Updates from Letty – April 7, 2023 (Budget Edition #2)

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,

Happy spring! City business marches on (especially during budget season) even if it’s spring break for those of us with school-aged kids. I want to specifically highlight three things:

  1. Potential changes in voting wards and polling locations – this could happen as soon as this spring’s primaries, so you should pay attention and share your thoughts with us. We’ll continue the discussion at Monday’s meeting and you can read on to see the options up for consideration.
  2. This week’s budget topic was all about the CIP (Capital Improvements Program). Now that we have finished all the “once in a generation” big projects like Meridian High School, Library, and City Hall – the CIP is still chock full of other investments. Over 6 years, the CIP investments are over $150M.
  3. Outside of official Monday night meetings, I’ll be holding my office hours on Monday, April 17 at 12 pm at Mr Browns Park and Ask the Council office hours will be Wednesday, April 26 at 9 am. We also meet with residents and businesses in one off meetings and/or emails, so we’re happy to hear from you in multiple ways.

Look forward to your thoughts about voting ward changes, budget, and other topics. We’ll have a marathon meeting next Monday where we’ll do the first reading vote on the budget and advertise the tax rates, continue on voting wards, and hold a work session on a new development project proposal on S. Washington.


What Happened This Week:

(1) Potential Voting Ward Changes

As the city grows in population, one of the downstream impacts is the voting wards and polling locations. This week, we heard from the City’s Registrar who has been working with the Electoral Board on options and a recommendation to change the boundaries of current wards, including changing a polling location to Meridian High School. The Registrar also recommended we increase the pay for Election Officers.

(Background: currently we have 3 wards with unequal distribution of registered voters and the polling location for Ward 2 is at Falls Green Apartments, which is not a public building. Virginia law allows up to 5K registered voters per ward and best practice is to keep each ward size under 4K. Virginia law also states that each polling place to be located in a public building where practicable.)

Fun fact: did you know we had 5 voting wards up until 2012?

Based on the feedback we offered in work session – primarily around moving a polling location to Meridian High School at the western edge of the city, we expect more discussion in our meeting on Monday and a new 10th option. Note that the Registrar recommends changes now in order to mail notices of changes at least 30 days before the June 20, 2023 primary as required by law (and ideally before early voting begins on May 5). Making the changes in April would allow at least one election prior to the November 2023 General Election and several elections prior to the presidential election in 2024, allowing voters time to adjust to the change.

(2) CIP (Capital Improvements Program)

As I wrote last week, the CIP is all about the “big stuff” and investments for the future. The CIP is developed on a rolling 6 year basis. In recent years, our CIP has been dominated by new or updated civic buildings (new high school, library, city hall) funded by debt and a lot of transportation and stormwater infrastructure projects funded by a combination of grant and local dollars. You can find the entire CIP here, and this presentation and video are a good synopsis, including a review of recently completed (and less headline-grabbing as new buildings) CIP projects.

A few things to note:

  • Example projects in the CIP: Fellows Park, Park Ave Great Streets, stormwater projects, replacement lights on tennis courts, traffic calming, sanitary sewer relining, new Oak and Sherrow bridges, traffic signal upgrades, new security and ADA entrance to Oak St Elementary, new HVAC for the Community Center.
  • After taking on a lot of debt for new buildings, the upcoming CIP has no new taxpayer supported debt until FY27. (The only debt planned is for the sanitary sewer work which is funded by developer fees.)
  • Staff has done a great job pulling in state and federal grants (and you all in the community play a huge role in providing public comments and support, which improves our competitiveness!) that helps pay for much of the CIP, especially for transportation projects. The downside of state/federal grants is they are more resource intensive to administer.
  • This the first year we’re starting to deploy funds from the Capital Reserve to use for new capital projects. We spent a lot of time building up our reserves (look back to my blog posts in 2017-2018) as part of the financing plan for Meridian High School. Recall the financing plan uses one time capital reserves funds to pay for the annual debt service for the new $120M school, but is offset by the ground lease payments from the West Falls project. We also boosted our reserves before we started construction of MHS because the heavy debt exceeded various financial policies. As we come off the peak years of the high debt service, it makes sense to have a thoughtful and deliberate use of taxpayer dollars that we kept in reserves and deploy against important infrastructure.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, April 10 – City Council Meeting* – First Reading of Budget/Advertisement of Tax Rates

Monday, April 17 – Letty’s Office Hours (12 pm, Mr Browns Park – weather permitting)

Monday, April 24 – City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, April 26 – Ask the Council Office Hours (City Hall, 9 am)

Thursday, April 27 – Budget Town Hall #2*

Monday, May 1 – City Council Work Session – Final Budget Markup*

Monday, May 8 – City Council Meeting – Final Budget Adoption*

*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings