Duncan, Tarter Hold The Keys In Budget Vote

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
April 18, 2013

As the contentious debate over the Falls Church City budget nears it’s conclusion, it appears that the outcome may be in the hands of City Council newcomers Phil Duncan and Dave Tarter.

That’s because the Falls Church Times has learned that councilors Ron Peppe and Dave Snyder, along with Mayor Nader Baroukh, are lined up one one side, which would fund most, if not all of, the schools’ request for a 14.3 percent increase in the city transfer, while councilors Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry are on the other side. Mr. Kaylin and Ms. Barry have been outspoken that the schools must sacrifice along with other city departments and agencies in lean budget times.

Left in the middle are Mr. Duncan, who has repeatedly called for “compromise” from all parties, presumably including the schools, and Mr. Tarter. In their cases, they appear to be driven not by any substantive disagreement with the schools’ proposal, but by concerns about the impact that the resulting higher taxes would have on City residents, according to a source familiar with their thinking.

Mr. Duncan has been outspoken about the need to hold any increase in the property tax rate down, telling the Times last week that he’d like to keep the rate as close to 2012′s $1.27 as possible. Mr. Tarter, who advocated last year for the late year tax refund, which used surplus funds in part to send a rebate to property owners, did not return a call seeking comment, but the source said he remains concerned about the tax rate.

The schools have requested a 14.3 percent increase in the city transfer, in large part to cover the costs of rising enrollment at the ever-popular city schools, which now have 500 more children than they did in 2007. Enrollment has increased 6.7 percent just in the last year, and the city real estate market remains white-hot, as young families continue to stream into town and send their kids to the schools.

One budget proposal on the table would increase the city transfer to the schools by 10 percent, but that would leave the schools $1.2 million short of what they want, a situation Superintendent Toni Jones called “devastating.”

The next work session on the budget is tonight, and the budget is scheduled be adopted Monday.

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April 18, 2013 

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11 Responses to “Duncan, Tarter Hold The Keys In Budget Vote”

  1. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church (703) 209-2005 on April 18th, 2013 6:51 pm

    Cross-posting…..

    At tonight’s Council work session, a scenario will be presented for what I call the “50-bucks-a-month” budget. It asks the average FC homeowner to pay about $600 more in taxes/fees in 2013 than he/she did in 2012. That’s a lot of money for a number of folks in our City, but it’s an amount that I can in good conscience ask taxpayers to accept, even in these uncertain economic times, because:

    — it provides for a budget that funds the legitimate and justified “asks” we received for schools and general government;
— it creates a new stormwater/sewer utility with $650,000 funded from surplus to be repaid by fee-collection in June 2014;
    — it holds 17 percent of total revenues in three designated funds — (1) an unassigned fund balance, (2) a capital savings account, and (3) a taxpayer & revenue stabilization fund.

    My proposal carries a tax rate right at $1.275. I’ve asked the City’s CFO to show on the scenario spreadsheet that going below $1.275 would require elimination of pay raises for City staff, which I do not support. (Eliminating those raises would bring the tax rate down to $1.26.) There are those in the community saying that because some number of our citizens are retirees on fixed incomes, or have not seen much in the way of pay increases for several years and now are threatened by the sequester, furloughs, etc., perhaps this is not a good time to be raising the pay of our City and schools employees. I fully understand and appreciate those anxieties, which is why I am trying really hard to hold the tax rate as close as possible to the current $1.27 while also meeting the real and immediate needs of the schools and our expectation of excellence in City services.


    My plan calls for stocking the taxpayer & revenue stabilization fund with approximately $1.5 million, drawing down half of that sum at the start of FY13-14 to enable the $1.275 rate, and committing to replenish that drawdown from FY13-14 surplus, with the stabilization fund having “first dollar in” claim to surplus. With this approach, the combined sum held in the City’s three designated funds remains at 17 percent of revenue — at the top of the 12 percent to 17 percent range in Council’s fund balance policy.

    I look forward to my fellow Councilors’ questions and comments on this proposal, and welcome everyone’s suggestions for improvements.

    Thanks!
    Phil

  2. Falls Church Resident on April 19th, 2013 9:15 am

    I found it deplorable that the City’s self-proclaimed “newspaper of record” and it’s “owner-editor” launched an ad hominem attack on Mr. Kaylin in its editorial yesterday. I would hope media outlets, including the Falls Church Times, can focus on issues rather than personalities. Too much time is spent, as in the article above, in trying to figure out who’s allied with whom vs what the schools’ needs truly are. This is a disappointing level of discourse.

  3. fcc resident on April 19th, 2013 1:41 pm

    As a taxpayer, if the rate does not remain at 1.27 or lower, it will be a “devastating” situation for me. No raise here but expected to reach deeper into my pockets to find monies for pay raises for school and city employees.

  4. Mike Smith on April 19th, 2013 1:57 pm

    Fifty bucks a month may be merely the cost of a bottle of Bordeaux for some residents of the Little City, but for others it covers the cost of twenty-five loaves of bread. I guess it depends on your perspective.

  5. Brian Rye on April 19th, 2013 3:13 pm

    Am I correct in interpreting this to mean that the state is requiring counties and municipalities to provide teachers with a 2 percent pay raise next year?

    http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/article/20130418/NEWS/130418949/1117/did-the-virginia-education-association-sell-out-teachers&template=fairfaxTimes

    “Starting July 1, with the support of the Virginia Education Association and other key Virginia education leadership groups, we will effectively end teacher tenure in Virginia’s public schools, while also rewarding our great teachers with a 2 percent pay raise,” McDonnell is quoted saying in a press release issued by the governor’s office.

  6. Phil Duncan — City of Falls Church (703) 209-2005 on April 19th, 2013 5:30 pm

    Hi Mike Smith. I don’t know anything about Bordeaux — I don’t drink wine much, it tends to give me a headache. But I agree with you that 50 bucks is real money. It’s two bags of groceries, maybe three with coupons. It’s a tank of gas to get to and from work for a couple of weeks. Or maybe a treat — a dinner out for two at a nice place in town.

    As we know, Falls Church is a community where a number of people are very well-off, by national standards. That’s great! But for some number of our citizens, the household budget runs tight, especially in these times of salaries being flat, or cut by sequester, furloughs, etc. The only way I can justify asking the average household to pay an extra $650-ish in taxes & fees per year is because I think the schools have made the case that their needs are truly pressing and urgent, and because the City government, having downsized significantly after the Great Recession, continues to run pretty lean.

    So, the budget plan I’ve presented fully funds the schools and City government operations. But I do NOT think it’s wise or necessary to have a tax rate above the $1.275 I propose; anything more will merely collect money into an “unassigned” reserve account that is already bigger than required by City policy.

    My Council campaign pitch last spring was equal parts excellence in schools and services, and keeping the tax rate reasonable, I meant them both, and am trying to bring my promise into this City budget discussion. If the sums of money we’re talking about seem piddling, I hope citizens will let me know. I could either spend the weekend spring-cleaning the yard, or keeping on trying to win my Council colleagues to a $1.275 budget. You make the call!

  7. dale walton on April 19th, 2013 5:40 pm

    I think $1.275 should be the marker, as Mr. Duncan states. Citizens have endured significant increases for the past few years. It is time for a breather from this tax and spend mentality…..and besides taxes are going to increase anyway because of higher assessments. So, the Council and City Staff need to find a way to make this work in a balanced way that includes tapping some of the reserve funds. You simply cannot continue on the path of taxing folks out of the City.

  8. John MacKinnon on April 19th, 2013 8:52 pm

    I want to shop where you’re buying bread Mike Smith.

  9. grateful2binfc on April 19th, 2013 11:05 pm

    Thank you, Stephen Siegel, for this article. I always appreciate your reporting. And thank you to Councilman Phil Duncan for writing a direct response.

  10. Just one more resident on April 20th, 2013 9:38 am

    Sorry to see some of you can make jokes and comment about wine giving you a headache! Some of my headaches come from seeing, hearing, and reading the well heeled agreeing to spend money like there’s no tomorrow. I guess I was mistaken when voting for Mr. Baroukh and Mr. Tarter. Didn’t both say no “big” tax increases? It always seems anything done in this city is a knee jerk reaction and have big price tags. I really resent hearing, “If you can’t afford living in the city, then move.” Where are all the other residents who honestly cannot afford this “give-me” attitude by city employees and council members?

  11. vlfrance, Falls Church City on April 20th, 2013 11:26 am

    A rate increase will be a double whammy for the average homeowner in the City. Take a look at the new property assessment values for tax purposes in 2013. Ours increased nearly 20% from last year. They haven’t been mailed yet but can be found on the City’s website. Single family homes are always the first to rise in strengthening markets, but condo values have also increased as well as those for townhouses in the order of at least 5%.

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