Council Approves 1st Read of Budget, Water Rate Increase
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
March 29, 2011
Monday evening the Falls Church City Council approved the first readings of ordinances that would raise both taxes and water rates. The Council also approved first reading of an ordinance adopting a FY 12 budget of $64.5 million. All three measures passed unanimously (6-0), with Vice Mayor Snyder absent.
The tax rate ordinance advertises the real estate rate at $1.28 for every $100 of assessed value. The projected budget currently assumes a tax rate of $1.25, allowing the Council some flexibility during the development process. The ordinance also includes a 5 cent tax overlay for each $100 of commercial property, designated for transportation improvements, and a 28 cent increase in the personal property tax (PPT).
The current PPT rate is $4.71 for each $100 of value. City Manager Wyatt Shields stated that each one cent increase in the rate equals $11,400 in revenue. In addition to vehicles, the tax covers such business tangible items as office computers and dental equipment.
Mr. Shields continued to stress the need to restore the fund balance to an adequate level. ”There is really no room for error when you don’t have a healthy fund balance,” he said. “Projections will take us up to the 12% target level by 2014.”
Councilwoman Robin Gardner commented that she did not see 12% as a “magic number” and suggested 11% as a possible target. She stated she would like to see City employees receive more than the proposed $1,300 across the board pay raise.
Councilman Ira Kaylin concurred with Mr. Shields view on restoring the fund balance, calling it “smart policy” to be prudent, whether times are good or bad. He said he had “different views” on the level of salary increases the City’s budget could bear.
Most of the citizens who spoke at the session called on the Council to approve the School Board’s entire transfer request.
Public hearings on the tax rate and the budget will be held on April 11 and April 25. Final adoption is scheduled for the later date. Mayor Nader Baroukh said he expected “robust discussion” on budget issues during the coming weeks and encouraged public comment.
Water Rates Rising - The city manager stated that water rates have not been raised since 2005. Since then Falls Church has devoted $34 million to improving the water system’s infrastructure. The current rate is $3.03 per 1,000 gallons.
The ordinance calls for gradual increases over the next three years: $3.27 per 1,000 gallons in FY12, to $3.53 in FY 13, and to $3.82 in FY14. Quarterly service charges and peak charges also would be increased annually over the three year period. A typical quarterly bill, with no peak usage, would rise $2.04 in FY12.
Mr. Shields noted that the City’s Public Service Commission met on March 23 and recommended Council authorize the increase. If approved at second reading, the new rate structure will take effect on July 1. Earlier this year the Council approved an increase in sewer rates.
Miscellaneous Measures - The Council unanimously approved first reading of an ordinance authorizing a new fire prevention code and two resolutions concerning the sale of the Pendleton House (114 E. Columbia St.). One measure requests the Planning Commission’s recommendation on the sale of the property for $772,680. The second resolution requests the Commission to amend the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Map to reclassify the lot from park and open space to low density residential. A public hearing on the sale is set for May 9.
The Council also approved a resolution that dissolves the Senior Commission (SC) and assigns its responsibilities to the Human Services Advisory Commission. In recent years the SC had seldom met, due either to lack of agenda items or the absence of a quorum. There are no current members.
City Staff Reorganization - Councilwoman Johannah Barry of the Government Operations Committee (herself and Councilman Ron Peppe) asked Mr. Shields to furnish additional data supporting the cost savings realized through his planned staff reorganization.
Mr. Kaylin said he was perplexed that the report that the GOC had received on Monday was issued only 2.5 hours before the Council meeting, given it had been requested March 2. He asked at what point would the reorganization, scheduled to take effect May 1, become irreversible. Mr. Shields said he was not sure what was meant by this term and he and Mr. Kaylin subsequently agreed to discuss the issue “off line.” A consultant’s report earlier concluded that $300,000 in savings would be achieved through the reorganization.
That Light’s Too Bright - Two Winter Hill residents expressed concern about the lighting system associated with the traffic monitoring camera at the corner of W. Broad St. and Annandale Road. One described the light as “bright enough to light up a football field” and asked the Council to move it from a residential to a commercial area.
The mayor said he understood that the City had been working on some type of shading for the mechanism but that it had evidently not worked. He asked the city manager to provide a status report at the next Council meeting.
City Manager’s Report - Mr. Shields announced that Kathy Allan has been named Employee of the Year. Ms. Allan was cited for her leading role in outsourcing the City’s solid waste system from a service performed by Falls Church employees to a private contractor, saving the City approximately $150,000 per year, and for spearheading the effort to bring trash and recycling carts to City customers.
Howard Herman Honored - In honor of his 40 years of service the Council began the process of renaming the Hamlett Reese tract after retiring City Recreation and Parks director Howard Herman. The four acre parcel runs between W. Broad St. and Thomas Jefferson School. The Council resolution requests boards such as the Planning Commission and the Historical Commission for their recommendations on the proposal.
At the beginning of the meeting the mayor read a proclamation declaring April 10 as Howard E. Herman day in Falls Church City. In response Mr. Herman said he had been blessed to work with some really wonderful people and that he would cherish the honor the rest of his life.
Appointments - Mary Ann Ralls was appointed to the Community Energy Plan Task Force. Her term will run through June 2012. Glenn Stephens was appointed to an unexpired term on the City Employee Review Board. His term will extend until through October 2013.
David Rogers and Craig Cheney were reappointed to the Human Services Advisory Council. Their terms will run through February 2014.
The mayor informally appointed Mr. Peppe to the Northern Virginia Transit Authority’s Planning Coordination Advisory Committee (PCAC).
Video - A recording of the meeting is available at the City’s website.
By George Bromley
March 29, 2011