RESPONSE: ‘Man About Town’ Thanks Readers

December 20, 2010

Dear Readers of “Man About Town,”

My heartfelt thanks to all of you who wrote encouraging words on the occasion of my “retirement” as a column writer. I will admit that, after 18 months of Mondays, I have never felt more relaxed!

That said, all staff members of the Falls Church Times have the opportunity to write an occasional opinion piece, and I expect I’ll not be able to resist that myself.

As to whether my “straight reporting” will be unbiased, I quote E.B. White:

I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that does not have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.

Now, one unfinished piece of business: As I noted last week, my column efforts could more and more be boiled down to a few sentences:

1) Falls Church City suffers from an almost unique nexus of legal and geographic limitations that convinces me the Little City is unsustainable, and this decade will likely be its last.

2) We can either wait for the inevitable and accept what is decided for us, or we can endeavor to manage our own destiny.

3) The best outcome would be to merge with Arlington County, whom we already depend on for a myriad of services. Merging our schools with Arlington would significantly increase course opportunities for our students.

4) Failure to actively work toward a merger with Arlington will result in a re-absorption into Fairfax County.

5) To those who say merger with Arlington is prohibited by state law, I say (with 25 years’ experience in government) that in politics, everything is negotiable.

FIRST HURDLE: “Convincing” Arlington to take us: Piece of cake. Every bureaucracy desires growth, and let’s not sell ourselves short – we are a very desirable piece of real estate. Read John Bennett’s comment a year ago reporting the opinion of a former chairman of the Arlington Board of Supervisors.

SECOND HURDLE: Convincing Fairfax County to “let” us join Arlington. Fairfax could, and would, block us except for one thing: We have something Fairfax wants very badly – a waterworks that services its residents. Joining Arlington should be a package deal that allows Fairfax to buy our waterworks. That should keep them happy. But we need to take action while we still have bargaining power.

THIRD HURDLE: Obtaining the votes in the General Assembly to make this happen. That’s the easy part. If Falls Church, Arlington, and Fairfax County all desire it, there’s really no opposition.

And so, dear readers, I rest my case. As we enter a new year fraught with fiscal peril and an inevitable battle over school funding, remember that there is a way out – maybe not the way that we would choose, but a solution nevertheless.

And that’s my final word.

Thanks again for your kind words!

GEORGE (ex-Man About Town) SOUTHERN

December 20, 2010 


8 Responses to “RESPONSE: ‘Man About Town’ Thanks Readers”

  1. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on December 20th, 2010 8:40 am

    George, without knowing much about how it would actually work, your plan for how to become part of Arlington County sounds fine to me. Which brings us back to the original issue: whether or not the City can survive financially?

    What tax rate do you think would be high enough to get enough people on board with your plan? Like most people, I’d like to keep our taxes low but I also like living in Falls Church (not Arlington) and I’m willing to pay higher taxes to keep the City independent. I’m sure there is a tax rate where even a big fan of the City like me would have to reconsider whether or not it’s worth it – but we’re not there yet.

    Also, I still don’t get how merging with Arlington makes anything (other than the tax rate) better. You mention that our kids would have more course opportunities – but if we wanted more course opportunities for our kids we would have moved to Arlington in the first place. In exchange for these course opportunities we’d lose the unique (and highly appealing to me) size of our school system – we’d just be part of the giant Arlington operation.

    You like to talk about the village atmosphere of Falls Church – but where does that come from? I can’t imagine we’d be able to maintain a village atmosphere with the shots being called from Arlington’s government building. We’d have hardly any control over development, we probably wouldn’t recognize the police officers, doing government business would be totally different.

    I think if Falls Church was part of Arlington it would still be a perfectly fine place to live, I have nothing against Arlington County – it would just be very different and, at least for me, wouldn’t be nearly as attractive.

  2. (Name not provided) on December 20th, 2010 8:44 am

    I have to agree with George. My family and I first moved into Falls Church in 2001, so we’re hardly old-timers (but we aren’t newbies either). I’d long been intrigued by Falls Church, when I used to take computer training at the old lab above the 4 P’s (made for some interesting lunches, but that’s another story). I knew that we had found a special place the first time I saw it, and I loved the “small town” feel that was so different from Fairfax County and Alexandria. However, as I look at the redundancies that we have in our city, I’ve wondered how long we could/should remain independent. I hate to lose the independence we have, but I really don’t see the City remaining independent.

  3. Angie Mellon on December 20th, 2010 12:31 pm

    I don’t agree or disagree with George because I don’t really think we have enough information.  I would like to see the city do a study of the options (although not sure how much that would cost?!?) to examine the options…i.e. stay indep., merge with Arlington, & merge with FFX.  What would the change actually look like?  Taxes, schools, services?  I think there are way too many unknowns for anyone to really take a side or form an opinion at this point.  

    I love FCC as an indep. city & find it to be much more quaint than Arlington (where we lived before here & liked very much too), but my main concerns have to do with 2 things:
    1.  Our schools – LOVE the smallness of them, but also worry greatly about the impact the budget is going to have on our ability to keep top teachers.  We need to pay them competitively, as they are the backbone of the system.  So, can we do that (or are some of them going to leave for other schools)??  Of course we have all the long-range issues to deal with as well…growth of student #s, deteriorating buildings, etc.
    2.  Development – I would love to see more development, as we are in a prime location to make that happen & to benefit from the increased tax revenue.  But, do we really have the city staff to make this happen in a quality way (due to our small size & budget cuts).  If we don’t have people who know what they are doing & have the support to do it, we won’t end up with what we really need/want.  

    So, I think it would be worth the city’s time to investigate all our options & make sure we, as residents & taxpayers, get what we really want for our city – whether that is future indep. or a merge.  

  4. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on December 20th, 2010 8:32 pm

    Angie, I feel comfortable opposing any kind of merger with Fairfax County or Arlington County because I’m very confident that the impact on the schools would be something I don’t want. Specifically, there’s no way the current format and small schools would survive within the larger school systems. One way or another things would be reconfigured to be more like the other schools in those counties.

    I think you have a good point about development and I’d like to see the City learning from how Arlington and Fairfax do things (which I think we currently do to some extent). I’d also like to see us take advantage of our small size to make it easier for certain kinds of development to happen quickly in the City. It looks like we’re starting to get some traction on doing more detail area plans, which will hopefully encourage developers to come and propose building the kinds of things we want and need.

  5. Brian Williams (City of Falls Church) on December 21st, 2010 12:34 am

    George – thanks for summarizing your argument. The way you’ve shed light on the financial challenges of being a small, independent city has been a great value to the community. Thankfully, you’ve done it in a forum that allows others to make counter arguments for how we can remain independent.

    Our great, small schools are worth fighting for. So much so, they’ve attracted lots of families to move here (like mine). I believe the community will continue to step up as it has for decades to make sure we not only survive as a city, but our schools are world-class. In the short-run, that (unfortunately) means accepting higher residential taxes.

    In the long-run (but perhaps not too long), with strong leadership, community support, and cooperation with our neighbors in Arlington and Fairfax, we can encourage dense commercial construction in specifically zoned business districts. This will provide a solid tax base that results in lower residential taxes and long-term economic viability.

    Your column, thankfully, has raised enough urgency to this matter that we could very well finally have the community will to make this happen. If people understand that our options are to either (a) support the building of 8 story office buildings where we want them and keep our schools or (b) merge with Arlington and let them put 8 story office buildings wherever they want and lose our schools then maybe everyone will be more supportive.

  6. Angie Mellon on December 21st, 2010 1:24 pm

    The schools are definitely what drew us here – we really like the small size (although I will say that the class sizes in some of the classes are already seeing the growing numbers which I find alarming) & the high standards of learning. I am just concerned with our ability as a city to sustain our high standards (esp. after the financial article that came out today). Yes, some tax hikes will be worth it, but not everyone will be able to sustain continual increases. These tax hikes don’t seem to be going to past mistakes also – not the future growth of our schools.

    I do believe we should fight to try, but also need to have all our options vetted & have a plan B if our efforts don’t work out…I would really hate to get stuck in some of the less desirable school districts in the area because we, as a City, didn’t do our due diligence & make sure we are doing what is feasible & best overall (i.e. Arlington schools are a LOT better than some of the other alternatives & they do have many programs ours don’t offer too).

  7. Greg Rasnake, Falls Church City on December 22nd, 2010 1:15 am

    George says: Convincing Arlington to take us: Piece of cake.

    I say: Really? You base this on the friendly banter of a couple of people? Seems like wishful thinking incarnate. Of course I’m not sure how the reasons we are so attractive to Arlington (development potential), can’t serve as the same reasons to pull ourselves out of this mess? But you may be right. They may be interested in selling off Mt. Daniel and the George Mason High School sites and reapportioning our kids into the three Arlington High Schools and middle schools. Of course realize any one of those High Schools are about the same size as our entire school system. There is one positive though for the business community. I’m fairly certain that Arlington has wait-lists for their after school daycare programs. There will no doubt be a need for more childcare options in the City.

    George Says: Convincing Fairfax County to “let” us join Arlington. Fairfax could, and would, block us except for one thing: We have something Fairfax wants very badly – a waterworks that services its residents.

    I say: Really? In a previous post (one you cited to in this very article) you stated that the reason Arlington would want us is for the water system they so covet. So, are we going to use the water system as a bargaining chip to get Arlington to take us OR to get Fairfax to let us go. Now that the Supreme Court of Virginia has basically disallowed making any real money off of the system, I’m not sure either locality would really want it. But I do agree with your assertion that Fairfax could, and would, block us. They would be more than happy to add us to their tax rolls and then develop the City in any way they see fit. Of course our 12,000 citizens would join the other 1.3 million residents of Fairfax County, so I’m sure we’d have a great say in this and our services.

    George says: Obtaining the votes in the General Assembly to make this happen. That’s the easy part. If Falls Church, Arlington, and Fairfax County all desire it, there’s really no opposition.

    I say: Really? I wish political deal making in Richmond worked that way. Ask the Lawmakers how that approach has worked out for metro, transportation and other state funding for Northern Virginia.

    I will agree with one thing. I suspect that the consolidation issue would bring some major tax relief. If I’m correct – we would be returned to Fairfax County. Granted – I could be wrong. But humor me, my submission is based on the current and existing law that requires us to return to Fairfax and prohibits Arlington from annexing land. Realtor’s don’t make signs fast enough to put in the yards of the FCC residents that would be fleeing to Arlington. Property values would plummet and the tax burden would be much lower. Of course – my Grandmother would refer to that as cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’ve lived in places where people were in more of a hurry to move away vs. move in. Trust me, I prefer the latter.

    Again George, good luck with your new endeavor.

  8. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on December 22nd, 2010 9:30 am

    If Falls Church became part of Fairfax County, but wanted to maintain some sense of self governence, like Fairfax City or the Town of Vienna, then there would be a tax overlay, in addition to County taxes. The tax relief that so many seem to covet here is not as much as some might think looking at just the rates. The City folds in lots of services to the rate, like trash collection, that Fairfax bills separately (and many neighborhoods have to hire their own trash collection service).

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