Updates from Letty – March 15, 2024

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,

For our last full City Council meeting before a spring break recess, we had a combination regular meeting and work session. Read on for the City Council Priorities we adopted this week, updates on a proposed Community Center HVAC upgrade (with the side benefit of a new-ish gym!), and continued discussion on sewer upgrade and financing plans.

When we resume meeting on April 1, we’ll kickoff our part of the FY25 budget process. During the 6 week process, we’ll have a number of public meetings and work sessions. Budgets should reflect our collective priorities, so this is an especially important time of year to make your voices heard, whether it’s about housing, pedestrian improvements, sustainability, parks, or other quality of life improvements you’d like to see. Budget season will culminate on May 13, when we’re scheduled to adopt the budget.

Tomorrow is the start of the Mayors’ Fitness Challenge. I hope this incredible spring weather will carry through to my first “Walk and Talk” office hours next Friday, March 22 at 9 am, starting at Big Chimneys Park. I’ll post any last minute weather changes on my Facebook page. These posts will resume in a few weeks, post spring break.

Happy spring, and take care –

What Happened This Week

(1) City Council Priorities – 2024-2025

Quick background: long time readers will remember that after a new City Council is seated, we develop a work plan every 2 years – which has been a list of 50+ projects/initiatives we want to pursue, in addition to the day to day core services of the city. The development of the work plan usually takes several months and we don’t get to adopting until nearly the summer due to budget season taking most of our time in the spring. We review the status and progress of the work plan every quarter. Here was the most recent work plan we reviewed in January 2024.

What’s new: This year, we’re trying something different. At our retreat in February, we identified 5 broad areas of focus, defined outcomes, and strategies for the next 2 years – and we adopted those as our strategic priorities this week. The idea is to keep it a higher level so it can be adopted ahead of the budget process, as the budget will be the place to ensure we’re allocating resources to those priorities.The expectation is that in collaboration with staff, our boards and commissions, we’ll deep dive on each bucket and come up with a handful of specific initiatives to support those outcomes. That detailed work plan will continue to be tracked and reported to us regularly. All that to say, consider this the first draft and we’ll keep iterating on the specifics as we hear further input from the community.

City Council’s Strategic Priorities (not ranked in order of importance):

Environmental SustainabilityThe City models leadership in creating environmental sustainability and resilience in both our natural and built environments.
TransportationA safe, comfortable, and efficient way for all
to get here and get around.
Economic DevelopmentSuccessfully recruit/attract, maintain support for, and expand businesses within the City to achieve the ideal of being a 15-minute City and to diversity the City tax base.
HousingThe City has a range of diverse, attainable, and sustainable housing options for all.
Good GovernanceThe City Government organization is well managed, efficient, flexible, and proactive and fosters an engaged organizational culture valuing growth and development for the benefit of employees and the community.

(2) Community Center HVAC Upgrade

Since discussing the HVAC upgrade at the Community Center last summer (see my July 2023 post) when we authorized staff to explore a more energy efficient geothermal HVAC system and test wells – we discussed more specifics this week. Highlights with more details here:

  • Currently, the project is estimated to cost $3.9M, to be funded from a combination of ARPA and capital reserves
  • Scope will include: demo of old equipment, pipe, ductwork and gym ceiling, new LED lighting in addition to the geothermal system. See open ceiling gym concept below
  • With the potential of a $900K federal tax credit, it offsets the costs and lowers it than a traditional gas and electric system. We’d expect further efficiencies from lower utility and maintenance costs and emissions long term as well
  • Construction is tentatively planned for March-June 2025, based on input from Rec and Parks when programming would be least disrupted
  • Note that this only upgrades the HVAC on the old, original part of the Community Center – the new addition’s HVAC still has a useful life of 8-10 years and won’t need replacement yet

(3) Sewer Financing

Since our February discussion on sewer infrastructure, we had a more detailed discussion on the capital needs and financing options this week.

Quick background, with more details in the staff report:

  • The Department of Public Works has engaged with Fairfax County over the past several years on a sanitary sewer capacity purchase for City sewage flows coming from growth in the City.
  • In addition to selling us additional capacity ($9.3M), the County has also asked the City to reduce peak flows from rainfall derived inflow and infiltration (RDI&I) into the sanitary sewer system – the current option to address peak flows is a “peak flow equalization basin” to be located underneath Cavalier Trail Park tennis courts with an estimated $10.7M cost.
  • RDI&I can result in sanitary sewer overflows during heavy rain and addressing it is an important environmental priority. The City has exceeded our contractual peak flow rate 6 times since 2019, all coincident with large rainstorms.

How will we pay for it?

  • New commercial and mixed developments, including new single family homes, pay “sewer availability fees” for connections to the sewer system and averages $70K/year, expected to grow to $85K.
  • The City has collected $8.8M in availability fees from major redevelopment in the City over the last four years, with another $1.7M expected for future commercial fit-outs at those properties and another $2.4M for the future committed buildings (total of $12.9M) which has helped fund sewer expansion work of new pipes and pipe bursting work you’ve probably seen around town.
  • With $5.8M expected in remaining availability fees and user fees, there is currently still a financing gap of $14.3M. Staff currently proposes issuing debt in 3 tranches., although based on our feedback during work session – many of us encouraged staff to consider further remaining ARPA and use of capital reserves while interest rates are high and we have healthy reserves.

More discussion to come as we consider other capital needs as part of the FY25 budget in a few weeks. Staff anticipates that a sanitary sewer capacity agreement will be finalized with Fairfax County in April and will be brought to the City Council for consideration in May

What’s Coming Up:

Friday, March 22 – Letty’s Walk and Talk (9 am, Big Chimneys Park)

Monday, April 1 – City Council Meeting*

Wednesday, April 3 – Ask the Council Office Hours (9 am, City Hall)

Thursday, April 4 – Budget Town Hall #1 (7 pm, City Hall & Virtual)

Monday, April 8 – City Council Meeting – Budget Public Hearing #1*

Monday, April 15 – City Council Meeting – Budget Work Session*

Wednesday, April 24 – Budget Town Hall #2 (12 pm, City Hall & virtual)

Monday, April 29 – City Council Meeting – Budget Public Hearing #2*

Monday, May 6 – City Council Meeting – Budget Markup*

Monday, May 13 – City Council Meeting – Budget Adoption*

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