Updates from Letty – February 14, 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,

As you may have read – we had a final vote this week on the library project as part of the $4.6M budget amendment. As much as I wanted to get to yes (and support the other items in the budget amendment like traffic calming), I had too many fundamental concerns to endorse the plan, so I voted with my conscience and was in the minority of the 5-2 vote.

What’s not in the headlines is a subsequent vote that was even more frustrating to me, indicative of my broader concerns. At the end of our agenda was a new-to-us request for approval of $300K for new IT data storage and a closed session about the City Hall project. We’ll be discussing the final close out figure for City Hall at our work session next week, which will be the first time we can do so in open session. Read on for my thoughts.

I’ll offer my annual pitch to extend grace to others as we head into budget season. A majority of the comments I’ve received about the library was respectful, but a more than significant number of people expressed concerns with the overage and asked to remain anonymous for fear of being labeled a library-hater. We espouse the value of diversity (see new art in City Hall!), and I assert that diversity of thought – as long as it’s not rooted in racism, misogyny, etc – also needs to be welcomed. I also received a fair number of “it’s our turn!” sentiments or more personal “I voted for you, you need to vote this way” or references to my kids. I hope you supported me because I use my best judgment and because I am committed to being hardworking and thoughtful with each vote I cast – and not because I will vote the way you demand. To frame budget choices as a zero sum game where you’re either for or against something is disappointing – there is always more nuance. And bottom line, we are all “for the city”.


What Happened This Week:

(1) Richmond Updates

See my recap and photos from our City Council trip to Richmond last week. It already feels like ages ago with the fast and furious pace of legislation in the General Assembly. We just passed crossover, the midpoint of the session where bills passed in the House go to the Senate, vice versa, and no new bills can be introduced. This and this do a good job summarizing bills I’m excited that will likely become law this year.

(2) CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation) Annual Report

Each Board and Commission gives us an annual report  and we discuss shared priorities for the coming year. With traffic calming and pedestrian improvements among the top citizen issues – all within the scope of the CACT – it’s worth sharing their annual report and recommended walkability improvements. The CACT currently has no vacancies, but citizens are always welcome in their monthly meetings to share needs and suggestions.

Check out vacancies for our other Boards and Commissions.

(3) Budget Amendment #2 & Library Project

With the 5-2 approval of the $2.6M additional funding and library construction contract, here’s what will happen next with the library project:

  • The library will close beginning next Monday, February 17 until early/mid March when it will reopen in its temporary location at the trailers outside of TJ Elementary
  • Construction will start at the 120 N Virginia Ave location and last until Summer 2021
  • More info about the temp location, services, etc.

Besides the library – out of the $4.6M total in the amendment, revenue sharing with the schools, traffic calming (although not all of the streets that have requested traffic calming are funded) and other requests are included.

Letty’s thoughts:

I had originally not drafted comments for Monday as I didn’t want to belabor the meeting (see here and here for my thoughts the past few weeks). Again, no one questions the value of the library, the diverse population it serves, or the need for work. Yet those were the majority of the comments we received, so I felt compelled to speak. The bottom line is that I continue to have too many misgivings, most broader than the library. I couldn’t offer my approval on a “good enough” plan without assurances that this truly would be a forever library with no further overruns, would not repeat past mistakes, nor paint ourselves in a corner when it comes to other costs we know are coming.

You can watch my comments here, beginning at the 2:08:40 mark. Only a few minutes long.

(4) New IT Data Storage System

Speaking of additional costs, at the end of our agenda was a new request for $300K to upgrade IT data storage. While this would typically be an ordinary item – this came as a surprise to us. If the data storage issues were creating system outages and impacting work within City Hall, it should have been raised long ago, with costs planned, and not an urgent item that needed authorization immediately. I asked about alternatives and best practices elsewhere, but there were no real options, leaving us no choice.

Also, while I appreciate that IT is using their current budget and not requesting new money, I am concerned that using operating “underspending” from staff vacancies, deferring employee training and procurement is bad budgeting, unsustainable, and will shortchange departments that already have been asked to hold their budgets flat for many years. (Budget Amendment #2 above is partially funded from underspending.)

What’s Coming Up:

Of note in next week’s work session agenda is a public discussion about the close out amount for the City Hall project and an update on the expansion of the senior tax relief program we implemented last year.