Council Votes Preliminary Approval of Water Rate Increase; CDC Parents Plead for Lease Extension

Falls Church Times Staff

June 28, 2011

The Falls Church City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a controversial 8% water rate increase Monday evening.  Prior to the vote, several Fairfax County residents spoke in opposition, insisting that the increase was unjustified, due in part to earlier court rulings against the City.    

Dennis Hennigan, an attorney, said he did not see how a system that had been so profitable  now needed a rate increase. “Something does not add up here,” he said.  “Falls Church should be reducing its rates and returning its overcharges to customers.”  He added that he found it somewhat disturbing that the City showed so little deference to the findings of Virginia courts. 

Hennigan cited Judge R. Terrence Ney’s Jaunuary 2010 finding that Falls Church could not transfer profits from its water system to its general fund.  As only 8% of its customers reside in the City, most of the system’s revenue is collected from Fairfax residents, who derived no benefit from transfers to the general fund.  The judge ruled Falls Church’s practice an unconstitutional tax on non-residents and enjoined it from making further transfers. 

McLean Citizens Association president Ron Jackson criticized the water rate study the City used to justify the increase.  “We’re paying twice,” he said, claiming that the system’s reserves were already built up due to past overcharges to Fairfax customers.

Elaine Cerriano called on the City to give people more time to review the study and raise.  She asked for at least 45 more days and suggested the information be made available in county libraries. 

Larry Sexton of the Falls Hill Civic Association concluded his questions for the Council by asking “Do you think if you didn’t have a monopoly we’d still be your customers?”  Another speaker was even harsher, calling the Council arrogant and its actions unconscionable.

In response to the customers’ comments, Vice Mayor Dave Snyder stated that the City’s intention is to insure that the water rates are set so that the system will provide safe and reliable water to our customers, whether in Falls Church City or Fairfax County. 

“I will not be swayed by political arguments or arguments directed to keep our rates artificially low that the system suffers,” he said.  “Nor will I delay needed rate actions, even though politically popular, if those rate actions are essential to providing the quality of the water we provide all of our customers.”

Snyder said that the City was in full compliance with Judge Ney’s ruling and that the proposed rate increase is consistent with that ruling and not based on any such profit transfer.   He added that traditionally, such organizations that are running a risk have a right to a fair rate of return, and that he respectfully did not agree with the court’s decision. 

The vice mayor noted that the rate study had been posted on Falls Church’s website on June 1 and that copies have been provided to Fairfax officials and anyone who’d asked for it, but he agreed to furnish copies to libraries within the system’s service area.    

Snyder said the bulk of the rate increase is to fund reserves and that the monies received would remain in the water fund.  He also lauded the system’s water quality and its past performance during inclement weather, when it maintained its high standards while other systems could not.

Second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for July 11.  If approved, the rate increase, the first in six years, would take effect on August 1.

Child Development Center Parents Seek Extension  –  Over a dozen parents of children attending the CDC asked the Council to consider extending the Easter Seal’s lease on the property, which is scheduled to expire in November.  Speakers had high praise for the quality of care provided at the Center and the dedication of its staff.  Many were concerned that they would not be able to find an alternative if the CDC were to close on short notice.

A task force has been formed to address the issue.  Deputy City Manager Cindy Mester informed the council that it had met Monday afternoon and was scheduled to meet again on Thursday.  Staff will set up a website page on the topic that would appear on both the City and Schools sites.  Mester said the task force will ask the Council to extend its deadline to July 30.      

For nearly 50 years the facility has been leased to Easter Seals, who would prefer an extension until at least the summer of 2013.  Easter Seals would be willing to pay $50,000 annually for the space, currently leased at $1 per year. 

City Schools have asked to assume control of the property in July 2012 in order to house the preschool education programs currently located at Mt. Daniel.  This would also free space to permit the relocation of  the Falls Church Community Center preschool program

Economic Incentives Adopted  –  The Council also unanimously approved, 6-0, with Ms. Gardner absent, a resolution establishing a policy which will give the City the opportunity to provide new incentives for commercial redevelopment. The stated goal is to encourage new and sustainable economic development and private investment in targeted areas of the City and to create a better balance between the City’s residential and commercial tax base components.

This will be achieved primarily through land use planning and zoning that provides height and density bonuses for desired outcomes in designed areas. In some cases the City will encourage and accelerate new commercial redevelopment by considering public participation, including tax increment financing and partial and temporary abatement of business taxes.

City Attorney John Foster advised that the resolution essentially serves as a guide to the Council going forward and that it does not extend any rights to developers.

Appointments  –  The Council appointed the following citizens to unexpired terms on various City commissions, committees, and boards:

Robert Loftur-Thun to the Planning Commission:  (01/01/09) – 12/31/12
Julio Idrobo to the Housing Commission:  (01/01/09) – 12/31/11
Paul Baldino to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation:  (02/01/09) – 1/31/12
Steve Selby to the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board:  (09/01/09) – 08/31/12
Ed Henderson to the Historical Commission:  (9/01/09) – 8/31/12

These officials were reappointed to their positions:  

Jeff Peterson to the Library Board of Trustees:  07/01/11 – 06/30/15
Jonathan Fritsch to the Architectural Advisory Board:  06/01/11 – 05/31/14
Mark Gross to the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board:  07/01/11 – 06/30/14

June 28, 2011 


10 Responses to “Council Votes Preliminary Approval of Water Rate Increase; CDC Parents Plead for Lease Extension”

  1. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on June 28th, 2011 8:55 pm

    A lot of focus has been on the Easter Seals and the public school preschool program.

    How many kids are in the Community Center preschool program? Are these supported by public dollars? Do they have special needs like the public school program? Have these children been included already in the number that the school board has been talking about, or are they an addition? What happens to the employees of the current community center program? Why does the community center program need to move in the first place?

    I continue to support Easter Seals and their 90+ families continuing to use the Cherry Street property and having them pay the city real rent for its use. The schools need a bolder solution than this temporary patch to a symptom of a much larger problem.

  2. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on June 28th, 2011 11:24 pm

    Gordon, I encourage you to come to the next Task Force meeting this Thursday at 6pm in the Dogwood room at City Hall. I’m sure most/all of your questions could be answered there. Alternatively, you could contact Nancy Vincent from the Housing and Human Services department for the City – she’s heading up the Task Force and has collected much of the information you’re looking for.

    At the meeting on Monday it seemed like everyone agreed that a lease extension through June 2012 for the Easter Seals would be something that could be put together quickly – which would at lease put families at ease about their situation for the next year.

    I also support a bold, long term solution (not sure exactly what that would be) – but I’m not sure such a solution could be implemented quickly enough. Even this fall things are looking pretty rough for the preK program at Mt. Daniel. It sounds like they’ll need to shuffle around some rooms to fit everyone in – and 2012 looks even worse.

  3. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on June 29th, 2011 8:09 am

    There are certainly some short term fixes for the preK program other than Cherry St. that would not displace 90 families into the day care availability abyss that is easy to forget unless you are a two income family with infants/toddlers and few options.

    By bold solutions, I am pointing to the school’s 2008 facility study that laid out several paths to meet our City’s school needs for 20 years. The TJ addition and (presumed) use of the Cherry St. property don’t solve our long term facility issues. A bold solution requires an additional financial commitment to facilities prior to 2019. There is a surge of children in the lower grades (and future growth) that our facilities won’t be able to handle at higher levels if we wait until the next decade to do anything else.

    As to Thursday, I’ll be setting up for the Concert in the Park – Tom Principato rocking the park and a good weather forecast should make for a nice evening.

  4. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on June 29th, 2011 9:34 am

    Gordon, I haven’t heard of any alternatives for a fix for the preK program starting in 2012 (the fix for 2011 isn’t all that great but seems to be all we have – moving some things around at Mt. Daniel to squeeze in another preK classroom). Obviously, additional construction at Mt. Daniel wouldn’t be a solution for 2012.

    It does seem like there aren’t a lot of options very close by for secular, non-home-based, care for infants – but certainly the Easter Seals isn’t the only place. If the Task Force isn’t able to find a solution that allows the Easter Seals to keep using part of the Cherry St. facility then hopefully with a year to find alternatives they will be able to find a location that works for them. It certainly seems like there is demand for this service.

    I personally support investing in the schools sooner than later to proactively increase the capacity to deal with expected growth – but that’s a bigger issue than what we’re talking about here.

    Good point about the Concert in the Park – I’ll be sure to stop by after the meeting – I love those (thanks for organizing them!).

  5. Lou Mauro on June 29th, 2011 10:43 am

    George B.,
    Excellent coverage of the Council meeting, as usual.

  6. Robert Thomas, Falls Church on June 29th, 2011 3:56 pm

    I think the Fairfax Co. people have a valid question – if the fund reserve is increased by the amount no longer taken by the general fund as a ROI (and also increased by the refund), why is there also a need for an increase in the rate? Looking at it another way, how much would the rate increase have been if there wasn’t a legal action and judgement?

  7. Outside the City on June 29th, 2011 6:07 pm

    Why is everyone so worried about Fairfax Water? Fairfax City just raised their rates 7% for customers in the county and I didn’t here anyone complaining. The FC rate increases are totally justified because 1) the cost of operating a water system is going up, 2) there are capital and rehabilitation projects that need to get done and 3) Fairfax Water and Fairfax County residents want to sue the City for refunds, so guess who is going to pay.

    Is anyone complaining when Dominion, Verizon, Washington Gas, Cox, etc raise their rates? I thought not.

  8. tony adams on July 2nd, 2011 11:51 pm

    Outside the City – 1) Please provide evidence that the cost of operating a water system is going up 2) what cap and rehab projects? If there are, that is fine, but FC city should have plenty from the general fund that they have been stealing from fairfax over the years 3) umm, hopefully, FC city – and then hopefully fairfax offers up an option so FC city does not have a monopoly.

    Do you not watch the news? Of course people are complaining about other utilities increases. Are you paying attention? I thought not.

  9. Justin Case on July 6th, 2011 10:50 am

    Is it possible to rent the Shire School building on Lee Street for Easter Seals? Another example of poor planning by the powers that be.

    Raising water rates? Aren’t we already paying too much? What about the huge surplus that already exists? Something is really wrong when homeowners keep getting hit with higher taxes, businesses keep getting “incentives,” well paid City employees want more for doing less (and have the advantage to live here and get discounts for buying/renting), and our schools keep falling lower, yearly, on all those published lists.
    This used to be a great little city.

  10. TFC on July 7th, 2011 2:13 pm

    The zoning repot prepared for the CDC task force shows many potential problems associated with expansion of CDC to accomodate larger population and/or changes in use from current profile. Well worth the read on the task force web site.

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