Council Defers Action on Plan to Reduce Number of Wards,
Stormwater Survey Coming to Homeowners

November 14, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

November 14, 2011

The Falls Church City Council moved this evening to defer final action on an ordinance to reduce the number of voting wards.  Members voted, 5-0 (Ms. Barry and Mr. Peppe absent), to take up the matter again on December 12.

The proposal, which passed first reading on September 26, calls for eliminating the Scout House (Ward Three) and the American Legion Hall (Ward Five) as polling places and consolidating voters into three wards.  Both facilities would be retained as emergency polling places.

In his remarks to the Council, City Registrar David Bjerke reviewed the efforts of the Electoral Board to inform residents of the plan.  He said that the response from voters had been overwhelmingly positive.  “We had expected to hear a lot more pushback against the change,” he said.

Bjerke said the revisions will provide more equal access for all voters to a ballot, as well as essential emergency management service and faster service overall.  Regarding concerns that Thomas Jefferson School (Ward One) would be overcrowded, the registrar said that the Electoral Board has called on the School Board to close the school on Election Day, as is the practice in Arlington and Fairfax.

The plan would shift Winter Hill residents, including many senior citizens, from Thomas Jefferson to the Community Center (Ward Four).  Bjerke said that the Board would consider using crossing guards to help assist those voters crossing Broad Street.

Councilwoman Robin Gardner said that she understood the need for consolidation of wards, but expressed concerns about parking at Thomas Jefferson.  She also opposed closing the school on Election Day and pointed out that the school’s renovation would coincide with the November 2012 election.

Noting that the plan’s implementation also coincided with the change of the municipal election date and redistricting, Gardner questioned whether the timing was right.  “I just don’t know if it [the consolidation] needs to be right now,” she said.

Mayor Nader Baroukh, who like Gardner voted against the plan in September, felt that the electoral officials needed to discuss the plan further with the School Board.  “My concern is how the parking is going to work around the construction site,” said Baroukh.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder called the current voting process at Thomas Jefferson less than optimal.  “Adding additional voters runs the risk of creating more issues with safety and difficulty in parking.  It just doesn’t look to me that it’s functioning that well,” he said.  Snyder added that he thought the Legion Hall was still a good polling place and questioned why the officials recommended moving to three sites instead of four.

Faced with these concerns and with only five members present the Council opted to defer.  It will address the issue again during its December 5 work session.

A map showing the current configuration of wards is available here.   A map of the three ward plan is available here.

Stormwater Survey –  City Manager Wyatt Shields advised that a survey is being mailed to all single family and townhome owners.    The response will enable the City to determine where and to what extent flooding has occurred and to align its resources accordingly.  Surveys can be returned by mail or online through the City’s website.

Other Business –  The Council unanimously approved a resolution endorsing revisions to the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program Handbook.  The Handbook has been shortened and now presents a clearer and succinct presentation of the process.

With Ms. Gardner dissenting, the Council approved first reading of an ordinance to amend the FY 2012 budgets (revenue and expenditures) for City Funds by adding $1,890,000 to the General Fund $3,350,000 to the Water Fund, and $546,205 to the Capital Project Fund.

The Council approved a consent item authorizing the city manager to to purchase up to $200,000 in technology solutions from CDW Government under a National Joint Powers Alliance Contract.

Closed Session –  At the end of the public meeting the Council began a 24 minute closed session concerning the post office lot and water litigation issues.

Video –  Footage of the public session is available at the City website.  Links to all pertinent documents are included.

Election Date Referendum Passes by Wide Margin

November 8, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

November 8, 2011

Falls Church voters today overwhelmingly approved a referendum that authorizes the City to move its municipal elections from May to November.  The May 2012 election will be the last.  The first November election will be held in 2013.

Unofficial returns show the referendum approved, 1,738 to 874.  Voters in four of the City’s five wards favored the measure by 2:1 margins.  The vote was closer in Ward 2 (Oakwood), but still substantially in favor.

The vote to move the elections to November tracked very closely to the City vote in 35th District Senate race, where Democrat Richard Saslaw outpolled Republican Robert Sarvis and Independent Green Elizabeh Pettigrew 1,730 to 873 (Sarvis – 801, Pettigrew – 72).

Incumbent Delegate Jim Scott and candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos were unopposed.  Scott received 2,071 votes.  Stamos, who will succeed Richard Trodden, received 2,099.

Turnout on a perfect autumn day was 30.71%, a slight increase from the 28% level achieved in 2007, the last election where only General Assembly contests were on the ballot.  A total of 2,658 of the City’s 8,655 registered voters participated.

Unofficial Totals By Ward

Referendum (Yes – No)

Ward 1  –  453 – 213
Ward 2  –  215 – 153
Ward 3  –  270 – 133
Ward 4  –  361 – 185
Ward 5  –  301 – 153
CAP       –  138 –  37

Total       1,738 – 874

35th District Senate (Saslaw – Sarvis – Pettigrew)

Ward 1  –  459 – 193 – 17
Ward 2  –  247 – 108 – 10
Ward 3  –  250 – 142 – 10
Ward 4  –  351 – 171 – 19
Ward 5  –  289 – 151 – 10
CAP    –    134 –   36 –  6

Total       1,730 – 801 – 72

53rd District Delegate (Scott – Write-in)

Ward 1  – 543 –  32
Ward 2  –  288 – 13
Ward 3  –  309 – 17
Ward 4  –  424 – 21
Ward 5  –  357 – 19
CAP      –  150 –   1

Total       2071 – 103

Commonwealth’s Attorney (Stamos – Write-in)

Ward 1  –  540 –  24
Ward 2  –  280 –   7
Ward 3  –  321 –   9
Ward 4  –  444 –  14
Ward 5  –  362 –   7
CAP      –  152 –    0

Total       2099 –  61

May 7, 1974 – When Turnout Peaked in Falls Church City

November 8, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

November 8, 2011

Much of the recent debate over when to hold Falls Church City’s elections has focused on declining turnout.  For various reasons, fewer and fewer citizens choose not to vote, even in contested elections.  This trend, which seems counter to the City’s long-established reputation for civic activism, has continued for 20 years.

Those who advocate moving the local election believe that the turnout will be higher if polling moves from May to November.  It almost certainly would, but the level still might not reach that achieved on May 7, 1974, when over 55% of the voters went to the polls, a turnout not approached again until 1988-90 and more than double that of 2010.

In 1974 the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) was the major political organization in Falls Church, just as it is today.  However, CBC did not hold a majority of the seats on the City Council.  An opposition group, who referred to themselves as the Independents, was determined to extend their control.  Well financed, they published several issues of their own campaign newspaper. 

A Washington Post story saw the City’s election as pitting those who favored the residential character of the town versus those eager to entice new businesses and offices into what they termed the City’s dying central business district.  The now long-defunct Northern Virginia Sun described the Independents as calling “for positive actions versus negative inaction” and CBC’s position as “in favor of moderate growth versus rampant development.”

CBC’s online history recounts a crucial Council meeting that surely had a major impact on the election.  Members had voted to adopt what was known as a Planned Unit Development ordinance, which was supported by CBC members as a device for planning and development of the City’s commercial areas.  The ordinance did not control density, which was to be done by assigning Land Use Intensity ratings (LUIs) to various areas.

The night the ordinance passed and after most of the audience had gone home, without public notice or hearing, the majority adopted a resolution which assigned interim LUIs for most of the City’s business and residential areas.  If retained, this would have opened certain areas to highly intensive development, such as Winter Hill (then Tyler Gardens) and the tract now occupied by the Oakwood Apartments.  Subsequent public outrage forced the Council to modify these actions.

In a May 4 letter to the Sun, CBC president Hirst Sutton summed up his party’s vision:

“The City needs a Council which will look to the development of Falls Church in the manner desired by most of its citizens and which will reject high-density, high-rise development that would only add to the traffic congestion and other environmental problems, increase governmental costs, and fail to maintain Falls Church as the desirable residential community in which most of us wish to live.”

Most voters agreed, as CBC went on to an overwhelming victory, sweeping all four Council seats at stake.  The party’s candidates won a total of 7,790 votes, while the four Independents garnered only 2,527.  Two other candidates trailed far behind.  Leading vote getter Harold Sliverstein won 2,005 votes, more than twice the 998 votes Ron Peppe received when he led the list in 2010.

Among those elected were Carol DeLong and Ed Strait.  Ms. DeLong, who later became mayor, went on to serve 16 years on the Council, Mr. Strait for 12.  Both have remained active in civic affairs.  Also elected was John Enright, now of Camden, Maine, who served one term.

Passions certainly were high in 2010 and likely will be so again next May.  If the election date is moved, November elections probably will be as contentious.  However, due to massive demographic changes, it seems unlikely that the City will ever achieve an election as intense as that of 1974 or an outcome as decisive.

In the mid-70s Falls Church was still very much a traditional bedroom community, consisting predominately of single family homes, many occupied by long-term residents.  By the 21st Century, the News-Press would accurately call Falls Church “a city of new arrivals.”

In 2001 researchers determined that 43% of the City’s residents had arrived in the last five years and that nearly two-thirds of them had come to Falls Church since 1990.  That year over one-third of the homes in Falls Church were occupied by residents who had lived there 20 years or longer.  The proportion in 1974 probably was much higher.  By 2001 it had dropped to 11.4%.

Hundreds of condominium units have been added during the last decade.  Many remain unoccupied, but over one-third have been converted to rentals, which have a much higher turnover rate.  New projects such as the Northgate and the Gateway virtually insure that the trends of the last 20 years will continue.

Due to these changes, fewer residents are as settled as those in the 1970s, or as likely to consider themselves stakeholders in the community.  Some may change their perspective, but others will have moved on before developing any strong ties to the City or participating in its political process.

Voters in 1974 clearly held strong opinions about the future of Falls Church.  Future voters may be as opinionated, but even if turnout soars it will be very hard for them to deliver a message as emphatic as the one citizens sent 37 years ago.

The City now is denser, more transient, and somewhat more diverse.  These factors make consensus harder to achieve, resulting in greater demands on elected officials.  However, the ultimate responsibility for the future of Falls Church is in the hands of its people.  Whatever their numbers, whether they choose to live here four years or four decades, they must take that duty as seriously as citizens did on May 7, 1974.

The author wishes to thank Marshall Webster and other staff members of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Election Date Issue to be Resolved Tuesday

November 7, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

November 7, 2011

The question may be at the bottom of the ballot, but it will be foremost in the minds of many Falls Church City voters who go to the polls tomorrow.  After weeks of discussion and spirited debate, citizens will determine via referendum whether municipal elections, long held in May, will move to November in 2013.  A “Yes” vote endorses the switch.  A “No” vote rejects it.

Those advocating the move to November cite higher turnout, which they believe is more representative, and reduced costs as benefits.  Opponents warn that fall elections may lead to increased partisanship and less focus on local issues.

May elections traditionally have been non-partisan.  Both the local Democratic and Republican committees have stated they have no intention of endorsing candidates for the City Council or the School Board.  However, both committees have staked out positions on the issue.  The Republicans oppose the move while Democrats favor it.

Democratic Senator Richard Saslaw, who leads the local ballot, has called for passage of the referendum.  His campaign and that of Delegate Jim Scott together contributed $1,200 to Falls Church Votes, an independent group asking for a “Yes” vote on Tuesday.  The group is chaired by City Treasurer Cathy Kaye, a Democrat.  There is no comparable opposition group, though Vice Mayor Dave Snyder and his son bought yard signs calling for a “No” vote.

A majority vote to approve the referendum does not automatically move future election dates.  Specifically, the question calls for amendment of the City Charter.  Like all Charter amendments, however, it is not self-executing.  If the referendum question passes, to effectively change the Charter the proposed amendment must be sent to the General Assembly for approval, as is required for all such amendments.

Saslaw, who is the Senate majority leader, is seeking election in the 35th District as a result of re-districting.  He is opposed by Republican Robert Sarvis and Independent Green Katherine Ann Pettigrew.  Delegate Scott is unopposed for re-election in the 53rd District, which he has represented for nearly a decade.  Theo Stamos, candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney, also is unopposed.  Stamos is a Democrat, but under Virginia law her party affiliation cannot appear on the ballot.

Tuesday’s polls will open at 6:00 am and close at 7:00 pm.

Further information on the candidates is available in the Voters’ Guide provided by the Falls Church League of Women Voters.  The League also offers a Pro/Con Fact Sheet on the May/November issue..

City Council Extends CDC Lease for Two Years,
Continues Review of Stormwater Problems

October 24, 2011 by · 18 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

October 24, 2011

The Falls Church City Council this evening approved a resolution authorizing a two year extension of the lease for the Child Development Center (CDC).  The new term will extend until November 30, 2013 at a rate of $3,000 per month.

The Council’s debate followed a 40 minute closed session, during which members thrashed out unresolved issues concerning the lease.  Draft documents issued to the media prior to the meeting had indicated that the rent would be much higher.

The City-owned facility has been leased to Easter Seals for $1.00 per year since 1961.  The current 25 year term ends on November 11.  At several prior Council meetings many parents of children attending the CDC had implored officials to extend the lease, since there are few other options for day care in the area.

After brief discussion, the resolution passed, 4-1, with Councilmen Gardner and Peppe absent.  Councilman Ira Kaylin cast the sole negative vote.

Kaylin, who spent many years of his federal career in risk management, said that the relationship between Easter Seals of the Greater Washington-Baltimore region and the CDC is not transparent.  “I have never agreed to a financial proposal until I have understood it,” said Kaylin.  “This is going to be voted on, and no doubt approved, prior to us having a clear understanding of where and how the money flows and I find that extremely difficult to go along with.”

CDC parents expressed their appreciation when it became clear that the Council was leaning toward extending the lease.  “It seems like the City has been taking a lot of lumps lately,” said Stuart Rubin.  “I feel a vote in favor [of the extension] is a win for the City, the Council, and CDC.”

Mayor Nader Baroukh said the process had been arduous and that the terms of the lease are not necessarily ideal, but that both sides had worked very hard to find a middle ground.  “There are a variety of things that we have to balance,” said the mayor.  “I want to be clear the schools have an interest in the property.  I hope we will have a resolution during our budget and CIP process.”

City Manager Wyatt Shields confirmed that the school system has formally expressed their continued interest in the CDC, as recently as last weekend.

Response to Stormwater Town Hall Meeting

Shields encouraged all residents to view the entire video of the October 17 town hall, which is available on the City website.

The city manager described the problem as having two tracks.  One is the issue of the stormwater backflow into the sanitary sewer, which should not be happening.  He said that the City needs to identify where this occurs and take measures to prevent it.

Shields termed the other issue as “classic stormwater management”; i.e., systemic problems not involving the sewers,.  He said that the good news is that the City is well advanced on its watershed management plan, which should be ready by December.  However, a major unresolved policy question is the impact of federal mandates regarding Chesapeake Bay, which he termed a huge state and region-wide issue.

As more data is necessary a survey is being developed for residents to report problems they encountered during the September 8 flood.

Shields and the Council agreed that solutions to Falls Church’s stormwater problems will be expensive.  He said that a higher property tax or a dedicated funding stream through a stormwater utility would be required.  The councilmen leaned toward the second alternative.

The only funds immediately available for stormwater improvements are through a $1.7 million federal grant for improvements on the Pearson and Coe branches of Tripps Run.  Shields said such work should help some of the residents on Sherrow Avenue.

Other Business

The city manager advised that leaf collection is now underway.  Crews currently are working north of Broad St. and will shift to the south side next week.  There are three pickups for each side of town.  The full schedule is available on the City’s website.  He asked that residents keep brush away from the leaf piles.

Shields endorsed the City’s mentoring program, noting that adults can work with youth who could use additional support.   Those interested should contac Jessica Reyes at 703-219-2106.

At the city manager’s request the Council voted unanimously to defer action on a resolution to adopt the Northern Virginia Regional Water Supply Plan, the primary purpose of which is to ensure adequate and safe drinking water.  Shields suggested the Council wait until November 28 to allow time to review the final draft of the plan.  Vice Mayor Dave Snyder asked that the staff determine how many hours were devoted to responding to what he termed ” a classic no compensation mandate that makes absolutely no sense, considering the condition of the region.”

Consent Items

The Council passed a motion authorizing the city manager to award a contract to National Asphalt Manufacturing Corporation for the purchase of liquid asphalt hot mix as required for road repairs and maintenance.  The total FY 2012 expenditures will not exceed $200,000.

The Council approved the following appointments:

Andrew Curtin to the Falls Church Cable Access Advisory Board to a term ending October 31, 2014.
Lori LaFave to an unexpired term on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board ending August 31, 2014.
Addison Heard to an unexpired term on the  Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Transportation ending Jaunary 31, 2012.

The following persons were reappointed to their respective positions:

Jerome Barrett to the City Employee Review Board to a term ending October 31, 2014.
Justin Berg to the Economic Development Authority to a term ending November 30, 2014.

City Election Date Referendum Discussed at LWV Forum

October 21, 2011 by · 23 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

October 21, 2011

Should Falls Church City elections be held in May or November?  The controversial question, which will be resolved through next month’s referendum, was the subject of a panel discussion yesterday evening at a League of Women Voters forum at the Community Center.

State Board of Elections (SBE) analyst Martha Brissette, City Electoral Board Secretary Renee Andrews, and Manassas Park Vice Mayor Brian Polk (I) discussed the issue and responded to audience questions posed by moderator Edith Snyder.

Brissette said that the SBE favors consolidation of elections for reasons of efficiency.  “The public expects elections in November, but we will administer whatever the people decided.” she said.

Andrews, who also is a member of the local Democratic committee, reviewed many of the pros and cons of each option.  She said turnout would be higher and the City would save around $18,000 by moving the election to November.  Partisanship might then be more of a risk, but Andrews said at this point neither local party wants to become involved.

“There’s no wrong or right answer,” said Andrews.  “I hope people come out in large numbers and make informed choices.”

Polk said that his city’s council made the change to November and received little “negative feedback.”  He estimated that turnout in Manassas Park was around 10% in May elections, a level well below that achieved in Falls Church, but increased to 30% in 2010 and 60% in 2008.

“I don’t regret it.  If I had to do it again I might not champion it,” said Polk.  He added that he felt there was less risk of partisanship when the elections are on the odd year cycle.

Manassas Park’s elections, which are partisan, now are on the even year cycle, coinciding with presidential and congressional elections.  If the referendum is approved, Falls Church’s will be on the odd year cycle, with elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general every four years, and the General Assembly every two years.

The panel passed on the question of why Falls Church’s turnout has declined, despite its highly educated electorate.  “It’s a mystery,” said League president Ellen Salsbury.  “We all lead busy lives.”

Around 50 residents attended Thursday’s event, including five councilmen.  Virginia Senator Richard Saslaw (D) and Democratic candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos spoke briefly before the panel discussion, then departed.  Saslaw said he favored passage of the referendum.  Stamos did not take a position.  Republican and Green party candidates did not attend, but were invited, according to a League official.

The last page of the League’s voter’s guide provides the full text of the referendum and a comprehensive list of the pros and cons for May and November.  The League has never taken a position on the issue of changing the election date.

Virginia municipal elections have been held in the spring since the late 19th Century.  Since 2000, cities and towns have had the option of moving their elections to November.  About half of the cities have made the switch, but less than 20% of the towns.

In January 2010 the Council passed an ordinance  to move the election to the fall.  The following November a new Council voted to repeal the ordinance and also approved the upcoming referendum.  If voters approve the November referendum question, and the proposed Charter amendment is approved by the General Assembly, the election date will change and the following City election will be held in November 2013.

The Citizens for a Better City and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society jointly will sponsor a conversation on the referendum on Tuesday, October 25, at 7:30 pm at the George Mason High School Library.

Frustrated Residents Call for Action on Stormwater Problems

October 18, 2011 by · 12 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

October 18, 2011

Yesterday evening’s town hall on stormwater issues revealed many problems far removed from Falls Church’s two flood plains.

The meeting, which drew a large crowd at the Community Center, had been called primarily due to a tropical storm on September 8 that left many flood plain houses with flooded basements.  However, most of the homeowners who vented their frustrations to City officials came from neighborhoods distant from Tripps and Four Mile Runs and recounted problems that in some cases have persisted for decades.

Many residents reported both storm and sewer water flooding their homes and standing water on or near their properties.

Joan Nieman of Hillwood Avenue said she had 18″ of black sewer water in her basement and can still smell it

“We are in jeopardy,” she said.  “Stonewalling brought us here.  We’ve had this problem for years.  I want it fixed.  I want it fixed now.”

Flooding problems are not confined to homes.  Ed Bouchard, who has a business on Douglas Avenue, said he has experienced flooding for the last six or seven years.  “It comes over the street, over the curb, under our door,” Bouchard said.  “Every time there’s significant rain our office floods.  I’d like to know what the City plans to do.”  He said that the problems began after the Whittier tract was completed along Hillwood Avenue.

Nieman’s home and Bouchard’s business are not on a flood plain.  Susan Douglas’ home on Cameron Road is.

“They say this is ‘The Little City’ that could.  I’d like to see it proved,” she said.  She has learned that her $20,000 in losses are not covered by the flood insurance that she was obliged to purchase because the City redesignated the house as being on a flood plain in 2004.

“Somebody asked me if I have a lawyer,” said Douglas.  “I think I have a lot of company here that would be interested in having someone take a look at what’s going on in Falls Church.”

Revenue commissioner Tom Clinton, another Hillwood resident, said had he had two feet of water in his basement on September 8 and that he has experienced frequent flooding since the completion of a City project several years ago.

“Their problem became our problem,” he said.  “I’ve brought it to the City’s attention and nothing’s been done.  This is not the city I grew up in.  I consider it a quality of life issue. If it costs more taxes I’m willing to pay some, let’s get this thing solved,” Clinton said to applause.

In response to these and many other complaints, City Public Works Director Bill Hicks and City Manager Wyatt Shields said that they were aware of many of the problems but that there were no quick answers.

Concerning sewer backups, Shields said that prior to the late 70s houses could have stormwater drains that connected to the sanitary sewer.  Anywhere from 40 to 60% of the City’s homes have storm drains connecting to the sewer system, according to City utility engineer Rodney Collins.

“It’s about levels of service,” said Shields, regarding the overall problem.  “September 8 exceeded our standards.  In some respects it’s the wrong context in which to talk about the stormwater management issues.  The good news is we have an effort well under way to take a comprehensive look a look at our stormwater systems.  That’s not just starting, it’s in the homestretch.”

At the end of the meeting Mayor Nader Baroukh thanked the citizens for their comments and cited four topics for future discussion.

1)  The pros and cons of an ordinance that would require severing the connections between the stormwater system and the sewers.  This would include a review of the possible legal constraints against such action.

2)  Requiring that developers pay a pro-rata share for stormwater management.  The City would research how other jurisdictions have approached the issue.

3)  Identifying where the major problems are, in addition to those referenced in the meeting, and re-evaluating the City’s standards for stormwater system capacity.

4)  How implementing major stormwater improvements would impact the budget and the Capital improvements Program, including the possibility of a holding a referendum.

Prior to the discussion Hicks briefed the attendees on the recent flooding and the City’s ongoing efforts to control stormwater.  He said that the frequently used phrase “100 year event” to describe September 8 does not mean that such a severe flood will occur only once in a century, rather that there is a 1% chance of it happening every year.

The City’s system is designed to cope with an event that would have a 10% chance of happening in a given year.  Falls Church has had more than its share of major storms since 2000, having experienced four severe events during the past decade.

Hicks said that the City has received a $1.7 million grant for stream improvements on the Pearson and Coe Branches of Tripps Run and plans to spend $8 million on implementing 21 projects in its watershed management plan over the next eight years.  He noted that Falls Church also works constantly to maintain the existing system, but added that homeowners should maintain proper drainage systems on their property.

Hicks’ Powerpoint presentation is available on the City’s Stormwater and Floodplain Management page.

A video of the nearly two hour meeting is available here under “City Webcasts.”

Council Work Sessions –  After the town hall the City Council held two work sessions, one public, one closed.

During the open session the members first discussed a resolution to adopt the Northern Virginia Regional Water Supply Plan, the primary purpose of which is ensure adequate and safe drinking water.  The city manager advised the Council that the City’s supply is in good shape, due to improvements in plumbing fixtures that have resulted in less water usage.  The city manager said that the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies Falls Church’s water, had its peak day in the 1970s.

City CFO Richard La Condré then briefed the Council on the first quarter financial report for FY 2012.  While some revenues are exceeding estimates, La Condré said it is too early to identify any trend.  Personal property taxes are $325,000 higher than budgeted, due in part to a higher rate.  Sales taxes are $12,000 ahead of last year’s collections.  Expenditures show an underspending for the first quarter.  The CFO estimated that the City has $500,000 in additional revenue, as of Monday.

The closed session concerned the Child Development Center question and issues relating to the City’s water system.

Parents Ask City Council to Extend CDC Lease

October 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

October 12, 2011

A dozen parents implored the Falls Church City Council last night to extend the Easter Seals’ lease at the Child Development Center, which expires in November.  Council members were sympathetic to the parents’ concerns, but gave no assurances before going into a closed session to continue their discussion of the matter.

Many of the parents said that it would be very difficult for them to find another day care provider on short notice, as most facilities have long waiting lists.  Others had high praise for the quality of care provided and noted that CDC staff members would be in a difficult position in the event of an abrupt closure.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder said that if he were in the parents’ shoes he would be doing the same thing, but he maintained that Easter Seals had not presented a serious counter offer to the City.  “It’s a little hard to negotiate when there’s nobody sitting at the other side of the table.  We need them to negotiate with us to get a win-win,” he said.

Regarding the CDC rent, Snyder was firm.  “The notion that a dollar a day for a facility that is part of the Easter Seals, which is part of a $1.2 billion dollar annual operation, strikes me that there’s something that needs to be negotiated,” he said.  Snyder also noted that City schools have expressed an interest in the site because of equally important social and educational obligations.

Mayor Nader Baroukh said the Council has a responsibility to parents, but also to Falls Church taxpayers and the school community.  “The City has been clear that there has to be some type of return for the City,” said the mayor.  “Easter Seals were made aware of that from the beginning.”  He said that he was glad to hear there had been some recent movement in the negotiating process, but that dialog takes two parties.

For nearly 50 years the facility has been leased to Easter Seals, who would prefer an extension until at least the summer of 2013.  In August the Council passed a motion authorizing City Manager Wyatt Shields to work with Easter Seals on a one year lease extension at fair market rent, with the possibility of an extension.

In June, Easter Seals reportedly indicated they would be willing to pay $50,000 annually for the space.  According to a WRC-TV report yesterday evening, the City is seeking a rent of $120,000 per year.

Later in the meeting the Council approved (6-0, with Mr. Peppe absent) a resolution amending the pension plans for City employees and police hired on or after January 1, 2012.  The revisions raise the City retirement age from 62 to 67.  The police retirement age remains at 55.  Mayor Baroukh said that the plans would be reviewed again in conjunction with the budget process next February.

The closed session which followed the public meeting involved discussion of water system issues, in addition to the CDC matter.

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