CANDIDATE Q&A: Robert LaJeunesse

RobertLaJeunesse_cropBy Falls Church Times Staff
October 25, 2013

The Falls Church Times recently invited each candidate running in the November 5 election for Falls Church City Council to respond to an eight-part questionnaire.  Today we publish the responses of Robert LaJeunesse.


LaJeunesse is a Ph.D. labor economist at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he testifies in the litigation of employment discrimination cases.  He previously worked as a financial economist at the US Treasury.  He and his family have lived in Falls Church for several years, and his daughter attends Falls Church City Public Schools.  He has served as a volunteer for Falls Church Youth Lacrosse, Falls Church Community Service, Neighborhood Clean-Up and various PTAs.  Additional information about LaJeunesse is available at his campaign website,


1. Qualifications. Why are you running for City Council? What strengths and experience would you bring to the job?

I am running for Council because I like to fix things. I believe I can help the City build the capacity needed to accommodate recent and forthcoming growth that is bringing greater density to the City. My background in social economics and finance will allow me to balance the social, fiscal, environmental, educational, and commercial needs of the community.

2. City Finances. Financial pressures facing the City include rapidly growing schools, aging facilities, increased demand on city services, pensions liabilities, and the need for an appropriate fund balance.  Although budgeting always requires “balance,” Council members must establish priorities.  What will be your priorities as you face these pressures?

All budgeting decisions should be governed by the long-term goal of fashioning a vibrant, attractive city with an expanding tax base. Fostering a diverse and growing tax base is the best way to ensure that the City can meet any future financial obligation. Attempting to “pre-fund” future obligations by saving more will have the paradoxical result of diminishing our ability to pay those liabilities. When the City saves more money than it needs to (relative to our regional counterparts), it destroys economic activity. Sequestering an extra $20 million in taxes, for example, keeps that money from multiplying through the economy 4 to 5 times – ultimately reducing economic activity and the future tax base by $80 to $100 million. At the individual level, prematurely collecting taxes limits the ability and willingness of households and businesses to pay taxes in the future. Indeed tax fatigue will set in sooner if citizens do not see their taxes being spent in a tangible manner.

This November voters have the opportunity to choose if they want their taxes to sit idle in the city coffer as a “rainy day” fund, be squandered on future pet projects, or be invested in tangible infrastructure projects. The major initiative of my campaign is to “leverage” the surplus revenues from recent tax collections and forthcoming private development to improve the equity, livability, and infrastructure of the City. Investing the City’s surplus funds in the community is a much better way to prepare for any future financial obligation than saving for a rainy day. Perhaps Edmund Burke summarized it best when he wrote that “Mere parsimony is not economy…Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part of true economy.” The most “economical” use of City resources may require new buildings rather than renovating old ones, or to build capacity and infrastructure now before further grow takes place.

We need to stop being paralyzed by parsimony. Our overly-restrictive budget stance has lead to a fiscal paralysis that threatens the civility, livability, vitality, and charity of the City. Prolonged parsimony threatens our civility by creating false battle lines in our community such as those between the school community and tax-payers, between developers and downstream homeowners worried about inadequate storm drains and traffic, between cycling lanes and street parking. Restrictive frugality reduces the livability of the City by denying adequate infrastructure investments for pedestrians, baby-strollers, cyclists, park-users, and many others. Being penny-wise and dollar dumb threatens our vitality by reducing our economic growth and tax base. Finally, our excessive parsimony crowds-out private charity. If people are paying more in taxes, they have less to donate to worthy causes.

The ability to collect taxes represents an unencumbered income flow to the City, which gives it preferential borrowing status. It can borrow money on much more favorable terms than any household or business in the city. Yet having the “authority” to collect taxes does not mean that the City has to use it preemptively. By assuming a fiscal stance similar to neighboring jurisdictions and leveraging the revenue from new development, the City can meet its basic infrastructure needs through traditional municipal finance. There is no need for one generation of tax payers to bare the brunt of infrastructure investment as those assets will be in place for 50-plus years. Moreover, moderate economic growth and the effects of inflation will make it easier to pay for the investments we make today. This is especially true given that interest rates are currently negative after adjusting for the regional rate of inflation. This is a great time to invest in our future. (It is worth noting that the City’s statutory borrowing limit is $335 million, which is 10 percent of the $3.3 billion worth of assessed land in the City. The City’s FY2013 debt obligations amounted to just $35 million.)

Spending on infrastructure should not be equated with the wasteful government spending that has happened in the past. The City’s new revenue streams should be put to long-term use to build the capacity that has been neglected during the recent surge of private development. Since the larger infrastructure projects will require a bond referendum, I will use my background in economics to achieve the best financing, scale, and scope for these projects so that Broad Street has more say in the outcome than Wall Street.

3. School facilities. Ideas have been floated by a number of people on how to pay for new facilities at George Mason High School and Mt. Daniel Elementary. Some of those ideas include commercial development in the area near GMHS to bring in more revenue, tearing down City Hall to build a new GMHS there, and selling the Mt. Daniel property and moving those students to Thomas Jefferson Elementary. Do you favor any of these proposals? What would you propose as a way to deal with school facility needs?

Moving the location of present buildings should be done for logistical or efficiency reasons, not for financial reasons alone. This question falsely assumes that the City cannot afford to pay for its basic infrastructure. Through the proper financing arrangement, the City can easily afford to build an new high school and city hall of the appropriate scale and scope. The issue of scope requires that multiple interests be willing to engage in a common planing vision and share resources when feasible.

Any future development of the “area near GMHS” should not be governed by the desire to maximize revenue per square foot alone. Other social, health, communal, environmental and educational needs must also be considered.

4. Real Estate Development. Falls Church City is looking at a number of approved and prospective real estate developments in the coming years, such as the “Harris Teeter project” on West Broad, the “Reserve at Tinner Hill” on South Maple, a possible mixed-use project at Broad and West, and the potential development of land linked to the sale of the City water system.  In your view, what community values should new real estate developments reflect, and what specific features and characteristics should be included to make them enjoyable and valuable for the community?

I am glad this question mentions “community” values rather than simply “commercial” values. As previously noted, our planning process ignores the social, health, environmental, and educational value of alternative land use. In addition to improving the balance between public and private infrastructure, our development policy should preserve and foster the “CRAFTINESS” of Falls Church. We have craft beers, arts and crafts, farmers’ market vendors, and many other boutique establishments that differentiate us from Tyson’s Corner. We should ensure that these locally-owned businesses are given a level-playing field in their competition with large corporations and absentee landlords. There is no doubt that there are still development opportunities in the City and that we will always need re-development, but we need to restrain the scale of development to retain the small town feel that sets Falls Church apart.

Any new development project should include ample underground parking. The City should also work with developers to create bicycle lanes, bike racks, solar-powered street lighting, and ADA compliant sidewalks.

5. Economic Development.  Separate from real estate development, what can the City do to generate increased economic activity?  What kinds of businesses and activities should we recruit and promote?  What tools should we utilize?

We should pursue balanced development, not hyper-development! What does “balanced” mean? Balance requires public investment in lock-step with private development to avoid public squalor in the face of private affluence. Public infrastructure investments – underground parking for example – can actually “crowd-in” more private investments by making the City a vibrant, attractive place to live. Past leaders have been so preoccupied with private development that they have neglected basic municipal infrastructure. It is time to build greater capacity into our City to handle increases in traffic, enrollments, and congestion in general.

6. Storm water.  The City Council recently passed a plan to enhance the city’s storm water infrastructure.  It features a new user fee that would be paid beginning next year by homeowners, businesses, and churches.  Executing the plan would require a number of new full-time employees.  Do you agree with this approach?  If not, how would you modify it?

The intent of the storm-water fee should be behavior modification, not revenue generation. If we want to reduce runoff, we should be focusing on large parking lots and roofs. Therefore, the average homeowner should receive a generous exemption of impervious surface that declines over time. The storm-water fee is a punitive approach. We should also offer incentives. In order to reduce the disposal costs of retro-fitting impervious cover, the City should begin a concrete and asphalt recycling program. The resulting crushed aggregate (or Stone Dust) can be used to stabilize the City streets and replace the neglected walking trails.

7. “Ped” Plan.  In 2012, the City announced that the Council “withdrew consideration of the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan to allow for changes to the plan and additional time for public input, review and approval.”  To date, the Council has not resumed consideration of the plan.  Do you feel the City should pursue such a plan?  If yes, what changes, if any, should be made to the 2012 version of the plan?  If not, why not?

The moth-balling of the Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Traffic Calming plan is prime example of the City being paralyzed by its own parsimony. The City’s apprehension to spend and borrow created a false dichotomy between bike lanes and parking. It is perfectly legitimate to pay for infrastructure improvements with traditional municipal finance, not to mention the Federal dollars we missed out on. The Ped plan has some excellent priorities. It provides a useful inventory of problems and a road map for essential upgrades. We should implement most of the suggested sidewalk repairs and bike trail extension immediately.

Certain suggestions in the plan still need to be tailored to specific neighborhoods. For example, there is no need for 5-foot bike lane and a 6-foot sidewalk if that means a substantial loss of parking. In these areas, a compromise can be forged – 3-ft bike lane, 4-ft sidewalk, and parking for compact cars and motorcycles. Moreover, we need to rethink the physical barriers in the plan – medians, bulbs, and other traffic calming devices. These obstacles often force bicycle and car traffic into one another and eliminate escape routes. Large medians also create view obstructions.

8. Current Council. What has the current Council done well and what has it done poorly?

The Council has acted to secure federal and state resources appropriately. The shiny trucks, cars and motorcycle you see around town were of little expense to the City. The current council has also taken a unique and aggressive approach to the storm water demands facing all municipalities in the wake of new EPA regulations.

As suggested above, and by recent disclosures of another surplus*, the council has done a poor job managing its finances. Government budgeting should not be conducted like a household, a business, or a college endowment. Governments are not supposed to sequester taxes. Failure to invest in the capacity needed to ease the growing pains of greater density amounts to fiscal mismanagement. We need to stop taking taxpayers for granted as a bottomless well of tax revenue.

*I consider the current budget to be in surplus because the Council has devoted revenues to CIP and pay-go accounts over and above the surpluses already built into the budget. Moreover, the current budget assumes a 3 percent growth in City expenditures and a 6 percent increase in school expenditures next year, which may not be necessary if the 2014 Council assumes a different spending/saving posture. In addition, real estate valuations are bound to increase sharply next year based on recent residential sales and growing commercial occupancy rates.

This is the last of five candidate questionnaire responses published by the Falls Church Times, and we would like to thank Mr. LaJeunesse for his participation.  We encourage all registered voters to go to the polls on Tuesday November 5.  Information on polling place hours and locations is available at  

October 25, 2013 


10 Responses to “CANDIDATE Q&A: Robert LaJeunesse”

  1. Gary LaPorta on October 25th, 2013 11:33 am

    I salute you for taking on the challenge of elected office. I ask that, if elected, you fairly and equally represent ALL the citizens of The City of Falls Church

  2. TFC on October 25th, 2013 5:11 pm

    Please detail your approach to spending. I do know your are a vigorous opponent to the current policy guidelines for our fund balance.
    To this layperson it sounds like borrow to the hilt and keep our fingers crossed we can keep up with the debt service. There must be more to your plan?
    Many thanks

  3. Robert LaJeunesse on October 26th, 2013 9:30 am

    Thanks for the comment. As stated the City faces a statutory borrowing limit of 10 percent of its assessed value. Additionally, most of the large projects being contemplated today will need voter approval at a bond referendum. The next City Council will therefore have to justify or “sell” the necessity, scale, and scope of one or two public infrastructure projects. We would not be playing “catch up” in terms of building capacity into our city if we had engaged in some infrastructure improvements in the last few years – can you recall when the last bond referendum was? Finally, when real interest rates are negative and the City is on the cusp of significant economic expansion, it is not a matter of “hoping” to be able to meet our debt service. Rather, it is a matter of easing the growing pains of the growth that promised us the revenues to improve the quality of life in the City.

  4. TFC on October 26th, 2013 3:35 pm

    Ok, I am a layperson so excuse the basic questions. So, if we missed the boat on infrastructure in the past and you favor craftiness and very small scale development….where does the funding come from to pay the debt service? Do you propose that massive infrastructure improvement will bring enough crafty-artsy retail to offset the debt service?
    Maybe I am just being dense?

  5. Robert LaJeunesse on October 27th, 2013 10:56 am

    Not sure I would characterize the City’s infrastructure needs as “massive”, but the state of neglect will be a challenge for the next council.

    The revenue sources available to cover the City’s future debt service are manifold:

    1)The surplus revenue streams built into recent budgets (CIP, pay-go, and fund balance restoration budget items). If other areas of spending – such as the City’s payroll – are held in check, the revenue STREAMS devoted to these surplus areas over the last few years are available for future debt service AT CURRENT TAX RATES!

    2)Recent economic development. Forthcoming projects were granted certain concessions due to the revenue these projects promised the City. Again, these revenues should be leveraged (borrowed against) to create the capacity that makes greater density tolerable.

    3)General long-term revenue growth. As property values and general prices rise, so too do City revenues. I hesitate to make comparisons to the household, but when someone signs a mortgage note, the bank does not require a guarantee of future income growth. Bankers realize that debt service payments remain fixed while long-term incomes rise from inflation and general economic growth. This is especially true of governments because their revenue base is far more diversified than a household or business.

    4)Future economic growth. If the City retains its uniqueness through a strong sense of culture and arts, there will be many future opportunities for development and re-development. It is a mistake to associate low volume with low revenue – in both the residential and commercial realm. Furthermore, local businesses are not always small; Mad Fox is a case in point. With the recent addition of some big retailers, we need to be mindful of creating a good mix of commercial entities to continue to attract consumers to Falls Church.

    In closing, it is important that these revenue streams remain available for debt service payments rather than being spent on wasteful or expansive government initiatives. So I thank you for prompting me to clarify this point.

  6. FC taxpayer on October 28th, 2013 10:39 am

    Mr. Laj: you’ve rightly identified some areas where the City’s infrastructure has fallen short. It would be nice to have a candidate who can focus on these issues without deriding “Wall Street” and commercial development. The two can coexist. Ironically, some of our parks, such as Big Chimneys, will likely benefit from makeovers funded by developers.

    I also question whether parks and trails are really the most important infrastructure needs in a budget-constrained environment. Roads, schools, public safety, etc. are probably higher priorities to most residents.

    Finally, while I can appreciate your grassroots effort, I’m not sure scrawling your campaign website address on sidewalks throughout Winter Hill is the best way to attract votes — particularly for someone campaigning on the need to improve (vs. deface) our infrastructure.

  7. Lou Mauro on October 28th, 2013 1:42 pm

    Big Chimneys is fine just the way it is. Only developers “benefit from makeovers funded by developers.”

  8. FC taxpayer on October 28th, 2013 3:01 pm

    Actually, Big Chimneys has quite a few issues that the City has noted (with input from nearby residents). The most notable is the grading/draining issue: significant portions of the park flood any time there is substantial rain. Other issues are outlined in the Planning Commission report.

    If “only developers” benefit from mandatory investments in infrastructure, please explain why they often try to avoid or minimize them. And also explain why the City expends time and effort attempting to gain such concessions.

  9. Lou Mauro on October 28th, 2013 11:55 pm

    Fixing drainage is not a “makeover.” Why do developers try to avoid or minimize investments in infrastructure? For the same reason they do anything— $$$. Lol. Why does the City try to gain such “concessions.” Because having already sold out to and/or or been blackmailed by the developers, they seek after-the-fact window-dressing to save face.

  10. FC taxpayer on October 29th, 2013 10:58 am

    @ Lou: you can play semantics with the term “makeover,” although it seems irrelevant to the matter at hand. The point is, the City (after many complaints from residents) determined long ago that Big Chimneys was in need of grading and drainage improvements. My understanding is that Rushmark may be funding those improvements as part of the Teeter development.

    Yes, you’re right, developers (as private enterprises) seek to avoid or minimize investments in infrastructure for financial reasons. My point is: the fact that developers do seek to avoid/minimize such investments is PROOF that they are not “the only ones” benefiting. If developers solely reaped such benefits from proffers, they would jump at the chance to make them. They don’t. Rushmark won’t benefit from improvements to Big Chimneys, residents will. It buys Rushmark some goodwill from the City Council and residents. All parties benefit from those proffers.

    As for your comments about the City, we’ll agree to disagree. I’m confident that, with the exception of those who live immediately next to the Teeter site (i.e. the ones who knowingly opted to live next to a commercially-zoned lot), most Falls Church folks are in favor of the development. A vacant Post Office doesn’t do us much good, and I’m not aware of any developers proposing other projects there.

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