Updates from Letty – May 8, 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,

Today marks eight weeks since the beginning of the pandemic closures in Falls Church. It’s not the kind of milestone anyone wants to celebrate, so I will cut to the chase this week.

1. Small Business Saturday – we declared every Saturday of May as “Small Business Saturday 2.0” in Falls Church. SBS is traditionally the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but our small businesses need us now, more than ever. There are so many ways to support them safely while social distancing. (Reminder: Mother’s Day is this Sunday – have you considered a takeout brunch or a gift by delivery for Mom?)

2. Re-opening Virginia? I’ve received several messages concerning the Governor’s announcement that next Friday 5/15 could be the Phase 1 Reopening date for Virginia. I’ve heard from some who are ready and want to get people back to work, while others are worried about the impacts of opening too soon, especially ahead of the rest of the region when cases are still increasing. The Governor has stated there will be more flexibility for the areas of the state that still have higher cases such as Northern Virginia, and we await more information. We know you have questions. And I know many other decisions such as summer camps are pending. As soon as we have further guidance, we will share. Read on for the links to the dashboard of data, including new data showing disproportionate impacts of the virus.

3. Budget – I’ve fielded concerns about traffic calming projects on hold due to budget cuts and questions about the use of reserves to supplement the loss of revenue. Read on for my take.

I understand the reasons for re-opening the economy. And as much as I’d like to return to normal (rather, whatever the new normal looks like) – I worry a premature re-opening could undo the gains and sacrifices everyone has made the past two months if infections rebound. I continue to urge personal responsibility to stay vigilant – from handwashing to mask-wearing to respecting closures to keeping the kiddos safely apart. If you don’t have face coverings – homemade or otherwise – get some. The health reasons are obvious by now, but I also believe masks will be key to economic recovery. In order to get work, schools, and recreation to open and stay open, we need a cultural shift in universal mask use. The more people buy into this, the quicker the numbers drop and the sooner we can get back to work and support our local businesses.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Follow the Numbers

You may have noticed that Falls Church’s positive cases dramatically jumped last weekend (from 26 to 36 cases, with +4 hospitalizations and +2 deaths) and cases in the region continue to rise. As you know, Falls Church is part of the Fairfax Health District – this latest post does a good job explaining why the health district is still seeing rising cases: continued community transmission, increased testing, and counting both probable and lab-confirmed tests as positive cases. 

The dashboard also contains new racial and ethnicity data. The data is not perfect, so caution is needed before interpretation. Across the US, we have seen COVID-19 disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, such as lower income and minority groups, who may already face housing, education, and health care inequities – and similar trends are happening in Northern Virginia.

Zip code level data is forthcoming from the Virginia Department of Health, so I will share when I see it.

(2) Small Business Microgrants – the deadline for the $2,000 grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19 has been extended to next Friday, May 15. Help spread the word!

(3) FY21 Budget Discussion

I’ve fielded questions and concerns as it relates to the much skinnier FY21 budget in two areas: 1) traffic calming projects that are on hold and 2) the use of reserves.

Traffic calming – the current recommendation is to continue the design and community engagement work for traffic calming, but pause any construction work for the projects until we have a better picture of the economy in the fall. As I’ve shared last week, this has been one of our top citizen concerns so I’d like to see the options to keep the work going.

Reserves – I’ve received several questions about using our reserves to buffer the impact of the revenue hits in the FY21 budget. We don’t have a “rainy day fund” per se – we have the Unassigned Fund Balance, and there is city policy of how much should be in there and how it gets used. As it stands, the policy says the Unassigned Fund Balance should be 12-17% of our expenditures with a target of 17%. The CFO recently reported that it is currently at 18%. City policy also says we should only use it for one-time, emergency expenses because if we used it for operating budgets, ie recurring expenses, it wouldn’t be sustainable. For now – the budget proposal from the City Manager doesn’t include the use of Unassigned Fund Balance, especially because of the large debt obligation for the new high school and library and so much uncertainty about the economy. If the economy heads further south and revenues are worse than the current budget assumptions by the fall, we will may need to consider its use.

If you have feedback or questions about the budget – you can email us up until 8 pm of our meeting night when the public comment will be read aloud during our meeting. We are scheduled to finalize the operating budget on May 26 (see schedule below).

(4) Broad & Washington Project – the developers of the Broad and Washington project have re-submitted plans. No meetings or work sessions with City Council are currently scheduled, but all of the materials are available online.

What’s Coming Up:

City Council Meetings start at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here: http://www.fallschurchva.gov/471/Watch-City-Council-Meetings

  • Saturday, May 9: Small Business Saturday 2.0
  • Monday, May 11: City Council Meeting: Public Hearing on Budget and Tax Rates
  • Monday, May 18: City Council Work Session: Budget
  • Tuesday, May 26: City Council Meeting: Public Hearing, Final Vote on Budget and Tax Rates; CIP Discussion
  • Monday, June 22: Final Vote on CIP