Updates from Letty – January 10, 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,

Happy 2020! I hope your holidays were both joyful and restful and your new year is off to a good start.

We are kicking off 2020 with a busy January. In the next month, we’ll be making decisions on the much discussed “budget surplus” (this post may be a good refresh – what’s really surplus vs underspending vs money that we’ll need to spend later), deal with the budget shortfalls on the Library, City Hall, and other capital projects and top citizen asks like traffic calming and stormwater mitigation. We’ll be planning the next two years of priorities in our bi-annual retreat. We expect to receive the site plan submission for the West Falls Church project. And the annual budget development will be underway shortly. Meanwhile, we’ll be monitoring the General Assembly session that just kicked off and head to Richmond to lobby for the city’s needs. You can lobby our Richmond delegation in person at an upcoming town hall (dates below).

This week, while we didn’t yet tackle the biggies like City Hall and the Library, we continued to see a concerning theme of escalating costs pervasive across many projects. Next week’s meeting will largely be a discussion of the library project, the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) negotiations, and lessons learned from City Hall. Currently the library project is estimated to cost $10.8M (original referendum approved budget $8.7M) ahead of a final GMP. If you’d like to dive deeper into the project and its considerations, I encourage you to read the Q&A in next week’s staff report based on questions we’ve been asking and fielding from the community. It may be helpful in understanding the decision in front of us is not a simple “how much do you love the library.”

I continue to value diverse citizen perspectives, and you can share them with me at my first office hours of 2020 – next Monday, January 13 at 9 am at Bakeshop. Come break your new year’s resolutions with coffee and a morning cookie!


What Happened This Week:

(1) Make a resolution to get involved in your community!

As part of our organizational meeting, we also reviewed updates to our liaison assignments. Every City Council member serves on various Council subcommittees and as liaisons to our volunteer boards and regional bodies. I’ve been fortunate to serve as liaison to groups that align with my interests – like economic development, housing, parks, and the arts.

Take a look at the current vacancies, including the citizen board for transportation (which helps prioritize projects like traffic calming), environment, city history, and urban forestry. We regularly look to these boards for guidance and this can be a fulfilling way to give back and influence the direction of the city. And most boards usually meet only once a month, so the time commitment is low. Whether you have professional expertise or just an interest in the topic, you are likely more qualified than you think! If you have any questions, I’m happy to chat about the application process.

(2) Environment priorities

If you are a environment geek or just concerned about climate change (who isn’t?), check out the latest and close to final draft of the “Environment for Everyone” chapter of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which is our primary strategic plan. I was impressed with the very thorough chapter that spans how the city can advance strategies from clean air to energy to trees to stormwater. Of note is the section at the end on the projects and priorities, ie the to-do list, on pages 31-34. Tackling climate change can be daunting – and while the federal government is currently stalled, cities can lead on many of these priorities at the local level. In the past few years, more efficient, LEED certified private and public buildings is the new standard in Falls Church and we’ve focused on walkability and alternative transportation modes, but there is still more we can do. Of personal interest to me is waste reduction (and our response to global changes in recycling), transition to an electric fleet of city vehicles, mature tree preservation, and making it easier for more to get involved in community clean ups.

(3) Budget amendments galore

Before jumping into the details of what needs more money – two notes that may be a helpful primer:

  1. We ended Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) on June 30, 2019; the current budget year is FY20; and we’re about to start FY21 budget development.
  2. Budget amendments are not atypical. We typically handle budget amendments in the fall, soon after the end of the fiscal year. However the fact that we are making budget amendments at the beginning of the calendar year for both FY19 and FY20, as the next fiscal year FY21 budget development gets underway, is unusual. And that we’ll likely have not just one, but two, budget amendments is due to the fact that final numbers for the City Hall and Library projects, which are seeking additional funds, are not final and the other budget items can’t wait.

I’ll do my best to keep it all straight!

Next week, we’ll be voting on the first of the two budget amendments, this one for the current fiscal year FY20, with $1.3M in new appropriations. The staff report details out the items that need additional money, using funds from grants or donations that have been recently received (free money is good), some reallocation of funds from other projects, and some using money in reserves. This *does not* cover City Hall, Library, traffic calming and other citizen or department requests we’ve received.

A few highlights:

  • $600K of new appropriations funded from grants, donations, and other new revenue. Example items include: additional overtime hours for speeding and traffic enforcement, Next Gen 911 upgrades funded by a state grant although it will likely need more money later. (Next Gen 911 are the upgrades that would allow citizens to text 911, get more precise location service from mobile phones, etc)
  • $100K from sanitary sewer fund and $180K from stormwater utility fund to pay for new engineering resources and the backflow preventer device program passed last year.
  • $150K increase in Big Chimneys Park budget for increases in construction costs and additional on-site stormwater detention – bringing the total project budget to $1.55M. As this is the second time we’ve been asked to increase the park’s budget, the silver lining is that the increase will be largely funded from underspending in recent park projects at Larry Graves and Howard Herman.
  • $430K from stormwater utility fund to pay for the engineering study of six flood-prone areas of the city following the July 2019 flood and new stormwater pipes and inlets adjacent to Big Chimneys.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, January 13 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am, Bakeshop)
  • Monday, January 13 – City Council Meeting (730 pm)
  • Saturday, January 18 – Senator Saslaw & Delegate Simon Town Hall (10 am, GMHS)
  • Saturday, January 25 – City Council Retreat / Planning Meeting
  • Monday, January 27 – City Council Meeting (730 pm)