Updates from Letty – Oct 21, 2016

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,

It was a busy week of city business – full of many interesting topics, like water towers, cottage housing, and FCC-TV and some drier topics like budget amendments and bond issuance. Before your eyes glaze over on budget and bonds – I tried to make it easy to understand and highlight the policy issues we’re wrestling that is a good preview of budget season and financing options for GMHS. Read on – I’d welcome your input!

We’ll be heading into a busy stretch the next few months before the end of the year. A scheduling note for those of you paying attention to certain topics, planning to submit feedback, or planning to speak during public comments – after next Monday’s regular meeting, our meeting schedule will be irregular, so take note of the upcoming dates below.

A final plug – I know we’re a community filled with citizens passionate about improving walkability so we’re trying out crowdsourcing to collect data on the key opportunity areas. The CACT (Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation) has created a survey for pedestrians to complete while they’re strolling around town – specifically the Broad and Washington corridors. This data will be used to make recommendations to us on City Council! So if you’re heading to the Farmers Market or running errands on foot in the next month, choose a block you’ll be walking and take this survey on your phone or tablet on the go: https://www.fallschurchva.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=414

Look forward to hearing your comments and questions.



What Happened This Week:

City Council Work Session

  • The Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) joined us for a review of their work and upcoming priorities. If you don’t know what HSAC does, they are one of our many citizen volunteer Boards and Commissions, and HSAC’s specific purpose is to advocate for human services and resources for all of Falls Church’s citizens. For example, while we all care about a good streetscape as part of an inviting, walkable downtown, a HSAC representative has been participating in the Streetscape Taskforce to advocate for wheelchair and stroller friendly sidewalk widths and ramps so people of all ages can get around town more easily. HSAC also helps us review applications and allocate grant money to various non profits like Homestretch and the homeless shelter that Falls Church supports.
  • Water tower proposal – Fairfax Water has approached the City of Falls Church to replace the existing water tank adjacent to the Eden Center, Koons car dealership, and Oakwood Cemetery to a much taller one, around 144 feet tall (an increase of 70+ feet) which would need a special exception for the height variance. The replacement project is to address water pressure issues and declining water quality for a combination of Fairfax County, Falls Church City, and Arlington residents served by the current tower. Many of us expressed concerns and requested more information – how many people are impacted (the majority benefiting seem to be outside of FCC), while FC residents and businesses shoulder the brunt of the impact during construction and visibility of the tower; alternative locations and options. I especially want to make sure we extend the notification radius beyond our standard of 150 ft of a project so the community, beyond immediate neighbors, has opportunity for feedback. If you’re interested in the renderings of the potential water tower or technical details, Fairfax Water’s presentation has lots of other maps and photos.water tower
  • Cottage Zoning – did you know that seniors make up 14% of Falls Church’s population? And that population is growing as more baby boomers age and retire. Having followed the tiny house movement and the need for more diverse housing options in Falls Church so seniors can age in place in the community, I was excited to see staff’s first report on progress on a cottage zoning ordinance. Cottage zoning, if adopted, would allow for a grouping of small, single family houses, developed with a coherent plan for the entire site and usually organized around a shared open space (garden courtyard, pedestrian street, series of joined backyards, or reclaimed alley). This would be for sites of a minimum of 45,000 square feet in area (equivalent to four R-1A, traditional single family lots if assembled) and provide age-restricted housing for age 55+. There are a number of other eligibility criteria and standards staff is considering, such as maximum 1000 sq foot on 1.5 stories per cottage to keep the footprint of each cottage small. Expect this proposal to come back more formally for first and second readings in November and December this year.
  • FY17 Budget Amendment & Bond Issuance
    • Budget amendment – several times a year, City Council adopts budget amendments to reflect changes that have occurred since the original adoption of the budget, such as identifying new grants, transfers between projects, etc. A few highlights of what’s in this budget amendment:
      • $920K surplus above the 17% policy in the unassigned fund balance (ie, rainy day fund) I previously wrote about. Staff is recommending the $920K go into capital reserves (ie, the piggy bank) to start saving up to pay for the anticipated surge in debt service associated with financing the GM-MEH project. The alternative is that we could spend some or all of it on one-time expenses that didn’t get funding in the last budget cycle, such as neighborhood traffic calming.
      • $570K in new grants, donations, etc to be appropriated to various initiatives – like VDOT grants that will be applied to re-paving
      • Transfers between projects – the School Board is requesting that underspending from the TJ HVAC project ($200K) and Jessie Thackrey ($14K) to be allocated to GMHS HVAC replacement.
    • Bond issuance – we were also asked to review the proposal to issue $8MM in bonds ($1MM in new debt and $7MM to refinance old sewer bonds to lower interest rates). While the refinancing would create bottom line savings, the $1MM in new debt would create an annual increase in debt service of $163K. The items funded by the $1MM in new debt were all items approved in the CIP we adopted in the spring (police cars, public works vehicles, IT equipment, etc). However, a natural question that came up given that we had just finished the discussion on the budget amendment that included a $920K surplus: should we borrow $1MM and pay $163K in interest each year, when we currently have $920K that could pay for some of those items?
    • Letty’s thoughts: I’m a fan of planning and saving for the future so staff’s recommendation to not touch the $920K and allocate to reserves is reasonable. Interest rates are low right now, so I can see the value in borrowing now because costs of borrowing in the future may be higher. And keeping more more cash on hand will ultimately better position us in financing the GM-MEH work. However, $920K is only a fraction of the increase in annual debt service we’ll need to pay for GMHS (a projected increase of annual debt service from $6MM to $15MM, assuming we borrow $112MM for GMHS). Even using some portion of $920K to fund high priority items like traffic calming could make an impact in our neighborhoods. I’d like to see a crisper comparison of the options  and consider using a small portion of $920K so we strike a balance between short and long term needs.
    • Next steps – both the budget amendment and bond issuance are on the agenda for votes at next Monday’s regular meeting.

Falls Church Community Television Annual Meeting

I attended FCC-TV’s tour and annual meeting this week. FCC-TV is our local community television station – you can watch it on RCN Channel 2, Cox Channel 11, and Verizon Channel 35 and for fellow cord cutters, on YouTube. Besides recording and airing public meetings for City Council, School Board, and other government events, this year FCC-TV has opened its door to a new GMHS TV production class. Students have been learning about the broadcast television industry and producing their own show in the newly updated FCC-TV studio.

FCC-TV is always looking for producers with ideas or participation for future programming – so consider taking advantage of this cool community resource.


What’s Coming Up:

  • Today, 10/21 – Virginia has updated the deadline to register to vote or update your information to today.
  • Monday, 10/24 – City Council meeting – a packed agenda! Includes updates on bike share, visioning process, City Hall project, the commercial tax incentives programs I wrote about last week and in September (although staff is recommending to defer so boards and commissions have more time for comment), financial policies I wrote about here, and the FY17 budget amendment and bond issuance I wrote about above.
  • Tues, 11/1 – Joint session with School Board on GM/MEH campus
  • Tues, 11/15 – Joint meeting with Arlington and Alexandria
  • Mon, 11/21 – City Council work session
  • Mon 11/28 – City Council meeting