Updates from Letty – December 15, 2017

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,

And that’s a wrap! We concluded our City Council meetings of 2017 this week and cast important votes on budget guidance for FY19 and the City Hall project, so I’ll share how and why I voted on these two matters. The City Hall project now moves forward into the construction phase which will last most of 2018, so read on to find out what to expect in the coming months.

Also, bookmark the links below if you find yourself with some downtime in between holiday parties. I’m sharing various news articles and press releases you may find interesting: data on the new I-66 tolling, “the missing middle” housing issue, and our GMHS campus project in the headlines.

As you reflect on your priorities in 2018, consider making an impact in your local community via a Board and Commission. We will be facing important decisions next year and I’m counting on you to share your ideas and lend your expertise to help us. As always, you have my continued commitment for communication and transparency in the new year, so stay tuned for opportunities for public discussion and input, especially on the FY19 budget and GMHS campus project. I also welcome feedback on how I can better represent you and/or priorities we should tackle in the community.

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season – see you in 2018!



What Happened This Week:

(1) Budget Guidance – by a 5-2 vote, we voted to issue FY19 budget guidance growth at 2% over FY18 numbers.

Letty’s thoughts: As we embark on the ambitious capital with 6 out of 8 civic buildings under construction in the next few years (everything except Jessie Thackrey Preschool and the Community Center), I believe it is an important year to demonstrate operating budget discipline – especially when student enrollment growth has been flat this year. The City Manager will already be proposing a 6 cent property tax increase for capital projects (4 cents for GMHS + 2 cents for library and city hall), so at the minimum, I believe operating budgets should stay at or below organic revenue growth, which is projected between 2.5-3.5%. which is why I supported 2%. Much of the revenue projections depend on market appreciation of property values, and I am especially concerned about our exposure to the risk of recession and impending federal tax code changes. While we’re still awaiting the final law, most anticipate areas with high property values like Northern Virginia will be especially impacted by the new tax code. 

2% budget growth is still indeed growth over last year’s budget and we’ll have four months of work sessions, discussion, and public input before we finalize the budget. An important call out I requested to be added to this year’s budget guidance is to identify opportunities for consolidating services and shared functions across general government and schools. This gets discussed every year, but we can’t afford lip service anymore when faced with such an extraordinary capital plan. With a new City Council and School Board, I believe we all share a commitment to the long term and greater good of the City, so look forward to a budget season with a productive, collaborative tone and creative ideas for increasing efficiency.

FY19 Budget Calendar key dates:

  • 2/20/18 – School Board adopts budget request
  • 3/12/18 – budget and CIP presentation by City Manager and Superintendent
  • 3/18/18 – Town Hall #1
  • 3/26/18 – Public Hearing #1
  • 4/8/18 – Town Hall #2
  • 4/9/18 – Public Hearing #2
  • 4/23/18 – Budget Adoption


(2) Fiscal Policies – after a hearty discussion, we voted to defer a vote on the new fiscal policies until January. While a revision to fiscal policies has been discussed the past year in order to prepare for the GMHS project, we’ve only spent work session time last week on the latest proposal so more discussion is warranted, especially to understand if additional tax rate increases would be needed to bolster reserves to meet the new policies. You can read more about my take on the proposed policy change in last week’s blog post.


(3) City Hall Project – by a 5-2 vote, the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) for the City Hall renovation and expansion project was approved and the project moves into construction phase. The approved GMP for this phase was $13.35M ($350K over what was anticipated), with total project costs around $18M. Construction begins in January, with most city services to move out in the new year. The majority of City Hall departments will move to temporary office space at 400 N. Washington; the police department has already relocated into a trailer at the property yard. Stay tuned for locations of public meetings in 2018.

Letty’s thoughts – over the past 2 years, I’ve heard compelling testimony on the need for improvements at City Hall. We absolutely should do better for City employees and the public – no one should have to worry about safety and security when visiting or working in the building and I don’t discount any of the testimony we heard. That said, I did not support the final approval to move forward with the project because I think the project is short-sighted and does not deliver great value. Over time, the scope has been revised and reduced as construction estimates came in higher. For example – two areas I’ve spoken up about are the garage and need for office space across general government and school operations. As part of this project, a one story garage will be built behind City Hall for secure parking for police vehicles, but future levels cannot be physically added to the garage should we need additional parking in the future. Also, I would have loved for the project to incorporate space for the schools’ central office. We continue to pay rent equivalent to nearly a penny on the tax rate each year for central office, and a renovated/expanded City Hall seemed like a ripe opportunity to include the school offices.

I understand the reasons why ideas like the ones above couldn’t be incorporated; as someone who regularly advocates for fiscal discipline, I certainly appreciate the hard work to keep project costs constrained. However, I believe we would be able to build a better, more holistic project if we were willing to look critically at the entire CIP and make some tough calls to prioritize and sequence all of the capital projects across the city. 


(4) Other – we granted a new first reading on Out of State Vehicle License Fee, approved the Legislative Agenda for 2018 (ie, our legislative priorities in the Virginia General Assembly), and approved the budget amendment to appropriate $400K from capital reserves for marketing, engineering, legal, and other planning work for economic development at GMHS.


(5) Good reading over winter break!

“Missing Middle” housing – important housing trend re: aging millennials (and aging in place seniors). This is an important regional issue in that we all lack ‘middle’ housing options and affordable ones at that.


I-66 Toll Changes – for those who were alarmed by the $40 tolls on the day of the toll launch or otherwise impacted by the changes like elimination of the hybrid exemption, this news release shares pre and post average speeds, commute times as well as monitoring on secondary roads like Rt 50, 29, and 7, and actual toll charges since the launch.



GMHS Campus – the first of a broader marketing push that will begin in 2018. Promoting the 10 acres is key to ensure we have high interest and competition for the eventual RFQ that we’ll issue for the site in the spring (and RFP in the summer), so that ultimately we can maximize the economic development value and offset the cost of school construction.



What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, January 2 – City Council Meeting
  • Monday, January 8 – City Council Meeting