Updates from Letty – March 23, 2018 – Budget Edition #2
Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
If you’re heading out of town for spring break, this is a good catch up week for you. Thank you for all of the feedback to my blog post last week – if you missed it, catch up on the main takeaways from the FY19 budget last week and my continued thoughts below. We had our first of three work sessions this week on the budget (a long one, past 11 pm), with majority of discussion on the school budget and latest on WMATA, which changes day to day. I’ll provide links for easy access to the actual documents below.
While we’re only a few weeks into the annual process, next week – we’ll be taking our first vote on the budget and tax rate. For folks new to the budget process, this vote is primarily to advertise the maximum tax rate. By law, we cannot pass a tax rate higher than we what vote for next week but can go lower at our final vote on April 23.
Other important things to call out:
- Next Monday at 7 pm, we’re holding our annual “pinwheel planting” ceremony at Cherry Hill Park to recognize April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. This will be our third “planting” and the community is invited to attend to plant a pinwheel. Pinwheels are the national symbol for child abuse prevention, a a reflection of hope, health and safety – what we want for all childhoods.
- Speaking of safety – if you haven’t read it yet, check out a good op-ed this week on gun violence prevention by fellow parent and advocate Shaun Dakin. The PTA’s Be Smart program meeting was postponed due to snow, so I encourage you to attend when it’s back on the calendar. Also worth noting the ASK pledge that Shaun advocates. With the statistic that majority of unintentional kid gun deaths are from unsecured guns at home, not mass shootings – we – as parents – have a chance to protect our kids by securing guns. Even if you don’t have a firearm, ask whether there are guns in the home and how they’re secured, before playdates, something we organize for our kids all the time. The first time I asked a new family pre-playdate, I felt totally awkward but it was a welcome question. I hope as more of us do it, it becomes more commonplace and de-stigmatized.
- Finally – I’m holding office hours on Monday morning at 8 am, Rare Bird. I hope you’ll drop by to ask questions or share what’s on your mind.
If you are marching this weekend, be safe!
What Happened This Week:
(1) FY19 Budget Work Session. Before getting into our work session, a few thoughts on this budget cycle vs the past few. In a typical year – the budget debates center around organic revenue growth and how to split that revenue between general government and schools and how much, if any, additional revenue is needed through a tax rate increase. This year, we have strong revenue growth. However we are embarking on the first of a multi year capital plan with some large risks, a looming recession that many experts believe will happen in the next few years, the federal tax change reducing the SALT deduction (that may have a depressing impact on property values and have real, bottom line impacts for many) a rising interest rate environment, and WMATA needs in flux. Those continue to weigh on my mind as we review operating budgets. With tax rates already going up, I am sensitive to operating discipline that’s needed to ensure we can pull off this capital plan in an affordable way and find ways to help the at-risk part of our population. For long-time blog readers and occasional-meeting watchers, you’ll know that I ask a lot of questions! I believe it’s important to understand the policy behind budget decisions for the sake of transparency in government. While Council and School Board each have our own swim lanes, my responsibility is to the entire city budget and ensuring that we are taking care of the entire’s city’s needs, in the most efficient, effective, and sustainable way possible.
- Scheduling note: this was the only planned joint work session with the School Board, so majority of time was focused on the school budget and WMATA, given the uncertainty of how much funding is needed. I expect we’ll be going deeper on the other half of the budget – the general government – via department reviews and expansion of senior tax abatement at the next work session. Per schedule below, we have two more work sessions, two more regular meetings, and a town hall before final budget adoption at the end of April.
- Efficiencies in budgets – as I mentioned last week, there have been savings found in both the school and general government budgets. In general, I applaud finding efficiencies and using them to fund the budget, especially when we are taking on such a big capital plan. I continue to think we have opportunity to do more, especially when looking creatively across schools and general government. The big soundbites have been the 3% cost of living increase (COLA) requested for both General Government and School employees and addition of a School Psychologist. However note:
- The school budget “reallocation/realignments” total about $650K and were used to fund other budget items: Clerical Support; MD/TJ: PYP Coordinator, Laptop Cart; MEH: Counselor, Math Specialist; GMHS Career and Technical Education, Hybrid Classroom, band instrument replacement; system wide: Special Ed Teacher, Special Ed Specialist, LIEP Specialist, materials and supplies, software license, web security, bus driver supervisor time, bus replacement (see page 9 from this presentation.)
- The general government consolidations total about $187K by consolidating Economic Development and Development Services and HR reorgs, including elimination of director position, reducing a marketing specialist to part time, and adding a part time HR specialist (see page 4 from Q&A)
- Especially when the discussions center around pegging teacher salaries to Arlington’s, I often hear “Why is our tax rate 30+ cents higher than Arlington’s?” Besides scale, the city manager offered in our meeting that 30% of Arlington’s real estate is commercial vs our is 20%, which is a key driver of revenue. On the services/costs side, he noted that 17% of population is school aged and 11% of Arlington’s is school aged. Both of those data points are key reasons for our continued focus on economic development to continue growing and diversifying our revenue base and to attract a younger demographic.
- Revenue sharing: some believe that the long-discussed revenue sharing would be the silver bullet to solve our annual budget process. While I think it certainly has merit and needs to be discussed immediately after this budget cycle concludes, I shared with everyone at our meeting that revenue sharing often means a budget process that is agnostic to enrollment growth. Despite enrollment growth, the proposed school budget in Arlington addresses the county’s overall revenue shortfall by eliminating 80+ positions, increasing class sizes, and postponement of the psychologist and social worker staffing plan. I think this context next door is useful to understand how revenue sharing can work, in good and bad years.
- Docs provided at the meeting:
- Schools Q&A
- General Government Q&A
- WMATA updates
- Council Work Plan – due to the late hour, we spent little time on this and will need to revisit. Staff assessed the items on the City Council work plan as green (funded), yellow (at risk), or red (unfunded) based on the current budget proposal.
(2) Falls Church Women’s History Walk – thank you to the nearly 200 walkers who joined us last week! We sold out of shirts at the walk, so if you missed your opportunity to order – we are re-opening the order form here: https://www.customink.com/fundraising/falls-church-womens-history-walk-2018_reopen
(3) Falls Church Population Growth – “The population of the city of Falls Church grew 5.2 percent between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, the data showed. That was more than any U.S. county with at least 10,000 residents.” (The Census Bureau puts Virginia’s cities in the same geographic category as counties.) That’s been consistent with the population growth trend in Northern Virginia. While we spend a lot of time looking at school enrollment projections, I think it’s just as important to monitor our overall population, demographic changes, and associated service needs and ensure government is keeping pace.
What’s Coming Up:
- TODAY, Friday March 23 – Campus Coordinating Committee (730 am, School Board Offices)
- Monday, March 26 – Letty’s Office Hours (8 am – if you’re in town for spring break, I’m setting up office hours earlier than normal to accommodate work schedules) – Rare Bird
- Monday, March 26 – Annual Pinwheel Garden Planting to recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month at 7 pm, Cherry Hill Park
- Monday, March 26 – City Council Meeting at 730 pm (vote on maximum tax rate)
- April 2 – City Council Work Session
- April 8 – “Sunday Series” Town Hall Meeting (GMHS/WFC + FY19 Budget)
- April 9 – City Council Meeting
- April 16 – Letty’s Office Hours (9 am) – The Happy Tart
- April 16 – City Council Work Session
- April 23 – City Council Meeting (final budget adoption)