City Council Increases Financial Buffers

December 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

December 13, 2011

The Falls Church City Council adopted a resolution last night to increase the City’s fund balance from 12 to 17 percent and to establish a Capital Reserve Fund for the General Fund and the Utility Funds to provide for continued investment in capital infrastructure. 

“These actions are part of the City’s efforts to develop more robust long range financial planning capability,” said Finance Director Richard LaCondrè.   “These fiscal policies are developed to guide both short-term and long-term fiscal strategies.” 

The City Council last adopted fiscal policies in January 2009.  Until FY2008 the City maintained an undesignated fund balance well above the policy target which enabled the City to use that excess funding to support the Capital Improvement Program.  Due to the recent economic downturn and revenue shortfalls, the fund balance was drawn down below policy levels and resulted in a significant curtailment of the Capital Improvement Program.    The new fund balance level of 17 percent represents approximately two months of expenditures. This action will mitigate the impact of revenue shortfalls and economic downturns affecting assessed real estate values and other local tax revenues.

Establishment of a Capital Reserve Fund for the General Fund and the Utility Funds will provide for continued investment in capital infrastructure. The current policy of using surplus fund balance to fund “pay as you go” capital projects makes those projects a lower priority than other items in the operating budget. This new policy establishes a minimum level of effort utilizing both current revenues as well as fund balance appropriations to address both “pay as you go” and debt service funding. This type of policy will also make absorption of new debt service for capital projects less difficult.

For more information, contact CFO Richard LaCondrè [email protected] or 703-248-5092.

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

November 14, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

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.

Frustrated Residents Call for Action on Stormwater Problems

October 18, 2011 by · 12 Comments 

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 

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.

Council Briefed on Pension Plans, Emergency Preparedness; Storm Water Town Hall Scheduled for 10/17

October 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church Times Staff

October 4, 2011

Falls Church’s pension plans and its emergency readiness were the primary topics at yesterday evening’s City Council work session.  The officials also scheduled a town hall meeting to discuss the response to the recent flooding and the need for better storm water management.

Connie Rydberg, a pension actuary and chair of the Retirement Board, presented recommendations for changes to the City’s pension plans.  The biggest change would be to raise the retirement age for City employees hired after 2011 from 62 to 67.  Police retirement age would remain at 55.  Employee contributions would stay at 5% for the basic plan and 7% for the police plan.  The current cost of living adjustment also would remain unchanged.  If approved, the recommendations eventually would save around $450,000 annually.

City human resources director Richard Parker estimated that the assets in the City’s pension plans declined 11% in the quarter that ended last Friday.  However, Rydberg said that the plans are in better shape than in mid-2010, when they were only 76% funded.  With the downturn, the plans now are approximately 82% funded.

The Council members concurred with the Board’s recommendations, though Mayor Nader Baroukh said that he would like to see the City move in the direction of giving employees more choices, perhaps a hybrid of a 401K and a defined benefits plan.

“It’s a very good proposal, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the pension issue.  I don’t see it as thinking outside the box,” he said.  But Councilman Ira Kaylin called pension planning a complex issue and cautioned that the average person does not have the time or information available to the typical funds manager.

The mayor said that further discussion of the plans should be tied to the overall issue of compensation.  Any Council action on the proposal most likely would occur during budget deliberations in February 2012.

Emergency Preparedness

Fire Marshall and Emergency Manager Tom Polera advised the Council that the City’s emergency operations plan is in dire need of review.  “With reductions in staff there are capabilities [in the plan] that we just cannot perform,” Polera said.  “We may be only at one shift to perform [a service], so anything extending to a moderate to long term event would be critical for the City.”

Police Chief Harry Rietz agreed.  “The potential for our resources to be overwhelmed quickly in a very serious emergency is very real, simply because of the reduction of staffing,” he said.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder suggested that if the city doesn’t have the staffing then it would have to look for citizens to work effectively with the staff that it has.  However, Polera said that the City’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) numbers have declined dramatically, from 20 t0 7 in the past year.  He added that the numbers also appear to be down in neighboring jurisdictions.

Snyder criticized the public information available following the August 23 earthquake.  “It’s not that the local governments aren’t doing their best, there’s no central point for message generation,” he said.   The chief responded that there was a grant funded regional effort underway to develop a Northern Virginia emergency response system.

The preparedness briefing gradually segued into a discussion of the September 8 flooding and the City’s response.  The Council agreed to schedule a town hall meeting on the topic of storm water management and emergency preparedness for Monday, October 17 at the Community Center at 7:00 pm.

Vice Mayor Snyder pointed out that there could be a significant cost for storm water improvements.  “If we want a higher level of performance it’s only fair to tell our citizens what it’s going to cost to get there and if people want to move more rapidly there’s a cost for that,” he said.   The mayor agreed that a community conversation was necessary.

Closed Session

The Council briefly discussed the budget calendar for FY 2013, then went into closed session on Child Development Center issues.


The entire public work session can be viewd on the City website.

City Reports Revenue Gains for FY 2011, Increased Fund Balance

September 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Falls Church Times Staff

September 20, 2011

Falls Church CFO Richard La Condre advised the City Council yesterday evening that revenues for FY 2011 (July 2010 – June 2011) exceded estimates by $2.2 million.  He attributed the gain to increases in sales tax revenues, business licenses, and personal property and real estate taxes.

The higher revenues, combined with lower than anticipated expenses and unexpended grants, result in an increase of the City’s fund balance from by $4.1 million to $6.759 million.  The new balance is 10.2% of revenues.  The City’s goal is to raise the fund balance to its policy level of 12%.

La Condre said that he is cautiously optimistic, but that the surplus doesn’t necessarily translate into an economic turnaround.  The CFO estimated that inter-jurisdictional costs soon would increase 5% and contractor and utility costs 3%.

City Manager Wyatt Shields said that puts Falls Church in a “solid position” for the current fiscal year, but that FY 2013 is more uncertain.  He recommended devoting the gains to fund balance restoration.

Five Wards or Three?

The Council continued its discussion of a propsed ordinance that would reduce the number of voting wards from five to three.  Registrar David Bjerke and Board chair Margarette Shovlin briefed on the proposal, which was introduced at the September 6 work session.

The plan would close the Scout House (Ward 3) and the American Legion Hall (Ward 5) and leave the remaining wards with nearly equal numbers of registered voters.  Mr. Bjerke noted that since his staff is limited it would be more efficient to manage three wards, especially in case of an emergency, such as the recent earthquake on primary day.

While Thomas Jefferson School (Ward 1), Oakwood Apartments (Ward 2), and the Community Center (Ward 4) have good climate control, the Scout House does not, making it difficult for officials working a 16 hour day.  The building is also small, which sometimes forces voters to wait in lines outside the building.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder said that he would like the public to receive more information on the proposal and recommended holding a town hall meeting before any action is taken.  Mayor Nader Baroukh and Councilwoman Robin Gardner concurred.  The mayor said that managing fewer wards makes sense, but stressed the need for a comprehensive implementation plan.

The City currently has 8,500 registered voters.  Virginia Code allows up to 5,000 in a single ward.  Ms. Shovlin said that around 3,700 Falls Church voters would be affected if the plan is approved.

Motorcycles May be Coming to FCPD

Police Chief Harry Reitze briefed the Council on a proposed ordinance that would allow the use of police-seized assets to purchase a motorcycle, a storage shed, and necessary equipment. The motorcycle would be used for traffic enforcement and calming and emergency response.  A second motorcycle may be obtained through a federal grant.

In response to a councilman’s question the chief said that the motorcycles used by the Sheriff Department are owned by individual deputies, so they cannot not be shared with the police.

Fiscal Policy Changes

The Council discussed a proposal that would update the City’s fiscal policies.  The most significant change calls for maintaining an unassigned fund balance of 17% of expenditures.  The proposal also recommends establishing capital reserves for the General Fund and the Water Fund.

A total of $10.5 million would be required for the reserves, $7.5 million for the General Fund, at the rate of $1 million per year beginning in FY 2013, and $3 million for the Water Fund in FY 2016.

Mr. Shields said that the objective is to move away from the happenstance of funding the Capital Improvements Program based on the status of the fund balance.  Mr. Snyder countered that he was concerned that the reserves would be built up only to be raided for something else.

Rating Agencies Reaffirm City’s Bond Ratings

July 20, 2011 by · 1 Comment 


July 20, 2011

Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service have reaffirmed the City of Falls Church’s bond ratings of AA and AA1, respectively.  Bond ratings (expressed in letters from “AAA” to “C”), are grades given to bonds that indicate their credit quality.  Private independent rating services provide these evaluations of a bond issuer’s financial strength, or its ability to pay a bond’s principal and interest in a timely manner.

        The S&P report notes: “Standard & Poor’s considers the City’s financial management practices “strong” under its Financial Management Assessment methodology, indicating practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.”

        In reaffirming the City’s AA1 bond rating, Moody’s Investors Service is indicating it is also satisfied with the City’s financial management plan.

         “This positive affirmation from the rating agencies reflects the City’s careful financial planning and solid financial management practices, especially during the recent economic downturn,” said Mayor Nader Baroukh.  “One key to they City’s high credit ratings was the City Council’s decision to dedicate revenues for fund balance restoration in the FY11 and FY12 Budget.  This indicates the City is in a good position to move forward as the economy continues to recover. ”

According to the City Council’s Finance and Budget Committee members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin, “The ratings affirmation reflects the City’s commitment to sound fiscal management which balances needed revenues with expenditures, maintains bond issuance at prudential levels and above all else reflects our citizen’s willingness and ability to support the City. Though difficult to measure, citizen support is one of the most important factors in determining our rating.”

Top 20 U.S. Counties, Ranked by Property Taxes

May 25, 2011 by · 12 Comments 


May 25th, 2011

Over the past few months I’ve gone to several of my daughters lacrosse games, walked through the Farmers market, and been to get togethers with friends where I’ve overheard and partaken in several discussions about Falls Church City’s tax rate.  In each of these discussions something seemed to be missing or lacking from the exchange, that something being facts beyond speculation and or guessing. So with those recent discussions in mind and coupled with the fact that the City is the richest in the nation and thus become the center for some national press, I decided that I should get some context.  Here is some national information on home values, incomes, rates, and payment that can provide some framework, either positive or negative, on the subject.

Now I am not a Polly-Anna and I know that some folks will have issue with the source, some will have issue with the fact that the city is not a county, and others will have an issue with even pointing this information out.

With regard to the source; The Tax Foundation is pulling their information from federal agencies and it’s just been conveniently aggregated by them, I am not publishing their opinions, just the collected data.

As for the “City” vs. “County” moniker, I am not clear as to what we should be, however, the Federal Government has seen fit to list us as a “County” so in the absence of a better descriptor that is what we are, I guess.  Either way, we’re still an area within a state with boundaries that has a separate government from the surrounding areas and that doesn’t change our rates or our home values.

As for pointing this info out, the facts are the facts and they are there for anyone to see and formulate an opinion from. Now, for some of you who are “plugged-in” you may already know this info and you’re looking at me going “uh… duh”, but for those of you who are like me (meaning not plugged-in) you may find this information very interesting.

Property Taxes on Owner-Occupied Housing, by County, Ranked by Property Taxes Paid

2005-2009 (five-year average)

Rank County, State Median Property Taxes Paid on Homes Median Home Value Taxes as Percent of Home Value Median Household Income Taxes as Percent of Income
1 Hunterdon Cnty, NJ $8,216 $452,100 1.82 $112,474 7.30
2 Nassau Cnty, NY $8,206 $490,300 1.67 $102,920 7.97
3 Westchester Cnty, NY $8,160 $559,800 1.46 $111,129 7.34
4 Bergen Cnty, NJ $7,925 $482,400 1.64 $101,388 7.82
5 Rockland Cnty, NY $7,676 $481,300 1.59 $101,833 7.54
6 Essex Cnty, NJ $7,489 $394,300 1.90 $93,107 8.04
7 Somerset Cnty, NJ $7,421 $432,900 1.71 $110,215 6.73
8 Morris Cnty, NJ $7,298 $477,200 1.53 $112,116 6.51
9 Union Cnty, NJ $7,075 $396,100 1.79 $90,538 7.81
10 Passaic Cnty, NJ $7,055 $384,000 1.84 $83,591 8.44
11 Putnam Cnty, NY $6,941 $421,200 1.65 $96,871 7.17
12 Suffolk Cnty, NY $6,779 $430,000 1.58 $93,629 7.24
13 Monmouth Cnty, NJ $6,595 $429,000 1.54 $99,479 6.63
14 Hudson Cnty, NJ $6,085 $381,800 1.59 $83,561 7.28
15 Falls Church City, VA $6,012 $655,600 0.92 $136,500 4.40
16 Lake Cnty, IL $6,000 $288,600 2.08 $92,030 6.52
17 Mercer Cnty, NJ $5,931 $311,700 1.90 $91,187 6.50
18 Sussex Cnty, NJ $5,914 $324,500 1.82 $90,091 6.56
19 Fairfield Cnty, CT $5,908 $484,200 1.22 $101,985 5.79
20 Middlesex Cnty, NJ $5,892 $354,600 1.66 $91,830 6.42

On the charts below, I took the same information that’s in the grid above and highlighted Falls Church City and then labeled it along with the next highest County, State in that category.

Source: The Tax Foundation

« Previous PageNext Page »