Updates from Letty – April 23, 2021

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,

This week was all about hope, nationally and locally. With vaccine eligibility now open to everyone 16+ (PSA: I encourage you to try both vaccinefinder.org or the CDC’s VAMS site to book a shot), additional loosening of COVID restrictions this week and more next month because just over half of adult Virginians are vaccinated, and an almost normal Memorial Day on the horizon, things are looking up.

You have probably noticed of flurry of construction activity in the Little City. I’ll spotlight two projects on opposite ends of town – a facelift at Falls Plaza (the Giant shopping center) now underway and the S. Washington project. We also have a healthy pipeline of new projects and new businesses planned to open this spring and summer. This private and public investment of dollars is important backdrop in advance of our budget adoption next week, where we’ll be lowering the tax rate, the first time we’ve been able to do so in 15 years. If you have input on the budget or other matters, we’d welcome your comment via email or live at our meeting on Monday night.

Take care,

PS – This Sunday afternoon, I’ll be one of several panelists in the virtual League of Women Voters and Citizens for a Better City panel on affordable housing, which is consistently ranked as one of the top issues for our community. We have made good progress the past few years, but we can do more.

What Happened This Week:

(1) FY22 Budget – final vote this coming Monday

During the final budget work session this week (aka the “mark up session”), we continued wrestling with ways we could further lower the tax rate, so that we could provide as much relief to tax payers as possible after a challenging year. As a recap of the past 8 weeks of budget work:

  • The current tax rate is $1.355 per $100 in assessed value.
  • The original budget by the City Manager included a 1 penny reduction to $1.345 due to higher than expected real estate assessments, strong local tax performance projections, and new development.
  • We further pushed the tax rate down to $1.34 at first reading, and I’m hopeful we’ll end up $1.33 when we cast our final vote next Monday – which would be a 2.5 penny decrease. For reference, the last time the tax rate was lowered was 15 years ago in 2006.
  • To achieve a $1.33 tax rate, it would require taking out several items from the budget (sidewalks, traffic calming, facilities maintenance) with the plan to use incoming federal relief money to restore those items later this year. With no information expected til mid May on the federal money, the caveat is that this plan does rely on some reasonable assumptions for how the money can be deployed. I have also pushed on using either or both federal money or upcoming developer cash contributions to pay off higher interest rate debt, and therefore reduce the operating budget to provide further tax relief.
  • At $1.345, the median homeowner’s tax bill would have increased by $291 due to the increased assessments. At a lower rate of $1.33, it will increase by $160, offsetting some of the the higher assessments.

If you have input on the budget, we’d welcome your comment via email or sign up to speak during our meeting.

(2) Construction Dust Everywhere

We are seeing continued strong interest in redevelopment in the city and private investment dollars, which bodes well for post-COVID recovery, confidence in the future of Falls Church, and more opportunities to keep lowering the tax rate,. If you’ve been to the CVS and Giant shopping center recently (currently called Falls Plaza), you may have seen that work started on a modernization of the shopping center to include façade updates, more outdoor seating, landscaping, and better pedestrian access. It will be rebranded as Birch & Broad when construction finishes this fall. See here for more renderings of the plans we previewed a few months ago,

The other project worth highlighting is a public one – the long-awaited S. Washington corridor improvement, which dates back over 10 years and should finally finish this year! Last year, the utility undergrounding was done, and now we’re finally seeing more visible signs of the project like the new, wide sidewalks that were installed recently. Two big changes to come: 1) the “slip lane” intersection at S. Washington/Hillwood will be completely redesigned to slow down cars and be more pedestrian friendly and 2) a new transit plaza with bus shelters, bike racks, and public art/history panels will be created.

What’s Coming Up:

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