Council Keeps City Tax Rates Steady

Falls Church Times Staff

April 23, 2012

The Falls Church City Council voted this evening to hold tax rates at their current levels.  The real estate tax will remain at $1.27, the personal property tax will stay at $4.84, each rate for every $100.00 of assessed value.

Prior to the vote Vice Mayor Dave Snyder introduced a motion to reduce the tax rate to $1.26, calling the higher rate a tax increase.   Snyder advocated reducing reserves and removing all proposed non public safety related positions from the budget, achieving a net estimated savings of $560,000.  “I don’t believe in holding the tax rate today artificially high to make it easier for politicians in the future to pass on taxes,” he said.

Councilman Ira Kaylin, who had seconded the motion, then spoke in opposition.  “The only thing I agree with is that the tax assessment increases are tax rate increases,” he said.  Earlier Kaylin warned that the City’s finances are still fragile and projected a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year, which could result in a tax rate of $1.33.

Mayor Nader Baroukh said that to get the rate down would impact critical initiatives such as storm water management and could have consequences on the City’s borrowing capacity.  “As much as I’d like to do a one time reduction in the tax rate I don’t think it would be prudent or in the long term interests of the City,” said Baroukh.

Snyder’s motion was voted down, 6-1.  The Council then approved the tax rates and the FY 2013 budget, with the vice mayor dissenting.  The Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for FY 2013-17 was approved, 7-0.

In a statement to the Times the mayor said that the budget and the CIP are the product of a great deal of discussion and work and meet the critical needs of the City in these
difficult financial times.  “This budget and CIP strikes a healthy balance between the City’s fund balance and the needs of City employees, schools, and services.  And it meets the Council’s policy objectives including strengthening economic development, providing greater resources for infrastructure improvements to address items such as school facilities and stormwater managemen,” the mayor said.

Earlier the Council voted unanimously to withdraw the controversial “Ped Plan”, deferring further action until at least June 25.  Many residents spoke against the plan, particularly its proposal to eliminate street parking on Hillwood Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, and West Street.

In his report to Council, City Manager Wyatt Shields advised that representatives of six prospective bidders for the City’s water system attended an informational meeting today that included a tour of the system.

April 23, 2012 


20 Responses to “Council Keeps City Tax Rates Steady”

  1. Jim Bledsoe on April 24th, 2012 2:14 am

    It seems just like yesterday it was $1.07, now we are debating a penny decrease to $1.26, which failed…..Frankly, I don’t think anyone worked up a sweat on this year’s budget. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for holding the line.

  2. voter on April 24th, 2012 9:09 am

    Mr Baroukh must not be very confident in his promises to attract additional commercial development…

  3. mel watson on April 24th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Don’t you love it when some of these folks say “kept the tax rate steady” as if it means no tax increase. I am certainly glad they at least kept the rate steady to avoid even more of an increase in taxes – – since taxes are going up anyway (with the steady tax rate) given increased assessments.

  4. FCCFamily on April 24th, 2012 8:05 pm

    More taxes, Mr. Kaylin? We’re in the money, c’mon my honey, let’s spend it, lend it, send it rollin’ along.

  5. Ira Kaylin, Falls Church City on April 25th, 2012 4:22 pm


    Thank you for the article and good to see your byline again.

    I would like to clarify that the $1.9 million projected budget shortfall was determined by the City’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The projected tax rate increase required to meet that shortfall was also provided by the CFO. All of the figures I presented were based on City generated numbers. These figures are projections not recommendations.

    The shortfall issue was initially raised by Johannah Barry; my follow up provided more details of the possible impact of such a large shortfall.

    Indeed, I seconded Dave Snyder’s motion in order to provide a platform for an open discussion about the direction of the City’s development approach.

    Mr. Snyder and I have entirely different views of how the City can become fiscally sustainable.

    First allow me to clarify that “personal attacks” and “accountability” are separate and distinct issues.

    I am raising “accountability” issues. Specifically:

    Mr. Snyder on Monday voted to approve the proposed school transfer and voted for the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) to expand and rehabilitate City Hall. In fact, the City Hall renovation was accelerated, by at least a year, at Mr. Snyder’s insistence in FY2012. The cost of these renovations represents approximately 18% of the projected FY2014 shortfall. School transfers (not including school generated debt service) and public safety represent about 60% of the proposed FY2013 total budget.

    On the other hand he voted against the proposed tax rate because among other things, two additional planning officers that were requested in order to accelerate the City’s rezoning of our business districts; according to Mr. Snyder, would result in a significant increase in City staff.

    According to the FY 2013 Proposed budget the City has 179 staff. An increase of two staff results in an increase of 1.1%. Mr. Snyder believes that two police vehicles and the half time position for the Fire Marshall’s Office (the position of Fire Marshall was created about a year ago) should have been funded. It was made abundantly clear that increased expenditure for cars and any other public safety expense was more important than generating new revenues.

    It is not clear why it is so important to Mr. Snyder to eliminate the planning positions in order to provide one time tax relief of one penny. According to the City a 1 cent tax cut would yield, on average, just under $60 in savings per household.

    For reasons that I do not understand the real issue appears to be the desire to eliminate the two planning positions and couch it in the most palatable terms possible, a tax reduction.

    The President of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Michael Ankuma, speaking on behalf of the Legislative Committee of the Chamber eloquently described why these two planning positions are necessary. The Chamber of Commerce‘s petition was entirely ignored by Mr. Snyder.

    The budget was passed by a 6 to 1 vote. It is my view, and supported by others, that the best way to ensure the sustainability of the City is to generate new revenue sources. We are at a fleeting moment of time when the City’s location, access to transportation nodes and available underutilized land are very attractive to high quality developers.

    Mr. Snyder’s view is that it is more important to lower the tax bill by about $60 rather than promote and enhance our ability to fund the long term needs of our schools, infrastructure maintenance including roads, side walks and proper storm water control.

    The difference of opinion is not personal it is substantive.

    I am openly committed (as are other Council members) to doing what is necessary to meet our long term financing requirements.

    Mr. Snyder is openly committed to achieving short term objectives.

    Ira Kaylin

  6. mel watson on April 25th, 2012 4:39 pm

    Yea – I applauded Mr. Snyder for raising this, but I think Mr. Kaylin might be right in that Mr. Snyder may be more “penny wise, but pound foolish” which I think is what Mr. Kaylin is saying. Nevertheless we have to get the residential tax rate under control – – folks who have lived her for a long time and even grown up here as kids (my parents moved here in 1955), pay their fair share of taxes – – who are either retired or not retired cannot continue to sustain such tax increases and are going to forced out to other areas – – which I believe was part of Mr. Snyder’s message.

  7. D. Wayne Jones on April 25th, 2012 6:11 pm

    Our commercial areas are under performing and our residential areas are over taxed. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to balance that out? Well developed commercial areas (we have so little of it in the city) will create a balance where the tax rate can be lowered for all.

    That will take a little time, but less time with additional resources able to work on it.

  8. FCCFamily on April 25th, 2012 7:10 pm

    Phil Duncan, I believe, posted on another site that the five big condo buildings net the average taxpayer $350 savings, or $70 per building. For that amount, I would have preferred green space and parks and maybe an arboretum, as the savings seem negligible. And I assume that net means taking into account additional school children, additional law enforcement and public safety bills to pay, additional sales tax revenue. But commercial crashed 14% and then 1% last year, when neighboring districts began their upturn, so I am not sure how another building here or there is going to help, when they couldn’t during the last downturn, or why commercial would want to build in such a volatile market. Distressing the taxpayers and selling us that commercial is our saviour seems to be the direction this City has been taking. No need to make tough decisions with that policy.

  9. David F. Snyder on April 25th, 2012 10:57 pm


    Thank you for the discussion on the tax rate and the proposal I made to reduce it. Having stood successfully for election five times, I am very aware that our citizens want facts not political rhetoric, so here are the facts supporting a reduction in the tax rate, an approximate $300,000 return to the taxpayers. Please note that all of these numbers come from the fact sheet prepared for the Council’s final decision-making.

    The proposed savings are composed of $200,000 from the reserve for Metro funding documented as not needed. An additional $200,000 is taken from “funds to offset potential revenue shortfalls,” still leaving $120,000 in that fund. Further, by not funding the City Manager’s growth in employees, except in public safety, or $50,000 in human resources spending, an additional $318,000 in savings is realized.

    I then deducted from this total savings of $718,000 the additional $257,637 needed for the 5.5% employee compensation. That yielded a net saving of $560,363. A 1-cent tax rate cut equals approximately $300,000. Deducting this 1-cent tax rate cut from the $560,363 still generates a net savings of $260,363 that could bring further tax reductions, or could be used for an economic development official or storm sewer infrastructure, etc. And that alternative budget would have fully funded the schools, built up the fund balance, and restored the proposed public safety improvements.

    Instead, the Council gave the City Manager what he wanted, rejected a lower tax rate, and did not fund public safety items such as several police cars and a part-time fire marshal. As to the planners, in response to my questions, I was told by the Planning Director that the “area plans” may not pay back in less than 30 years. And as to long-term economic development, the budget as approved provides no additional staff for the office actually charged with economic development. Those are the facts.

    Thank you.

    Dave Snyder

  10. Jim Bledsoe on April 26th, 2012 4:06 am

    Mr. Kaylin,
    Miraculously the value of my home has somehow not depreciated in value for tax assessment purposes for the last five years. However my tax bill has gone up. From my perspective, whether planning positions were eliminated or not doesn’t matter because I don’t know what those positions would be doing. Maybe you could explain. I have lived here for 23 years; we have always had access to transportation nodes and had available underutilized land. It’s not the $60 that the 1 cent reduction represented, it’s the ~$11,000 dollars a year I pay in taxes.

    The City is certainly sustainable but at what cost to the taxpayer? We have been promised additional sources of revenue long before you were voted onto the Council, and we are still waiting. I don’t care about the one off business opening or mixed use development, I mean a real plan. If we are going to have a $1.9M shortfall in 2013, why did we hand out raises to both school and city employees? I agree that they deserved a raise. I just find it interesting that I don’t deserve a tax decrease if we are that flush that we can approve school budgets without debate, and give city employees a raise. You talk about long term financial stability, but we seem to spend with a short term view to keep the schools and city viable while we are in perpetual motion trying to increase revenue.

    When we keep talking for years about what we are going to do and nothing ever changes, I will take the $60 dollars.

  11. Mike Smith, Falls Church on April 26th, 2012 1:29 pm

    Thank you Mr. Snyder for walking us through your thinking using numbers and not rhetoric. The only thing I remain confused about is the nature of the planning positions and if they have a direct effect on development in the Little City.

  12. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on April 26th, 2012 2:47 pm

    FCCFamily, the choice wouldn’t have been between $350 (or whatever the number is) with the new developments and green space and parks. Without the new developments you’d be paying the $350 and you’d have the old buildings that were there before (a Red Lobster, run down warehouse, etc.)

  13. Lou Mauro on April 26th, 2012 4:04 pm

    The Red Lobster was a popular seafood restaurant. I for one would much rather have it than The Byron. And yes, the Spectrum did indeed obliterate a large swath of downtown “green space.” You are big on facts. That’s a fact. Also, Pearson Square destroyed the duckpin bowling alley, a landmark, virtually one-of-a-kind facility that served as a convenient place for birthday and other family gatherings, in addition to providing just plain fun and entertainment for everyone. What do The Byron, The Spectrum, and Pearson Square do for you and your family, Andy? How often do you take your family to Mad Fox? Why would it not have been possible to have The Red Lobster, the downtown “green space” converted to a park, the duckpin bowling alley
    AND Mad Fox, without the condos and apartments?

  14. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on April 26th, 2012 4:59 pm

    Hi Lou,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Red Lobster and the bowling alley. I never did go to the Red Lobster but I did go duck pin bowling once and while it was fun I don’t think I would have ventured back with my kids – that area was a bit rough.

    The Tax Analysts building (part of the Pearson Square project which sits where the duck pin bowling alley was) is where my company is located – so it’s a huge part of my life. My daughter has attended several camps and performances in the ArtSpace location in Pearson Square. My brother and his family lived for a time at Pearson Square as have some of my employees and my company rents the furnished apartment there on a regular basis.

    My family has been to Mad Fox probably a dozen times (which is a dozen more times than they would have gone to Red Lobster). We also go to Cosi quite often (part of The Byron).

    I’m not sure I get your last question. I don’t know the history of the downtown “green space” but unless it was owned by the City or a generous person/company I’m guessing it would have been pretty expensive to convert it to a park – but you would probably know better than I would. And certainly we could still have Red Lobster and the bowling alley instead of what’s there now… and my business would likely be located somewhere other than Falls Church and maybe I wouldn’t live in Falls Church. I’m not sure if a place like Mad Fox would have existed without the new developments – I suppost it’s possible.

    Hopefully, I answered all of your questions. The point of my comment to FCCFamily was that it isn’t logical to suggest that the $350 (or whatever) in tax savings could have been converted into green space and parks – and I stand by that point.

    But since you chimed in I’ll mention something that I think is important as people head out to vote next week. It seems like all 7 candidates support increasing the City’s commercial tax base via encouraging development on our commercial land. I think some of those 7 candidates support pretty much anything to replace the stuff that’s there now. I think other candidates would prefer to see no progress at all unless it’s the absolute perfect project.

    I’m looking for candidates in the middle. Someone who will push back against a 5 story apartment building but will support a fairly dense mixed-use project.

    I think the projects that Lou mentioned have overall been way better than not having done anything. Of course it’s impossible to know if other (better) projects might have been built in those locations had these projects not been approved – but I like the general direction. I think we’ve learned some lessons along the way that will hopefully help us get even better projects down the road.

    P.S. Lou, I find the “You are big on facts. That’s a fact.” comment to be annoying (and I’m not even sure what you mean). I enjoy the discussions on the internet and I think you often bring up interesting points but I wish you were a little less annoying about it.

  15. FC voter on April 26th, 2012 6:48 pm

    The notion that Red Lobster, a bowling alley, and some green space (in a city that has many parks and tons of trees) would be better than the new residential and commercial real estate is laughable.

  16. Ira Kaylin, Falls Church City on April 26th, 2012 11:24 pm

    Mr. Watson,

    I appreciate your open minded approach and willingness to consider both sides of an issue.

    You understand my position completely. I do believe it would be a serious mistake to be “penny wise and pound foolish”.

    As regards the issue of over reliance on real estate taxes again you are on the mark. Without additional new revenues the tax rate will become unsustainable; how quickly it will become unsustainable is difficult to predict though with public service demands increasing at the current rate it will not take long.

    As regards your concern about the impact of these tax increases on many long time residents it is important to recall the phrase that “it is not what people say it is what they do”.

    Before being on Council I asked the City Staff and some members of Council to please tell taxpayers the true cost of the proposed Falls Church Housing Corporation’s Affordable Housing project. In my opinion the financial structure of the project intentionally tried hide its true costs. The request was rejected.

    My review of the City’s balance sheet indicated that the projected tax burden increases would be unsustainable especially for pensioners who, in many cases, would not have the cash flow to cover an ever increasing tax bill.

    In fairness to Mr. Snyder he did express the same view regarding the tax penalty that would be experienced by elderly pensioners. He was eloquent and forceful. After the 2010 election the final vote on the affordable housing project took place.

    Four Council members including me voted against the project.

    Mr. Snyder and two other Council members voted in favor of the Falls Church Housing Corporation’s Affordable Housing project.


  17. Lou Mauro on April 26th, 2012 11:36 pm

    FC voter, it is “laughable” that you deride someone else’s opinion while you hide your identity, and ignorance, behind a pseudonym.

    Andy, sorry you find my “you are big on facts” tweak to be annoying, but you do regularly chide commenters who just express an opinion and nothing more for not supplying factual support for that opinion. Sorry, but that is, well, I don’t know how else to say this…. just a fact!

    Thanks for your detailed reply. You pretty much support my point. All the land in question is zoned commercial. Again, why we could not have The Red Lobster, the green space, Mad Fox, the Tax Analyst office building, the Art Space, Cosi, and any other first floor occupant of one of the high-density residential buildings you happen to like, without the condos and apartments themselves? Our City Councils have almost always yielded to the developers mantra that they can’t make money off just commercial development. What they mean of course is they can’t make as much money as they would like. So our City leaders, desperate to demonstrate that they are capable of doing something, and putting developer ROI ahead of the best interest of the citizens, conjured the sham device of the Special Exception to allow high-density residential development on commercial land. What has followed is the string of high-density condo/apartments we have so far, which of course have not been the “cash cows” they were supposed to be but have instead had the cumulative effects of further overcrowding the school system, adding more burdens to public safety, fire and emergency resources, and exacerbating traffic, parking, and pollution problems. And don’t tell me that primarily commercial development on commercial land in this City can’t be done successfully. Bob Young has done it and is continuing to do it.

    Finally, I am disappointed in your statement that you thought the duckpin bowling alley “area was a bit rough.” You are relatively new to the City and a nice guy. Please don’t allow yourself to be contaminated with the elitism for which our “Little City” is infamous among our neighboring jurisdictions.

  18. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on April 27th, 2012 2:11 am

    Lou, I don’t think your characterization of my comments is accurate or fair. In fact, quite frequently you do exactly what you say I do. You’re chiding me for commenting that I like the mixed use developments (my opinion) but support your position without any facts. I actually think that’s fine – you have one view for how development could work in the City and I have another. I try pretty hard to not be snarky with you – I wish you’d return the favor.

    While we’re talking about facts, other than Pearson Square the other mixed use developments have produced the net revenue that was anticipated and have not produced more school kids than expected. If you want to talk about just Pearson Square that’s another conversation, but it’s not correct to lump all of the developments together.

    And it’s your opinion that these developments put developer ROI ahead of the best interests of the citizens. I’m one citizen who likes what we have.

    Your Bob Young comment is interesting since he built the Read Building (apartments) and is proposing to build another apartment building on commercial land.

    Again, I wasn’t just tweaking FCCFamily for an opinion they expressed – I was trying to make a very specific point about actual options the City faces. The notion that the City could have parks instead of the mixed use projects with a relatively small tax impact just isn’t right. It’s that kind of thinking that prevents us from making progress. It’s nice that you think we could have the Red Lobster and everything else – but I think you’re wrong about that. Two different opinions on that one – not any facts by you or me.

    I’m sorry to disappoint you about the duckpin bowling alley. When was the last time you went there? I was there in the last year or two of its existence and that entire lot was not in good shape. It was rough – which was my opinion at the time and that was before I lived in the City so I don’t think I was being contaminated by the elitism that you mentioned. Also, you like to throw around my newcomer status in the City – but I’ve been here for almost 4 years now and I lived the previous 8 years less than a half mile from City limits… when do I get to be considered something other than a rookie?

    I’m not sure how my use of the various mixed use developments supports your point. I mean, I know your point is that if the City Council had just been tougher with developers we’d have all the things I use except with highly valuable office space above them instead of apartments or condos. My point is that I think it would be just as likely (or more likely) that we’d have nothing.

  19. FC voter on April 27th, 2012 8:39 am

    Lou, I’m sorry that you think disagreeing is “ignorance.” Anyway, maybe one of the candidates will adopt your vision and seek to put a Red Lobster, another bowling alley (since we already have a huge one), and some green space in one of the underdeveloped City lots. I’m sure this will be a winning campaign platform and a model for future growth.

    Sarcasm aside, I just don’t see the intense overpopulation that you’re talking about. Our emergency services have relatively low call volume, and we have mutual aid agreements with most of the surrounding jurisdictions. I’ve had to contact the police on a few occasions and the response time has always been a few minutes. You mention the issues of overcrowding in the schools and traffic/parking. Again, I don’t see this as being any worse than our neighboring cities/counties, and these problems can be easily addressed. There is talk of building a new high school and several candidates have proposed a variety of traffic/parking calming measures.

    Bottom line: a city needs residents AND new businesses to grow. Preserving the status quo of a few restaurants and attractions isn’t the answer, and hasn’t worked.

  20. Lou Mauro on April 27th, 2012 11:18 am

    Andy, sorry you take my comments as snarky. I do like to tease you sometimes, but my intent is not to be snarky. Nor do I do what I say you do. I do not frequently ask for factual support for opinions expressed. You often do. I recognize that this “newspaper” is in the nature of a blog, so, for better or worse, people can and do just express their opinions. That’s the nature of the beast.

    You say it’s “not correct to lump all the developments together.” What? Of course it is. The essence of planning is to think ahead, is it not? A decade ago, our population was a little over 10,000. Now it is over 12,000. I think we can fairly say that the great majority of those additional people, with schoolchildren and vehicles, came from the condos and apartments. When you are a 2.5 square mile jurisdiction, there has to be a limit. We do not have the space or resources of Arlington or Montgomery counties. That’s one reason why I don’t think we can or should try to be Ballston, Clarendon, Shirlington, or Bethesda Row, not to mention the lack of municipal parking and the fact that, being at the crossroads of two major highways, we are not a “destination” location.

    Regarding commercial development, you conveniently forget to mention that I said “primarily” commercial development on commercial land can be successful. Taken together, Bob Young’s approved or constructed projects, The Read Building, The Flower Building, and the hotel are primarily commercial. That’s a fact. ? Oh yeah, and let’s add BJ’s too.

    I do not “throw around” your newcomer status. YOU mention it yourself from time to time. And though we may disagree, I don’t consider you a “rookie” because you have admirably engaged yourself in business and civic affairs.

    Bottom line, when you are a 2.5 square mile jurisdiction with a rare-for-this-region small town feel, bigger and more do not necessarily mean better. In fact, they often make things worse. It’s not all about money. Cumulative effects matter and quality of life is just as, if not more, important.

    FCvoter, what I have said above speaks to most of your comments. When you come out of the closet, I will perhaps address you directly.

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