January 31, 2017

Mixed Use Developments: Much Revenue, Few Students

Of the 2,670 FCCPS students, what percentage live in the 7 mixed-use condo or rental apartment buildings that have opened in the past 15 years.

A. 35 percent

B. 17 percent

C. 8 percent

If you picked C, you’re correct. In all the newer buildings combined — Broadway, Byron, Spectrum, Pearson Square, Read, Northgate and WestBroad — there are 218 students, or less than 10 percent of FCCPS’ total enrollment.

Because of their low public-service costs, these 7 buildings, taken together, are strongly revenue-positive for The City. They pay far more taxes than they cost in public expenditures.

This net revenue helps us bear the cost of schools and City services and facilities. Without this net revenue, our property tax rate would be about 10 cents higher, or $700 annually added to the tax bill of the typical homeowner.

[I will update this information as soon as I get the official end-of-September student enrollment figure from FCCPS, and the student count in Lincoln Tinner Hill, which opened during the last school year. I’ve heard that FCCPS student enrollment growth from 2016 to 2017 was modest, and that the student count in LTH is on track with projections. So I believe it will remain true that only about 10 percent of FCCPS students come from the newer MXD buildings.]


January 3, 2017

The Vital Role of Economic Revitalization

On the campaign trail and from the Council dais, you’ve often heard me say that with a strong and consistent commitment to economic revitalization, along with prudence in spending on City and schools operations, we can enjoy quality municipal and educational services and facilities while keeping the property tax rate level.

With that in mind, I encourage your attention to a guest commentary in this week’s News-Press by one of the emerging leaders in our City, Ross Litkenhous, who serves on the Board of Zoning Appeals.

As we weigh our options for school facilities, Ross suggests that “large scale commercial development…should be studied more closely by the city before considering any tax rate increases.”

His summation is sensible, and stirring: “It’s time we take action to secure the future of our schools and our city’s fiscal health by thinking creatively – and being bold.”

At our first meeting of 2017, on Tuesday evening, Council and School Board will again take up the topic of school construction and economic development on the Upper West Side. I’ll have more to say soon on this.

Find Ross’s commentary at: https://fcnp.com/2016/12/29/guest-commentary-can-build-new-school-without-raising-taxes/

April 24, 2016

Budget I support = 3.6 percent more money for FCCPS; 2.4 percent more for City Government

Thanks to those of you who are sharing your views on the budget & CIP. In the budget plan I support, FCCPS will receive $1.398 million new dollars for FY16-17. That’s a 3.6 percent increase over FY15-16, well above schools’ enrollment growth from Sept. 2014 to Sept. 2015.

I’m confident that FCCPS can allocate resources in a way that fundamentally preserves the system’s key goals for teacher compensation and class size. It will be necessary to trim some new items for FY16-17 that the Superintendent and the School Board hoped to add, just as the City government is having to trim some of its wants (general govt is getting a 2.4 percent increase for FY16-17).

By holding the tax rate level this year, I see Council as emphasizing the importance of continuing to work to generate new revenues through economic revitalization, and I see us as reserving some taxing capacity to deploy into the large, unknown schools facilities costs looming just ahead — certainly the HS & MS project, and possibly an alternative or supplement to Mt. Daniel, if Fairfax County spurns our expansion plan there.

February 19, 2016

Sunday Forum on Local Real Estate Development

League of Women Voters Hosts Forum on Local Real Estate Development

The League of Women Voters of Falls Church will host a local issues forum Sunday February 21 entitled “Understanding Commercial Real Estate Development in Falls Church: Four Perspectives.” The forum will be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center, 223 Little Falls Street.

Commercial real estate taxes now represent more than 10 percent of city revenues and commercial real estate development now impacts the city on many different levels. The forum is designed to share the perspectives of government officials, developers, retailers and local residents on this important issue.

The discussion will feature a panel of speakers: City Councilman Phil Duncan; Bruce Leonard, managing principal of Streetsense, a collective involved in designing retail projects around the country and metro area; Keith Thurston, president of the Village Preservation and Improvement Society; and developer Robert Young, principal in The Young Group. Following their presentations, the forum will include a question-and-answer period.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information on the Falls Church League and its activities go to www.lwvfallschurch.org <http://www.lwvfallschurch.org/>  

November 2, 2015

Thanks for considering me on Tuesday

Dear Falls Church Citizens:

In my campaign for a second term on City Council, I have reached out in a variety of ways — seeking your views at my Fall Festival “listening post”; answering questions at candidate forums; meeting with small groups in living rooms; talking one-on-one in front yards, on front porches, and at civic functions; advertising in the newspaper; and posting here and on Facebook. All to share with you my goals of building community, promoting civility and spurring progress.

Election Day is upon us, and I’m writing this one final message to ask you to consider joining others who believe with me that Falls Church is a confident, progressive City, a place where we meet our challenges with energy and ingenuity.

I am grateful for the endorsement of the Sierra Club’s local chapter, which cited my “understanding and support of environmental issues.” I am honored to be called “conscientious and dedicated” in an endorsement from the News-Press.

And I am thankful for broad grassroots support, including more than 80 citizens whose small-dollar contributions have enabled me to reach out with ads, yard signs, and literature. I have accepted no donations from interests with development applications before City Council. I’m an independent voice, with YOUR needs uppermost in my mind.

Welcoming your input, listening for points of agreement, seeking common ground — that’s my nature, that’s my record, that’s how I will keep working on Council if you re-elect me.

To protect our City’s sense of community and closeness, I practice positive politics and encourage civil, constructive dialogue. If allowed to continue serving on Council, I promise to redouble my efforts to act in a manner that is at all times respectful, and substantive, and focused on moving our City forward.

Thank you for considering me on Tuesday.


Phil Duncan

Phil’s Priorities

•Maintain excellence in public education — invest in proper facilities to keep class sizes stab

•Press City and schools to run a tight and transparent financial ship — every penny counts

•Keep the property tax rate steady — we should aim for $1.30 again in next year’s budget

•Provide quality services and infrastructure — neighborhood traffic calming, well-maintained parks, stormwater management, and more

•Spur new economic activity to increase revenue and help Falls Church become a more vibrant, walkable City, with more places to eat, shop and have fun.

Email: Duncan4FC@gmail.com
Facebook: Falls Church City Councilor Phil Duncan
Call: (703) 209-2005
Authorized and paid for by Phil Duncan for City Council

June 11, 2015

Leadership That Listens


What government does should reflect the people’s values and concerns. On City Council, I listen carefully to everyone’s ideas, questions and suggestions. I talk extensively with citizens and my Council colleagues about how to balance competing priorities. When I cast my vote, I try to act in the best interest of the whole City.

Welcoming your input, hearing you out, searching for points of agreement, finding common ground — that’s my nature, that’s my record, that’s how I will keep working on Council if you choose to re-elect me Nov. 3.

I’m asking for your vote, and a chance to continue doing my part to help move our great City forward.

I am working as hard as I can to carry my campaign to everyone in the City. In an era when politics is too often about combative incivility, I believe that here in Falls Church we can model a better way, engaging in a constructive and vigorous civic conversation about our City’s challenges and opportunities. Falls Church may be geographically small, but we have a large number of smart people with big ideas for making our City even better. My aim is to provide “leadership that listens” — blending the good ideas of others with my three decades of experience as a civic volunteer and now Councilor to chart a course that will make Falls Church a united and prosperous community for all generations.

In my campaign I intend to visit in person with as many of you as possible, going door-to-door, attending Citywide and neighborhood events, participating in candidate forums, and wrangling whatever invitations I can to chat with groups of neighbors in living rooms and backyards. If you have something on your mind, feel free to contact me anytime: either phone (703-209-2005), or email (duncan4fc@gmail.com), or grab me when you see me out and about in town.

In keeping with my belief that open and robust dialogue is at the heart of healthy politics and good government, I run multiple campaign “storefronts” to help me reach out to and hear back from citizens: My campaign is on the web at www.Duncan4FC.com. On Facebook, “Falls Church City Councilor Phil Duncan” is where I post news and photos about public affairs in our City. Quick updates are on Twitter @Duncan4FC.

If you would like to support my Council re-election bid with a donation, I would be most grateful. You can click on the “Donate” button to give online, or write a check to “Phil Duncan for City Council” and mail it to 1069 W. Broad St., #776, Falls Church, VA 22046

During the three years I have served on Council, I have met so many terrific people who volunteer their intellect, time and energy to making Falls Church a wonderful place to live, educate children, do business, and enjoy our expanding array of opportunities for dining, entertainment, shopping and recreation. On the campaign trail, I look forward to catching up with old friends, and to making new ones. I hope you will deem me worthy of one of your three Council votes, and that you will encourage your neighbors and friends to support me, too. Thank you!

November 13, 2013

City Sells Water System, Annexes Fairfax Co. Land

Let me share some of my thoughts about Council’s Nov. 12 final vote on the water sale:

“I think it was no certain thing, around Labor Day, that the water sale referendum was going to win as handily as it did. I express my thanks to City staff, my Council colleagues, numerous citizen organizations, and to our City’s print and online media outlets, for conducting an ambitious outreach and education effort on the referendum in September and October.

“All the efforts to share information, invite questions, and encourage citizen dialogue led to a community-wide consensus that the water sale and boundary adjustment is a good deal for our City and schools.

“On Tuesday night, I was pleased and proud to vote for the enacting ordinance to “annex and incorporate” land into the City of Falls Church — something that, as far I know, hasn’t been done since the City was established in 1948. Mr. Tarter said it well: ‘This is really a big thing for the City. It opens up extraordinary opportunities for economic development, and for the schools.’” http://bit.ly/17oaQRP

June 25, 2013

Statement on the Water System Sale


Since this is probably the most fiscally consequential ordinance I will ever vote on as a Council member, I’d like to say a few words for the record.

First, the Falls Church water system is older than the City itself, dating to the 1930s, and I want to thank all the people who, over the decades, have run the system with dedication and high competence, right up to today’s work force, who in this water-sale agreement are given a three-year job guarantee at their current level, and who, I believe and hope, will have good prospects of long careers working for one of the nation’s largest, most successful water utilities.

Second, I want to thank the generations of City elected officials, City Managers and City Attorneys who have overseen the honest and effective administration of our water system, all the way up to the current generation of Council members, City Manager, City Attorney, and outside counsel, who forcefully and capably advocated for the City’s interests in the litigation of recent years.

About that litigation: While it’s true that Fairfax was our adversary in this dispute, it was just that, a legal dispute between two jurisdictions. It was not a “water war” with a good side and an evil side. Facts were in contention, multiple courts and judges weighed in. Sometimes rulings favored Fairfax, sometimes Falls Church. In the end, an agreement was reached through judicial mediation that I think is a fair deal for Falls Church.

Between now and the November voter referendum, as our citizens examine the agreement, I look forward to having a chance to explain why I believe that ratifying it will be good for our taxpayers, and will help open doors to a bright future for our City and schools.

March 14, 2013

Let’s Hear from YOU as Council Starts Work on Budget

At the City Council meeting March 11, City Manager Wyatt Shields proposed a FY2014 budget of $74.9 million, to pay for general government and schools operating expenses as well as long-term infrastructure needs.

Now come three public hearings and two town hall meetings, leading up to Council’s adoption of a final budget on April 22. The first Town Hall meeting is this Saturday, March 16 at 10 a.m. in the Community Center. City and schools staff will present information on the budget, and then take your questions and comments. If you can’t attend in person, you can comment via email to budget@fallschurchva.gov. I’d be happy to hear your views — please e-mail or phone, or grab me when I’m out and around in The City.

Below are my opening thoughts on the budget, as expressed at Council’s March 11 meeting (edited a bit for clarity):

“This seems like a time of high expectations, with still fairly modest resources. We want to recapture the ground we’ve given up on school funding — we’ve kept things pretty flat in recent years — we want to do a lot of that, right now. We want a stormwater utility fund, right now. We want to do infrastructure work on City Hall, right now. And in various other categories, we’re in a pretty expansive mindset. But our resources are still fairly modest.

“Some of the things Mr. [Vice Mayor David] Snyder said about [the stresses on] individual taxpayers — certainly that’s what we all hear. As for the City’s resources, we’re just at the beginning of what I hope will be a campaign of economic development. I would hope that we can get ourselves on a course to produce $1 or $2 million dollars in new revenue every year. Because if we don’t do that, Councils years from now will be starting out the budget process where we start out tonight — with significantly more needs than we have the revenue to meet.

“But I am optimistic. I think five years from now, whoever’s sitting in these chairs is going to look back on this as a time when we DID meet these challenges, because that’s what Falls Church does. We take these challenges on, and we meet them. It will be a combination of some belt-tightening, it will be some economic development, I hope, and it will be some taxation.

“I would hope that we could all start out this budgeting process not staking out unchangeable positions. I’m certainly open to listening to dialogue, and I know the schools will be, too, and I know my colleagues on Council will be, also.”

March 9, 2013

The Dollars and Sense of Revitalizing Our City

I invite citizens to read a new report from the City that, in my view, explains why we should keep moving forward on economic revitalization in Falls Church. A quick summary:  The mixed-use buildings that have gone up in the past dozen years are bringing in more than $2 million annually in net revenue, which keeps our property tax rate seven cents lower than if these buildings hadn’t happened, saving the average City homeowner about $400 each year. Plus, these buildings have brought us new gathering places, dining options, and shopping and service offerings that enhance our community — Mad Fox, Beadazzled, Moby Dick’s, Sweet Frog, Hoang’s, Cosi, Penzey’s Spices, Pizzeria Orso, Body Dynamics, and others.
A News-Press item on the report is at http://bit.ly/13Hcujn.
To read the report in full, and hear a discussion of it at Council’s March 4 work session, see http://bit.ly/ZoPtel