Good Policy Is Good Politics
When These Two “Goods” Get Reversed by Public Officials–The Citizens Are Failed
November 6, 2017
Dear Fellow Citizens of Falls Church:
When I turn on the television news, I hear what I used to never hear in our City: A public official purposely trying to mislead citizens to get them to do something that if they knew the facts, they would not do. In Falls Church, in order to read from that political playbook, all I have to do is to turn to Phil Duncan’s Facebook page–which I did today.
And I don’t have to go any further than city documents to confirm Phil Duncan’s outrageous mendacity.
Over Valuing Land
Phil inflated the land value at George Mason to make it appear the building costs would be significantly covered by the sale or lease of the 10 acres. He says the land is worth $50 Million when no parcels of commercial property–according to the City’s assessment records–have sold in the city for more than $2.5 Million.
Ballyhooed Project but Actually Nothing More than a Bumper Crop of Congestion and Parking Woes
Phil claimed that the Kensington Nursing Home would add financial value and vibrancy to the city. It provides less than a penny on the tax rate and has increased parking and traffic congestion in the neighborhood–something that Phil from the dais said would not happen.
Small Benefit Large Land Use
Phil claims that economic development has been a boon to the City’s treasury. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the mixed-use projects according to the city’s financial records have generated about 10 cents on the tax rate and that took 18 years to accomplish. The projects have consumed 18 acres of land and during the same period covering their construction the tax rate has increased by over 30% not counting assessment increases.
There Just Isn’t Enough Land
Phil keeps the myth alive that we can economically develop our way to less dependence on homeowner taxes. What he does not tell you is that nearly all the land in the City is utilized and because of State law the city cannot physically grow by annexation. The bulk of increasing revenue needs will fall mainly on the homeowner–but in order to get the Referendum passed, he has to make you believe otherwise.
“Duncanomics:” Pull the Curtain Back and There’s Phil Spinning
Yet Phil wants you to believe that in the 10th year after the construction of George Mason High School, that the commercial component of the project will generate about 8 cents on the tax rate–ten years from now. At the same time the city will be paying $7.5 Million annual service on the bond–or about 18 cents on the tax rate–or close to $1,500 on a $700,000 home–if the Referendum passes. Of course, he puts forward the “Pollyannish” notion that between selling the property at George Mason and the commercial development–that the new school will hardly be noticed on the tax rate.
Why Do the Bond Proponents Always Talk About Schools and Not School Children
Phil never seems to mention children or the annual ever increasing operating budget demands for classroom needs–meaning competitive teacher salaries–while he continually pushes for a new school at the astronomical cost of $100,000 for each seat Lots of money in it for the contractor and developers; not much concern shown for school operating costs.
Only Seeing What Phil Wants You to See
In fact, Phil has never presented to the citizens a 10 year projection of the combined debt and yearly every increasing operating costs of the new school. He has made no effort to insure that the city staff produces such a looking forward document while at the same time serving up the 10 year projection of financial benefit. This selective use of information is tantamount to deception and of the most rank kind–to deceive the voters.
When Developers–or a Colleague–Needs a Hand, It’s Good to Have Phil in Your Corner
He was right there for his Rail Road Avenue developer friend who needed a rezoning and a favorable special exception vote by the Council. Phil pitched the project as housing for 55-plus seniors. He knew better. Federal law permits these types of projects to set aside 20 per cent of the units for those under 55 and who may well have children. And with the demographic change, there are now Moms and Dads over 55 who have school age children. The development will generate less than $100,000 a year in tax revenue. With just two new high school students from Rail Road’s 10 cheek-to-jowl houses enrolling at GMHS at $100,000 a seat, the project turns financially negative for the city.
And you probably have already read the Freedom of Information material that showed Duncan, the Kearney’s (School Board Chair and Developer husband) along with the School Superintendent Jones colluding and using $7,000 of school budget money to find a way to tear down city hall and put in its place a school. City employees would be shifted to commercial facilities which Michael Kearney advanced as the “Kearney Plan”–and an indication he or his company would have a development interest.
Phil Is Always there When Needed to Give a Hand–or Handout
And then there is the case of his seat mate on the Council, Dave Snyder, who got a sweet heart deal from the Council and with Phil’s support. Even after initially the Planning Commission and the Virginia Supreme Court turned down the zoning appeal of Columbia Baptist, the Snyders and the Church were able to do a land swap that permitted the Council to grant Snyder a sub-dividable lot. Ultimately the benefit to the Snyders, who are building a house on the “new” lot, will be a windfall of $500,000 or more when they sell it. It sure is nice to have friends in high places.
The VPIS objection to this inside sweetheart deal follows this article.
Something Has Happened to Our City–And It Isn’t Good
I have known Phil for over 20 years and we used to tussle over issues in the city. But I always thought that we were arguing what was best among choices that were all good. I don’t hold that opinion any longer. I believe that based on the facts that are readily available in multiple city documents and fact sheets, that Phil and the other Council Members who often take his positions–Letty Hardi, Dave Snyder and Mary Beth Connolly–are doing long term financial harm to the city, its schools and a desire for a common good to benefit all citizens. I believe that a collection of special interests have come to gather to degrade that necessary and appealing common sense of community for their own objectives. I can only hope on Tuesday you send a strong message that there is a better and more forthright way to do the government business of our city.
With best wishes,