Updates from Letty – March 1, 2018

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,

You’ll notice that this week’s update is hitting your inboxes and blog readers a day early. Besides today being the day that the West Falls Church RFP hits the streets, today is the first day of Women’s History Month, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to plug the second Women’s History Walk in Falls Church and an important deadline tonight to support the event. The elected women of Falls Church are hosting the walk on Sunday, March 18 at 4 pm (immediately following a Town Hall that I hope you’ll attend to discuss the GMHS project and FY19 budget.) This year we’ve taken nominations from the community, so there will be new women to recognize who have contributed to our city’s history. If you’re interested in learning about the women from last year’s walk – see here. Also, we’re offering t-shirts and sweatshirts to brand the walk and cover the costs of the event. T-shirt orders close midnight TONIGHT. I hope you’ll be able to join the walk, support the event with a shirt, or both.

Read on for updates on this week’s meeting. We covered a lot of ground this week – including an important stance on Gun Violence Prevention, the 10 acres RFP, and the ever-popular (but probably confusing) Fiscal Policies that I’ll summarize below.

Also – mark your shopping calendars: the heavily anticipated Target is opening next week! Next Tuesday evening March 6 is a soft opening event, with official grand opening on Sunday, March 11.

Look forward to hearing questions and thoughts from you. I’ve been getting some very sincere and constructive questions and feedback and want folks to keep it up!



What Happened This Week:

(1) Public comment – I normally don’t highlight public comments, but this week’s speakers were both interesting and important. We heard annual reports from both the chairs of the Planning Commission & CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation). Transportation is a perennial hot topic, especially as budget season gets underway. There was much discussion on funding transportation needs across the city especially programs like Neighborhood Traffic Calming, which I view as an important social obligation to neighborhoods when we support new development in our commercial corridors. More to come on on how to balance this, among other competing demands, as FY19 budget discussion starts in a few weeks.

We also heard a petition from a GMHS student on updating our exotic animals ordinance, who advocated for an update to our ordinance since its last update 10 years ago, to allow citizens have hedgehogs, frogs, etc for pets. Kudos to the student for speaking up and coming to us with thorough and thoughtful research!

(2) By a 7-0 vote, we passed an important resolution on a Gun Violence Prevention that I co-sponsored. Besides the youth activism we’re seeing nationwide in response to a clear public safety crisis, I was heartened to see our own meeting, packed full of citizens and gun violence prevention advocates who showed their support. A few things I called out in my remarks:

-Note the reference to the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) and their strong firearms position that our own police chief supports
-The lack of “home rule” around guns in localities in Virginia. Because of the Dillon rule and a pre-emption statute, we are literally barred by state law to adopt or enforce any ordinance or statute around guns to protect our residents from gun violence.

So where do we go from here? The resolution called on our state and federal representatives to pass legislation, but locally we can keep taking action. I expect our city’s annual legislative agenda (ie, our lobbying priorities for the General Assembly) will continue to show support for common sense gun reforms and we’ll continue showing support regionally to our neighbors with similar points of view. Did you know that the majority of child deaths by guns are committed by kids with easy, unsecured access to guns? As adults – parents and community members can pledge to keep guns locked and out of our kids hands via a safety pledge and leverage gun locks offered by our police. I also love how our schools are supporting our secondary students who may want to peacefully demonstrate this month.

(3) West Falls Church Economic Development RFP – after 4+ weeks of public comment, staff and real estate experts’ work, and a final review this week by Council, the conceptual RFP for the development of the 10 acres was released today. See the live RFP here and the press release issued today. In case you missed it, we also got good press in the Washington Business Journal.

(4) Fiscal Policies – we’ve been working on fiscal policies for over a year (I had to search when I originally blogged about them) and got the updates over the finish line this week. As part of the preparation for the ambitious CIP, we’ve been working with our financial advisors on how to prepare for the extraordinary debt – both to ensure we have a financing plan to pay for the projects and also to assure ratings agencies of our financial health. For those of you interested in the financing plan – important details such as 30 year vs 20 year debt – and the affordability analysis we did last year, I really recommend revisiting this December 2016 post.

Fiscal policies are revisited every 2 years when a new Council is seated. We’ve, in fact, have had a set of fiscal policies on the books since 2001, with sound financial policies such as not being allowed to use one time money for ongoing expenses. By taking on the full CIP, which includes a new GMHS, library, city hall, and other smaller projects – we will break two key policies:

  • Annual debt service will exceed the current 12% of expenditures policy
  • Payout ratios will be lower than the current 25% at 5 years and 50% at 10 years policy

So in preparation for taking on a large CIP, the fiscal policies update we passed this week adds a “toggle” and a new definition of rainy day fund/emergency reserves. Currently we calculate the rainy day fund as 12-17% of expenditures in the Unassigned Fund Balance, with a target to keep UFB at 17%. We currently have about $15M in the Unassigned Fund Balance (17% of our total annual expenditures of $87M = $15M). The update in policies allows us to toggle to a 15-20% Available Balance calculation if the debt service OR the payout ratio policy above is breached (we will breach both). Available Balance is a total of several funds – including Unassigned Fund Balance and Capital Reserves, which we have nearly $10M from water sale proceeds set aside explicitly to pay for large capital projects like GMHS. In total, we have about $27M in Available Balance currently ($17M in Unassigned Fund Balance + $10M in Capital Reserves = $27M Available Balance), which is actually over 30% of our total expenditures – ie, well above the 15-20% target set in the new policies we adopted this week.  Projecting out the next 6 years with the financing plan proposed for the CIP and assuming annual 3% growth in revenue/expenditures, we expect Available Balance to stay within the 15-20% policy.

If you’re interesting in seeing the detailed projections of these reserves and more rationale for the new policies, see here and our financial advisor’s presentation.

If I haven’t lost you yet, the point in adding this toggle and Available Balance calculation is to both allow more flexibility and show prudence in our financial planning in light of the significant requirements from the CIP. With the $10M set aside in Capital Reserves, it’s a key part of how we’re financing a new GMHS and the calculation of Available Balance to include Capital Reserves is important. Bottom line: we’ve received multiple assurances from the City Manager that the adoption of new fiscal policies will not require us to raise taxes higher than otherwise planned as part of the GMHS financing plan discussed the past 9 months.

This is dense stuff, so I’m happy to chat in person!

(5) Other – out of 20 high school artist submissions, this year’s auto decal winner announced, we approved funding to further study the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) on Rt 7 option I wrote about from our work session last week, and unanimously approved a set of board and commission appointments, including ones to fill the the vacancies on the Planning Commission and Parks and Rec Board.

Sunday Series Town Halls – if you missed last Sunday’s town hall, the video is now available. Remember, there are two more “Sunday Series” town halls in March and April about the GMHS/WFC project and the FY19 budget – March 18 and April 8.


What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, March 5 – City Council Work Session (work plan review)
  • Tuesday, March 6 – Target soft opening!
  • Monday, March 12 – City Council Meeting (City Manager presents FY19 Budget)
  • Sunday, March 18 – “Sunday Series” Town Hall Meeting (GMHS/WFC + FY19 Budget)
  • Sunday, March 18 – Women’s History Walk

target 2018

Looking Ahead

  • April 1 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am) *may be cancelled due to Easter holiday
  • April 8 – “Sunday Series” Town Hall Meeting (GMHS/WFC + FY19 Budget)
  • April 16 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am)
  • April 23 – City Council Meeting (FY19 Budget Adoption)