Updates from Letty – June 16, 2023

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 we head into summer, this week’s post will be shorter (especially for those of you who read through my lengthy one last week about the latest on T Zones, which I realize may not pique everyone’s interest). I’ll share the latest on the city’s finances as the fiscal year closes out in 2 weeks (a good reminder to keep your spending local). And I’ve been fielding inquiries about the blank garage wall at West Falls, facing Birch and Broad, so read on for that. Take note of two walking tours scheduled over the next month too.

City Council doesn’t meet next Monday in honor of Juneteenth, but I will hold my monthly office hours on Wednesday, June 21 – and I’ll try out a 5 pm time slot to accommodate different schedules. Hope to see some new faces at Mr. Brown’s Park (rain location – Northside Social’s covered patio).

Happy summer,

PS – It’s official: a big thanks to everyone who signed my petitions and friends who mobilized in a week for me – I’ve collected the required signatures to qualify as a candidate. Look for me on the November ballot and in your neighborhoods/buildings before then.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Financial Update – year end projections & budget amendment

At our work session two weeks ago, we received an early picture of the city’s financials when the current fiscal year (FY23) wraps up on June 30. TL;DR: we are projected to end the year with a surplus of $4M due to a strong local economy. Specifics:

  • Revenues are projected to be above budget by 4.4% or $4.3M.
  • In particular, meals and business license taxes are projected to end the year with significant increases over budget targets. Personal property taxes (aka car tax) also are projected to come in higher than budgeted, despite lowering the car tax rate last year to offset the anomalous high used car values during the supply chain issues.
  • Sales taxes on the other hand are projected to end the year 7.3% below budget, with grocery and online sales weakening compared to the Covid years.
  • Ttax revenues like meals and business taxes are indicators of local economic activity and represent about 25% of the City’s revenues. Compared to the previous year, these taxes overall have increased by 13%.
  • After revenue sharing with the schools and meeting fund balance policy targets, we are expected to have a $3.9M surplus for FY23. When the books officially close this fall, we’ll have a broader discussion on what to do with the surplus, including unfunded needs from various departments, projects that are facing escalating costs due to inflation, and other potential uses.

Letty’s thoughts: this is mostly a good news story – meals, BPOL, and other strong local tax performances are an indication of a vibrant local economy and underscores the importance of spending/living locally. However, year end surpluses are one-time funds which means they should only be used for one-time needs and not deployed to ongoing needs. What is preferable is to end a fiscal year with neither a surplus nor a a deficit, so that we can direct those funds during the annual budget process and be able to lower the tax rate where there are excess revenues. In the Council’s Budget & Finance subcommittee meeting, we did deep dive into forecasting challenges due to the Covid years and discussed the importance of more accurate revenue forecasts.

This week – we also had a FY23 budget amendment to appropriate some underspending and some small sources of additional revenues on high priority items that can’t wait for the fiscal year to close this fall. Among the new appropriations:

  • Funding an updated bike master plan to include developing a safe route for biking to the secondary campus.
  • Replacement of three of four traffic signal mast arms at Roosevelt/Hillwood which had structural issues.
  • Replacement of the traffic signal cabinet at the intersection of Great Falls/Lincoln.

(2) West Falls Update

As I first wrote about in May, the developer at the West Falls project requested an amendment to the comprehensive agreement so they could identify a new partner to develop and operate the senior building (1 of 5 buildings in the first phase on the nearly 10 acre site). This week, we voted 6-0-1 to amend the agreement so they could have an additional 13 months to identify a new partner and close this phase of the transaction.

In return for granting the time extension, the developer agreed to pay the city’s legal fees associated with the change and install a temporary pedestrian signal at Mustang Alley/Haycock before the start of the 2023-2024 school year until a permanent signal can be completed later this year. They also have to meet additional milestones to show forward progress, including identifying their new partner this September. Finally, they also agreed to cover the blank facade of the garage on the eastern side of the project, facing Birch and Broad with art, graphics, banners, etc. The facade will eventually be obscured by a building in phase 2 of the project.

What’s Coming Up:

Wednesday, June 21 – Letty’s Office Hours (5 pm, Mr Brown’s Park; rain location – Northside Social’s covered patio)

Monday, June 26 – T Zone Walking Tour (6 pm) & City Council Meeting (730 pm)

Wednesday, June 28 – Ask the Council Office Hours (9-10 am, City Hall)

Monday, July 10 – Quinn/Homestretch Project Walking Tour (6 pm) & City Council Meeting (730 pm)

Monday, July 17 – City Council Meeting*

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