Tysons Corner, VA

The Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church is reporting $2 million in unforeseen expenses for its upcoming renovation project.

The city is working to revamp the history room and add 3,174 square feet, along with new features to the aging Mary Riley Styles Public Library (120 N. Virginia Avenue). Voters approved the estimated $8.3 million budget in fall 2016.

Currently, the total estimated budget for the project is $10.8 million and has a shortfall of $2.1 million, Project Manager Joel Timmins said.

“So far we have spent $1.3 million,” Timmins said.

At a Falls Church City Council meeting last night (Monday), representatives of the library project said that unexpected costs stemmed from streetscape design, LEED Silver certification, added security measures and other areas.

Mark Manetti from BKV Group said that the upgraded library will be about two points short of receiving LEED Silver certification and that the team might need to purchase off-site credits to reach the 50-point minimum.

“To spend that kind of money to buy off-site credits is kind of anathema. Are there things we could do here to achieve LEED Silver?” Councilmember Dan Sze said. “Is it more tinkling with the HVAC? Is it more insulation?”

“I would have a preference to on-site energy reductions, efficiencies, et cetera as opposed to buying off-site credits,” Mayor David Tarter said.

Timmins said that the city’s Planning Commission said that the project needs a streetscape and the arborist recommended irrigation, which added costs.

Manetti added that the team didn’t realize initially that the project would need a streetscape design.

City Manager Wyatt Shields said that the library’s board and staff were primarily focused on the library when determining the original budget estimates for the project.

“I should have raised my hand and said we need to expand this to do the full site and the streetscape,” Shields said.

Shields added that he should have escalated the consultant’s estimate in 2014.

“Working with a 2014 number is difficult and not realistic or practical,” Shields said.

“What we asked the voters to approve for this particular project for generally what we wanted to do both in terms of expanding square footage and all of the stuff that comes along with it — forget cost escalation, forget tariffs, forget all of that — it just never seemed to comport,” Councilmember Ross Litkenhous said.

Litkenhous said he is frustrated that the referendum for the voters was $8 million instead of a higher number.

“If the referendum had said $12 million or $14 million, it probably still would have passed,” he said. “At the end of the day, there is going to be a cost overrun and it’s going to be significant.”

The total cost should be determined within a few weeks, Timmins said. Construction is slated to start by February. The library is scheduled to reopen March 2021.

Councilmember Phil Duncan said that he’s “fairly satisfied with what we’re paying.”

“The more I talk — the more all of us talk — the more expensive it gets,” Duncan said.

Image via City of Falls Church

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The Vienna Town Council adopted a $41.2 million budget yesterday (May 13) for fiscal year 2020, which represents a 6.5 percent increase over last year’s budget.

The new budget keeps the town’s real estate tax rate the same for the fifth consecutive year at 0.225 cents per $100 assessed value.

“While the tax rate is unchanged, most Vienna property owners will pay more in real estate taxes next year due to increases in assessed property values,” according to a press release from the town. “Real estate assessments increased 4 percent overall (4.9 percent for residential properties and 0.14 percent for commercial properties).”

The water and sewage rates will increase by about 10 percent — $64 — annually.

The Town of Vienna also expects new programming to bring in increased revenues from parks and recreation fees, more zoning fees from new developments, higher investment interest rates and more cellphone tower rentals, according to the press release.

The budget has funding for new initiatives, including an economic development manager position, several studies, a comprehensive zoning update and more tree maintenance funds.

Mayor Laurie DiRocco said in a press release that the economic development manager position “will help Vienna provide enhanced business-friendly services for existing businesses while also helping to bring to Town additional independent, locally owned businesses that will, collectively, help make Vienna a vibrant destination.”

The budget also provides the 189 employees of the town with a 3 percent merit raise.

FY 2020 begins July 1 and ends on June 30, 2020.

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Funding for two positions to help alleviate two very different crises in Vienna was salvaged by last-minute savings.

Digging around the proverbial sofa to find extra funds for previously unfunded priorities is a time-honored local budget tradition. In Vienna, that took the form of $400,000 recovered from transferring repaving to a cheaper system and changes in the town’s health insurance structure.

In response, Town Manager Mercury Payton proposed $383,000 worth of items that were not funded in the budget that could be financed by the found-funds in the final budget.

The largest item among the unfunded priorities was $144,600 for an economic development manager — a long-discussed idea in Vienna.

Despite more businesses opening than closing in the town, Vienna is still struggling with rampant closures from small businesses. The manager would help assess problems facing local business and develop strategies to help keep businesses in town. Vienna is currently the only locality in Northern Virginia without a person working specifically in an economic development role.

The list of unfunded priorities also includes $50,000 for an economic development and market study.

The other crisis addressed in the list of priorities is handling the town’s massive wave of tree deaths. Over the last few years, every ash tree in Vienna has been killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive parasite that’s devastated North America’s ash tree population.

But the town is also dealing with the still-unsolved mystery of what is killing the town’s Norway maples. The death tally reached 30 earlier this year, and Town Arborist Gary Lawrence said the killings were so similar to the Emerald Ash Borer deaths that at first the deaths were mistaken for that infestation.

The list of unfunded priorities includes $69,364 for an assistant arborist and $20,000 to help handle tree maintenance.

A public hearing on the tax rate is planned for April 29 and adoption of the budget is scheduled for May 13.

File photo

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The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) is mulling a call for more local police funding in the face of rapid development in Tysons.

MCA is set to discuss the funding resolution at the group’s Board of Directors meeting this Wednesday (April 3). The proposal calls for increased funding to Fairfax County Police Department’s McLean District starting with the next county budget.

The station’s McLean name can be a bit misleading — the McLean Police District covers not just McLean, but Tysons, Merrifield, and the Wolf Trap area near Vienna.

In the Fairfax County proposed budget’s five-year staffing plan, police staffing in Tysons is scheduled to gradually increase in the urban areas, but the implementation of this staffing increase is set to be deferred from the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

The MCA resolution argues that the county needs to act more quickly:

County Police Department assesses that the McLean Station needed 6 more officers by 2019, 29 more officers by 2024 and a total of 65 additional officers by 2029 just to keep pace with the growth… given that it takes nine months for new officers to complete training, it is critical that the County take steps in the very near future to make a ‘down payment’ on implementation of the McLean Station staffing plan.

The resolution urges the Board of Supervisors to begin implementing the McLean Station staffing plan, including reassigning some newly-trained recruits to the McLean District’s “Tysons Urban Team,” starting later this year.

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Morning Notes

FCPS Isolation Practices Questioned — “For years, Fairfax County Public Schools reported to the federal government that not a single student was physically restrained or trapped in an isolating space. But documents obtained by WAMU reveal hundreds of cases where children, some as young as 6 years old, were restrained or put in seclusion multiple times. In some cases, a single child was confined to a room almost 100 times in a school year.” [WAMU]

Falls Church Budget Proposal — “Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields proposed a Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020) budget of $99.3 million, which provides for a 2.4 percent ($958,408) increase in general government operating expenditures and a 2.5 percent ($1,044,231) increase in local funding for public schools, as requested by the School Board.” [City of Falls Church]

Local Students Emerge As State Chess Champs — “Students from four Fairfax County public schools won team championships in all four K-12 divisions at the Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships held recently in Charlottesville… The K-3 team from Spring Hill Elementary School won the team title in its age group.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

McLean Teacher’s Wedding Gets NYT Write-up — Sara Rhodin, a history teacher at the private, all-girls Madeira School in McLean, had her recent nuptials to former Obama speechwriter Tyler Lechtenberg written up in the New York Times’ wedding section. [New York Times]

Tysons Reporter Event Calendar — Tysons Reporter has launched its Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church event calendar. The calendar has been pre-populated with events from around the region to start, but expect to see more local events being added every week. You can submit events to the calendar here.

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At tonight’s Vienna Town Council meeting, a planned overview of the town’s budget process lays out local budget priorities so far and offers a look at what’s coming next.

In previous meetings, the town manager presented his proposed budget and 10 budget priorities:

  • Real estate tax rate remains at $0.225 per $100 of assessed value. This is the seventh year of decrease or no change.
  • Three percent compensation increase for eligible employees
  • Water and Sewer rates rising 10 percent in total to cover operating costs, maintain positive cash flow and meet industry standards for billing the fixed cost portion of the bill.
  • Parks and Recreation revenue increasing $280,000 due to strong attendance and programming
  • Minimal personnel changes
  • Stormwater engineer salary increase to handle sustainability coordinator duties
  • Shift $200,000 from operating budget to capital budget for asphalt costs
  • Two vehicles added using unspent capital lease proceeds, water and sewer funds and stormwater funds
  • Three percent decrease in health insurance for Anthem, 9 percent increase for Kaiser health insurance, generating an additional $125,000 in savings
  • $400,000 available for unfunded priorities allocated to an economic development manager, updated zoning code and other priorities

The economic development manager position was one discussed by the Town Council as part of the strategic plan. The consultant would assist the town in trying to stem the tide of businesses vacating the town.

Town Council work sessions for the budget are planned for March 16 and 18, with a third on April 22 if needed.

A public hearing on the budget, water and sewer rates is scheduled for April 8 and for the proposed tax rate on April 29.

Final budget adoption is scheduled for May 13.

File Photo

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While McLean residents are mostly satisfied with what’s in this year’s county budget proposal, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) takes issue with one item that isn’t: body worn cameras.

A pilot program for body-worn cameras was implemented through 2018 and a report on the findings of the program are expected sometime this spring, but funding for the program is not included in the police budget for FY 2020.

At tonight’s MCA meeting, the board will vote on a resolution to recommend body worn cameras be included in the budget.

Equipping police officers with body worn cameras is beneficial to both police and the community. [Body-worn cameras] can accurately record law enforcement actions and thereby capture evidence pursuant to investigations, reduce the number of complaints filed against officers, and provide additional safety for our officers as they patrol the streets.  The cameras also increase transparency, accountability, and trust between the police and community, which has been an issue nationwide over the last several years and is particularly relevant to our community with the recent killing of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police.

The killing of Bijan Ghaisar was controversial partly because videos from dashboard cameras released by Fairfax County Police that seemed to show no threat to U.S. Park Police when they shot Ghaisar.

Last year, on the anniversary of the shooting, the MCA approved a resolution pushing for more transparency in the investigation and praising the Fairfax County Police for releasing the video.

This isn’t the first time body-worn cameras have come up in budget discussions. At an earlier Board of Supervisors meeting on the budget, several board members expressed concern there was no funding identified for the program. Staff said at the meeting that they were waiting for the results of the pilot evaluation to add funding.

“The program has broad support, but actual implementation continues to drift to the right,” the MCA said in the resolution. “It is time to implement the program and, following completion of the [evaluation], we urge a cost-conscious [body-worn camera] implementation.”

Photo via Fairfax County Police

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A meeting on Thursday (Feb. 28) will take a look at how the county budget will impact McLean.

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) is hosting the meeting in the McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Ave.) and put together a list of top issues facing the area. The rundown includes items that are McLean specific and issues like the long-term economic viability of the Metro system.

According to the MCA, questions up for discussion include:

–  Trade-offs between self-imposed county bond limits, county operating expenditures, and local taxes?
–  The impact of development and demographic trends on costs for county-provided services, including schools?
–  Below market salaries for many teachers?
–  Unusually generous pension plans for county and school system employees?
–  Overcrowding at McLean High School and other schools?
–  Metro and other transit maintenance, repairs and expansion, especially in future years?

The budget, which was presented as a draft to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, highlighted the growth and challenges associated with new development in Tysons and the surrounding localities.

One of the topics of discussion, the overcrowding of McLean High School, has been particularly contentious. The School Board killed a proposal to redistrict McLean High School to send some students to the under-capacity Langley High School.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro are planned to be in attendance to discuss the budget.

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Tysons is quickly becoming one of the largest contributors to, and one of the largest demands on, the Fairfax County budget.

The FY 2020 Fairfax County Advertised Budget, presented at a Board of Supervisors meeting today (Tuesday), was met with praise from supervisors for keeping the county steady without raising the tax rate.

The budget will maintain the real estate tax rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value. The average Fairfax resident will see their tax bill increase by approximately $149.

But the county still experienced $162.83 million in revenue growth at the current 3.04 percent tax rate, much of which was driven by growth in Tysons.

The budget noted that prime real estate markets in Fairfax are spaces near the Silver Line, which has helped position Tysons as a financial powerhouse of the county. The completion of the 975,000-square-foot Capital One headquarters building was the majority of the County’s 1,191,000 square foot increase over 2017’s office space inventory. According to the budget documents:

Lease rates for new space are adjusting to market conditions as many tenants are taking advantage of favorable rates, and others are looking to capitalize on market conditions by consolidating operations in newer space near Metro stations. Submarkets along and near the Silver Line – Tysons Corner, Reston and the Herndon area – are especially well-positioned to take advantage of this trend. More than 54 million square feet of new office space is in the development pipeline countywide.

But the budget documents also show some of the demands Tysons is putting on the budget.

The Fairfax County Police Department is facing internal budget struggles, particularly as it works to adapt to urbanizing areas like Tysons. According to the report:

Keeping pace with urbanization to include Tysons, the Metro Silver Line extension, Springfield Town Center, South County development, and other micro-urban development countywide, will continue to challenge the Department for decades to come. Providing basic police service in urbanized areas requires different policing modes and resources than traditional methods in the suburban model the Department has been using for many decades

The report said that the department’s five-year staffing plan will include meeting the urbanization demands in Tysons with expanded police services. The budget has 16 additional uniformed positions planned for FY 2021 in the county’s long-term staffing plan.

One area of disappointment from supervisors was the lack of funding for body-worn cameras. A pilot program was implemented through 2018 and a report on the findings is expected in the first quarter of FY 2019, but officials expressed concerns that the program was not in the police budget for FY 2020.

The increasing population and density in Tysons are also putting a strain on the local parks. According to the budget:

Collectively, the major rezoning applications approved in Tysons since 2010 generate a need for eight new athletic fields under the maximum approved development levels. The equivalent of two athletic fields have been built and currently serve Tysons area users.

The budget does note, however, that new athletic fields have been proffered — funded by developers as a condition of approval — including a baseball diamond near Westgate Elementary School and a 2.3-acre park near the Tysons Galleria.

While the growth in Tysons is likely to put some strain on Fairfax County Public Schools, plans to address that overcrowding are currently not funded.

Each supervisor said they will be holding budget meetings in their communities over the next few weeks. Supervisor John Foust from the Dranesville District said the McLean discussion will be held on Feb. 28 at the McLean Community Center at 7 p.m.

The budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 7.

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Morning Notes

School Board Advertises $3 Billion Budget — “The Fairfax County School Board has adopted the FY 2020 Advertised Budget of $3.0 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent, or $117.4 million, over the FY 2019 Approved Budget. The FY 2020 budget prioritizes employee compensation with a $55.2 million investment in teacher salary scales that includes a 1.0 percent market scale adjustment.” [Connection Newspapers]

Auditions for Vienna Theater — The Vienna Theatre Company is holding auditions tonight for its upcoming production of “Ripcord.” [Facebook]

Author Talk at Tysons Book Store — Bestselling fantasy novelist Larry Correia will be holding a book discussion and signing tonight at the Barnes & Noble store in Tysons. [Instagram]

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