likely make adjustments even after we adopt the budget.
  • You can see the detailed presentation here. Top level estimates:
    • For FY20 – early projections show a shortfall of $1.7M-3.5M.
    • For FY21 – early projections show a shortfall of $5.5M-8.6M (vs the proposed FY21 budget), or $1.3M-4.4M less than the current year budget. Which means – instead of a 3-4% increase in revenue we were originally expecting, we’ll need to plan for the opposite decrease, or worse.
  • Letty’s thoughts: In times of crisis, especially one that involves a health emergency, I believe government’s first job is to support basic human needs, like safety, food, shelter, and health – which are delivered through our core services. While Falls Church’s vulnerable population may be smaller than other jurisdictions, we can’t ignore that the numbers will be growing. Emergency rent relief and other social safety nets will be more important than ever. At the same time, we have a fiduciary responsibility to honor our commitments, like the large debt service we issued just months ago and strong fiscal governance by not further burdening taxpayers. We should also preserve as many jobs as possible so we have infrastructure in place on the other side. We can’t take the easy road and just draw down reserves to the bare minimum to make up for the revenue losses – as this health crisis and recession is unprecedented and may last longer than anyone can predict – which means we need to be prepared for the worst-worst case. Regionally, we’re already seeing that revised local budgets will include hiring and pay freezes, delayed projects, or scope reductions – so we should be prepared for similar measures. I am comforted that our “bones are strong” – we have a good track record of prudent decision-making, AAA bond rating, a fully funded pension, and infrastructure investments that will help us rebound.

3) City life continues

New pedestrian lights at the Great Falls and Lincoln were installed and activated this week. When Great Falls is re-paved later, new crosswalks and striping will go in too. With many more pedestrians walking neighborhoods these days, this is a small, but important safety improvement.

April is Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As proclamations don’t meet the narrow criteria of emergency business we can conduct electronically, we’ve had to issue proclamations offline. If you’re taking a walk near Cherry Hill Park, you’ll see that annual blue pinwheel garden has been planted. In fact, while we’re all isolated at home with increased stress and anxiety – domestic violence and child abuse may rise. To the best of your ability, we encourage you to be supportive of families who may be struggling.

What’s Coming Up:

We’re taking schedules week by week, but we are planning another virtual City Council meeting next Monday to discuss relief ideas, such as zoning changes that could offer assistance to businesses.