…a well informed electorate is a prerequisite to a democracy…”
By Sam Mabry
Mabry is a Former Falls Church City Vice Mayor
As featured in The Post over the last several months, experienced and trained financial professionals have raised serious questions regarding the accuracy and forthrightness of information presented by the City Council and School Board supporting a favorable vote on the referendum question. The Post writers understand that financial capacity of our city because of its size is limited and that funding priority should be given to services–including the best possible classroom learning experience for our students.
Sitting Members of the City Council Are Also Apprehensive
Two Council Members voted not to send the referendum forward for a vote, including Councilman Dan Sze, who stated before his no vote that he believed due diligence had been wholly inadequate in terms of project design.
A Heavy Lift—for 30 Years—Based on “Hope” and a “Leap of Faith”
The per capita debt chart produced by the School staff–which assumes the referendum passes–illustrates the burden that a $120 Million, 30-Year debt will impose on the citizens and, consequently, revenues available for the classroom and our students. Citizens ultimately have a finite tolerance to be taxed and that must be kept in mind when choosing spending priorities.
The Council’s arguments that the $120 Million debt is manageable, is brought into dispute by a variety of assumptions and projections. As Councilman Dan Sze pointed out before he voted against sending the referendum to the voters, hope is not a strategy for development or debt.
Vice Mayor Mary Beth Connolly, however, in justifying her position on the issue, opines remarkably that the citizens (and consequently our school kids) need to make a “leap of faith” and approve the bond.
Cherry Picking Financial and Development Assumptions
In my conversations with senior City staff, there was reluctance to project the financial impact of bond costs over the next 5 to 10 years coupled with the annual increases in operating fund requirements for the city and schools. We now understand subsequent to that meeting, the City will present some information in this regard.
Nevertheless, the Council is willing to accept one assumption–that the sale value for 8-10 acres of developable land on the George Mason site will double over the next few years producing some $40 Million. At the present time, however, commercially zoned land in the city is being sold for about $2.5 Million per acre. Accordingly, the reality that the land will sell for $4 Million to $5 Million in a few years is a real “leap of faith.”
The City Council Makes a $36 Million Contribution to Insure Passing the Referendum by Making It Appear More Affordable
Instead of being straight forward with the citizens and increasing the city’s real estate tax rate by 4 cents for a 20 year bond, the Council chose to ask you to approve bond payments for 30 years. The 20 year bond would have saved some $36 Million over the life of the debt. In addition, since the debt would have been reduced more quickly, additional bond capacity would have been available for other city and school projects.
The Mayor Seems to Be in Conflict with Own His Development Vision
While he has stated that he wants a walkable city with a small town feel, and is therefore adverse to increased density, he is backing a development paradigm for the GMHS development that according to city documents would provide for nearly a 1,000 more apartments, another 2,000+ citizens and 200 more school students.
The Mayor and the Council, not withstanding their words to the contrary, seem committed to a densely packed city without even making provision for additional parks and recreation.
There Are Options that Should Have Been Given to the Citizens
If it were not for the high handed actions of five Council Members, we could have gone into the voting booth in November with a choice beyond a “take it or leave it” $120 Million debt, including a $60 Million GMHS rehabilitation with some new facilities and additional land for parks and recreation for use by the city residents and students. The Council has denied you the opportunity to make that choice. Depending on the outcome of the referendum vote, we may still have choices.
Special Note: And thank you, Ira Kaylin, for providing The Post with Thomas Jefferson’s wisdom and guidance.
More Next Week