Updates from Letty – April 16, 2021
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
It’s been a busy week with lots to share. The big takeaways:
(1) Starting this Sunday, everyone 16+ is eligible for a COVID vaccine, so that is long-awaited, welcome news. However, note that the Fairfax Health Department’s registration system will be decommissioned, so vaccine appointments will have to be made through vaccinefinder.org.
(2) We’re heading towards the finish line on the FY22 budget – read on to understand where things stand and my current thinking before our vote on April 26.
(3) Just like plants and animals have come out of hibernation, there are signs of “normal” civic life returning too – I’ll highlight a few things for your calendar, including my office hours, resuming this coming Monday, April 19 from 9-10 am at Mr. Brown’s Park. Come “masked or vaxxed” with your thoughts on the budget, development in the pipeline, or just say hello after a year.
My heart is heavy with the unrelenting news about police violence and mass shootings. I wish I had more eloquent words to express the despair that I know many of you share. With the hope that this uplifts you: I had the opportunity this week to tag along with city staff in targeted vaccine registration of vulnerable residents and front line workers at the Eden Center and then the clinic at the Community Center. It was so fulfilling to see the joy and relief. We’re committed to keeping up these vaccine equity efforts to reach those who need it the most.
What Happened This Week:
(1) FY22 Budget
Where are we: We’re 10 days from our budget adoption vote on April 26. Next week’s work session will be focused on the “budget mark up” – ie, the roll up your sleeves session where we add or subtract items from the budget. If you’d like more information on the budget, you check check out the 3-5 minute videos by department, refer to the budget book online, or watch one of the recorded Town Halls we held. We all take our annual responsibility to pass a budget seriously. To understand the nuance and depth of the discussions, the budget Q&A (these are questions Council has been asking) will also be helpful.
The current real estate property tax rate is $1.355 per $100 assessed. (See here for tax rate history, which includes the 3.5 cents increase to pay for the recent capital projects, such as the new high school and library). The City Manager proposed this year’s budget at $1.345 (1 penny decrease) due to real estate assessments coming in higher than the original forecast. At first reading, we voted to advertise another half penny decrease at $1.34 – so that will be the maximum rate. It can be further lowered from $1.34 but that is the ceiling.
You’re welcome to email us or speak at the April 26 meeting to make public comment.
Letty’s thoughts: We recognize the pandemic has made for a difficult financial year for our residents and businesses, and we’re not out of the woods yet. On the horizon, we do expect federal aid coming in the form of the American Rescue Plan but unfortunately, we still don’t have certainty on the amount, timing, or allowable uses. Rest assured that staff is plugged into various state and regional groups’ advocacy efforts and many of our peers are in similar situations. We have asked staff to start drafting a plan on how we could use federal aid to offset losses in our budget, fund important community priorities, and benefit taxpayers in the end. There have been pushes to go far below $1.34. Balancing the needs from various city departments and my long-held desire to ensure “affordable housing” also means a check on our tax rate, I think there is a responsible, middle path forward. We can make reasonable guesses on how the federal funds could be deployed for various one time expenses (it’s generally bad budgeting to use one time money, like federal aid, to pay for recurring operating expenses) and enable us to remove them from this year’s budget while also not aggressively “counting our chickens before they hatch.” Based on this, staff has worked an option to get us to a $1.33 tax rate that we’ll discuss on Monday.
At the end of the day – this is a good problem to have and should be celebrated. When we were undertaking the financial planning for the massive debt and undertaking for a new high school just a few years ago – to be able to lower the tax rate at all in the year that the new high school opens and the year after a global pandemic – is remarkable. With the pipeline of development projects, I hope we’ll have more opportunities in the future.
(2) Stormwater v2, Community Profile, and West Falls Church
Other business we recovered this week:
Stormwater v2: It’s notable that we’ve had two impressive citizen-led efforts this past year. In addition to the Police Use of Force recommendations, we had extended the charter of the our Stormwater Task Force to produce green infrastucture recommendations. Traditional “gray” stormwater infrastructure is designed to move urban stormwater away from the built environment – examples are underground pipes and collection systems. We have 6 gray projects on deck targeted in areas with acute flooding. “Green” stormwater infrastructure is designed to mimic nature and capture rainwater where it falls – a good example is to green up a parking lot with trees and plantings that can slow runoff.
Community Profile: for a broad recap of 2020 in the City and recent demographic trends, the annual Community Profile is a good, quick-ish read.
West Falls Church Project: we continued discussing the site plan in the series of work sessions on WFC this week, If you missed the town hall this week for a good overview, the recording is available on the project site. Note: if you are in the area, the demolition of the old George Mason High School, aka the future site of the WFC project, is underway.
(3) For your calendar…
On Sunday April 25, I’ll be one of several panelists in the virtual League of Women Voters and Citizens for a Better City Affordable Housing Panel Series – this one will be focused on present day efforts.
On Sunday May 2, the 2021 Women’s History Walk is back. It will be an in person, walk-on-your-own event (to avoid a big gathering) through a pre-marked 2 mile loop to learn about remarkable women in Falls Church history along the way. This has always been a fun event to do with kids, so I’m excited it will happen this year. And if you’re signed up for the Fitness Challenge – this is a great way to double dip!
What’s Coming Up:
Sunday April 18: planned opening of vaccine registration for all 16+
Monday April 19, 9-10am: Letty’s office hours (Mr. Brown’s Park)
Sunday April 25, 4pm: Affordable Housing Forum
Sunday May 2, 11am-2pm: 2021 Women’s History Walk
Current draft schedule of meetings and agenda items
City Council Meetings occur every Monday night at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings