With No Significant Commercial Development How Many Apartments Needed to Pay for a New School?
The City Has Built About a 1,000 Condominiums and Apartments–and the Tax Rate Keeps Escalating.
How Many Apartments Will Be Enough–2,000? 3,000? 4,000?
That’s the Point.
By Ira Kaylin
Kaylin is a former member of the City Council and co-chair of its Budget and Finance Committee
On February 5th the City Council and School Board had another community meeting to discuss the GMHS site and facts were hidden by manipulating the agenda.
Community Meeting: A Pep Rally for Preselected Option
It is certainly the prerogative of those convening a meeting to set the agenda. However, this was supposed to be an informational and feedback oriented meeting. It was not supposed to be a “Pep” rally for a particular option.
By refusing to consider the issue of annual operating costs, the Council and the School Board are ignoring the chief threat to maintaining the quality education that the citizens expect and deserve.
What About Classroom Needs–Your Children’s Needs
Capital costs and operating costs are interrelated; the ability to fund future school costs, in part, depends on our ability to reduce long term costs.
In fact, the meeting should have been about how are we going to pay our teachers in the future and not how big and not how quickly can construct a new building.
The Approval Choreography Is All Too Transparent
- The City produces a Power Point that contains alleged timing and financial options.
- No sources for the option’s offered are cited. In fact it appears that all options have been prepared by one company—ARCADIS— which is employed by the School on a virtual retainer basis. The same firm has been involved in the cost over runs in the Thatcher, TJ and now infamous Mt. Daniel projects. The City official was asked to provide the source data but simply refused to answer.
- As a result, the fundamental basis for decision making–that is, the independence of the firm(s) preparing the various options is entirely lacking. Thus, there is an obvious and profound Conflict of Interest.
- Without independent review it can be expected that any firm would steer the decision toward the option that produces the most profit.
- Not surprisingly, we understand that full funding of the project ($112 million) was deemed preferred.
- On the commercial development side, it is not burdened by any publishable data.
Building a “Head of Steam”
The concept being driven by the Council and School Board is to generate increased pressure on those who would prefer independent analysis before going forward. The chant ‘we need the school now” will become a “mantra”. When the level of intensity of the mantra is sufficient it will become clear that parts of any planned retail/commercial component project will rapidly fall by the wayside.
Giving Developers Leverage over Falls Church
By advertising commercial development as a key to the $112 million project the “Cheerleaders” have already showed developers our hand. We have made it clear that we are desperate. Thus, what will our negotiators use to get the best price?
It is expected that under the stress of getting something approved quickly and the need to alleviate pressure on the tax rate the Council, irrespective of any plan that may exist the Council will agree to take on more apartment construction. We will hear again that there is a no market for commercial space and that developers are only willing to support mixed use projects at best. That appears to be accurate.
The Washington Post has already commented that the regional financial out look is ‘not rosy’. Empty retail space at the Reserve at Tinner Hill, the absence of promised retail usage at the Kensington end of life facility are examples of the difficulty in securing retail/commercial space.
Relieving Stress: Temple Grandin Would Approve
Temple Grandin is best known for two achievements as a: 1) spokesperson for those with Autism and, 2) devising a mechanism that relieves stress (increases profits) on cattle being led to slaughter. As regards the second item her device is still the industry standard.
One cannot help but feel a sense of “déjà vu”. The outcome of the community meeting was well known in advance; the clamor for doing “something” now; the biased presentations justifying why we can, and should, build now–especially the financial data presentations, which borders on “fake” news.
The “crowd” is becoming more emotional and less interested in long term viability of the City.
One senses that we are entering the first major passage way to the “financial slaughter house” that was set up to relieve our anxiety and stress by simply claiming whatever needs to be claimed to make sure that we enter the final stop relaxed and calm.
It is in that sense Temple Grandin would approve.
There Are Alternatives
If one believes the presentations provided by the City and Schools that the best approach would be to ask the citizens to pre-approve, through a Referendum, a tax rate that could reach, to pick a number, $1.50. The benefits would be:
- Avoid the necessity of building more and more apartments.
- Permit greater opportunity for the City to choose the most profitable/desirable projects without have a financial gun at its back.
- Commercial development negotiations could begin on a “level” playing field. The tax rate growth would be reduced as the commercial component proceeds. The City would not be negotiating from a position of desperation.
- Timing and selection of retail and clients could reflect the needs of the City over time rather than as at a given moment.
But that option is too forthright and too candid for this Council and School Board.