Updates from Letty – February 25, 2022

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,

With chaos at home and abroad, I am grateful that this is usually the quieter lull of the year for the City Council. The School Board adopted their budget this week and City staff have been putting together the general government budget, which means we’re about a month out from the combined budget presentation. Ahead of that official kickoff, It’s a good time to highlight the upcoming schedule and refresh your memory on your likely 2022 property assessments before you get them in the mail. Also, ICYMI from last week’s FCNP, I’ll share a good article that addresses one of the frequent concerns we hear about traffic – you might be surprised by the data.

Finally, I have received some feedback regarding the reduction in library hours. The library board voted to reduce hours in response to staffing shortages. Especially since we’re about to start the budget process and opened the doors to a brand new library, I understand the concerns and will be following up.

We have no City Council meeting next week, so I’ll take a break from blogging. You can find me at my virtual office hours next Monday from 12-1 pm. I plan to resume them outdoors around town in the spring.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) FY23 Budget Refresher & Schedule

I wrote back in December about the FY23 revenue forecast. TL;DR:

  • 8.4% revenue growth is expected, largely driven by a hot residential real estate market.
  • Real estate taxes are the largest slice of the revenue pie. And residential assessments are projected to increase 8% which means for the median homeowner, your tax bill will increase $640 assuming the tax rate stays the same. I understand that this is a significant increase, especially for those on fixed incomes.
  • A big external risk is the uncertainty around the Governor’s proposal, and now General Assembly legislation, to eliminate the grocery tax and its impact to local budgets. To be conservative, the city is estimating that revenue growth will be reduced to 6.8% without the grocery tax.
  • At our last meeting in December, in recognition of the increased assessments and uncertainty from Richmond this year and in future years, we issued budget guidance asking for budget options that could provide tax rate reductions between 0 to 4 cents on the real estate property rate while still funding the critical needs across the city.

The FY23 budget schedule is posted – among the work sessions, public hearings, and others – a few important call outs:

  • Monday, March 28 is when the proposed budget will be presented to us by the City Manager and School Board Chair. That is our first opportunity to hear about total city budget.
  • Town Halls – note two town halls are on the calendar, one early and one later in the process.
  • Monday, April 11 is when we take “first reading” votes. If you are new to the budget process, this is an important detail to explain. We will take two votes on the tax rate, CIP, and operating budget – first reading is when tax rates are advertised to the public and the ceiling/maximum rates have to be advertised. That means at final budget adoption, tax rates can be reduced, but not raised from what was advertised.
  • Monday, May 2 is final budget adoption.
  • July 1, 2022 is when the new fiscal year, FY23, begins.

(2) Traffic & People

ICYMI last week, the FCNP ran an interesting article on VDOT-collected traffic data and trends in the city, written by Robert Puentes, who is a member of our Planning Commission (and whose day job is the head of a transportation think tank). Concerns about traffic from new development is one of the top concerns we hear from existing residents and neighborhoods. Mixed used development in the city began around 2004 and our population has grown almost 19% between the 2010 and 2020 census – so if there is a cause and effect or correlation relationship between development/population and traffic, the traffic data over that time period should be very telling.

There are both good, surprising news and not so good news:

Good news: you might be surprised to learn that since 2007, traffic actually declined on Rt 7, Rt 29, Hillwood, and N. and S. West (blue lines). In fact, total traffic volumes decreased across the city “by a remarkable 9.3 percent from 2007 to 2019. That’s based on the combined volumes on all the streets VDOT measured and means we are seeing more than 50,000 fewer vehicles each day. Nearly 96 percent of this drop took place on the four busiest roads.”

So while we have welcomed increased population in new developments (and across the region), we’re seeing less drivers overall on our roads. That is good for both greenhouse gas emissions and congestion. Rob makes a few educated guesses why this may be happening.

Not so good news: Traffic has increased on N. and S. Oak, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Great Falls, and S. Cherry (red/orange lines), albeit much smaller absolute increases compared to the large drops on the main roads. This corroborates with the feedback we hear from residents who request traffic calming, enforcement, and pedestrian safety investments in neighborhoods.

This is a good reminder that new neighbors and development don’t necessarily lead to more traffic and we need to keep up the investment in walking, biking, and micromobility infrastructure for all so those options will be easier/faster/safer than a car.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, Feb 28, 2022 – Letty’s Virtual Office Hours at 12 pm

Monday, March 7, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, March 14, 2022 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, March 21, 2022 – City Council Work Session*

Monday, March 28, 2022 – City Council Meeting (Budget)*

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

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