Updates from Letty – February 28, 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,

It would be an understatement to say there is a lot going on right now – locally, nationally, and globally. 

  • First, the local: we had another tough vote this week, this time on the budget amendment to pay for the cost overages for City Hall. It’s the first time I’ve seen a 4-1-2 vote (yes-no-abstain). Read on for my thoughts.
  • Nationally: the Democratic Primary (Super Tuesday) is next Tuesday. Voting will proceed as normal, open from 6 am – 7 pm at all 3 polling locations (Falls Green, fka Oakwood, is back to serving as voting location for Ward 2). You can still vote in person absentee – last day is tomorrow!
  • While there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Virginia, we know a lot of people are concerned. So what can you do? You should take the same preventative steps you take to avoid the flu and colds. Check out these tips from the Fairfax County Health Department, the City’s contracted health department and messages from FCCPS if you have children in the school system.

Finally, to circle back to the local: a latebreaking update on the corner of Broad and West. In the Economic Development Committee meeting yesterday (one of several Council committees on which I serve) we heard from Mill Creek, the Founders Row developer, that they have a contract pending for both the vacant Rite Aid and carpet/cabinet store, with intentions to redevelop both parcels. (In the spirit of transparency, as this was a public meeting – I’m sharing here. I get asked about that corner almost as frequently as I get asked about traffic calming!) Mill Creek is in the very early stages of envisioning a mixed use development, with no plans or drawings yet, and seeks informal feedback. If approved, construction wouldn’t start until all phases of Founders Row are complete, early 2022. Having heard from residents of that neighborhood, I know transportation improvements to Broad/West/Ellison are important, and I’d welcome other thoughts about this potential project.


PS – No City Council meeting next week, so I’ve added office hours next Monday morning at 830 am at The Happy Tart to hear from you! Priorities for the budget? Broad/West? Traffic calming?

What Happened This Week: 

(1) City Hall 

See last week’s post for the breakdown of why we have a $1.2M overage for the City Hall renovation project, how we’re paying for it, and assurances from staff that the library will go more smoothly. This Budget Amendment #3 received a 4-1-2 vote at first reading, with a final vote in March. If passed, the current construction contract would increase from $13.3M to $14.5M, with total project costs of $20.4M. 

Current timelines is for final work on City Hall to happen in March to May and final operations, including court proceedings, return to City Hall in May.

Letty’s thoughts:

I appreciate staff’s full accounting of the total money spent on City Hall, acknowledgement that the project didn’t go as well as it should, and most importantly, accountability for the issues and prevention going forward. To be clear, the $1.2M was already the result of tough negotiations with the contractor and the overage could have been even higher. However, some of the money has already been spent – so we were all in a tough spot in that we had no real choice to fund the overrun or not, nor did we have options on how to fund it other than use unspent debt service (ie, reserves). That said, knowing that the budget amendment would likely pass – I could not endorse the funding where I’ve long disagreed with the project approach and fiscal management and cast a ‘no’ vote. (Example: see my May 2017 post, one of many, where I voiced concerns about the value engineering and risks of a rushed project schedule.) To use reserves to continue to plug capital project shortfalls is a big deal. I’m further concerned we continue to shortchange important operating budget items and not fully address important citizen needs like traffic calming.

(2) Residential Assessments

Homeowners by now should have received your 2020 real estate assessment, with overall appreciation of 3.89%. Recent sales data supports those real estate values, with the City coming in first place with the highest price per square foot in the region. Good for sellers, not so good for anyone trying to afford to move here. 

With concerns about coronavirus’s impact on the global economy and the stock market, on top of tariffs and other potential threats while we’ve taken on extraordinary debt levels – prudent budgeting is more important than ever. Our next City Council meeting will be on March 9, which will be the City Manager’s presentation on the FY21 budget – officially kicking off the 8 week budget process. Dates are below if you’d like to attend any of the public meetings.

What’s Coming Up:

Note dates for the FY21 Budget Cycle

  • Monday, March 2 – Letty’s office hours – The Happy Tart (830 am)
  • Monday, March 9 – City Council Meeting – City Manager FY21 Budget & CIP Presentation
  • Monday, March 16 – City Council Work Session – Budget Work Session #1
  • Sunday, March 22 – Budget Town Hall
  • Monday March 23 – City Council Meeting – Budget First Reading
  • Monday, April 6 – City Council Work Session – Budget Work Session #2
  • Monday, April 13 – City Council Meeting 
  • Monday, April 20 – City Council Work Session – Budget Work Session #3 & Final Mark Up
  • Monday, April 27 – Budget Second Reading / Adoption