F.C. Police, Library Supporters Up in Arms Over Shields’ Plan

A City of Falls Church police sergeant, in public comments to the F.C. City Council Monday night, said that “several officers” in the small department have begun exploring opportunities for employment elsewhere.

Sgt. Joe Carter made the comment while speaking out strongly against the major take-home pay cuts recommended by F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields that were unveiled at Monday’s meeting. The cuts come in the form of increasing the obligation on City police to pay a portion for pension and retirement benefits amounting to seven percent of their salaries, which in turn have been frozen since 2008.

The obligation is a jump over the 2.2 percent participation rate in the current year. Last year, there was no obligation. Among other City employees, the participation level proposed is a jump from 1.6 to 5 percent, and a proposed across-the-board 2 percent overall salary boost, distributed as an even $1,300 per employee, does not begin to make up the difference.

By contrast, the F.C. School Board has proposed a modest half-“step” salary increase for the coming year. The neighboring jurisdictions of Arlington and Alexandria are offering overall employee salary hikes.

Clearly, City employees and library supporters, in particular, were tipped off to Shields’ budget plan in advance of its formal presentation Monday night. They filled the Council chambers, and began speaking out against the cuts, including layoffs and reduced hours at the Mary Riley Styles Public Library.

Learning about the cuts, two supporters of the School Board budget also showed up to speak, worried that the Council’s reaction to Shields’ plan might be to cut any prospects of a modest salary increase out of the School Board’s request.

Sgt. Carter’s comment was followed by similar ones from police officers Justin Cuomo and James Brooks.

Members of the Council began commenting and questioning the compensation plan laid out by Shields, some adding that the differential it represents from what the School employees may be receiving will be problematic for them.

But School Board chair Joan Wodiska, in formally presenting to the Council the budget adopted by her body last month, reminded the Council that even though it has control over the net amount it votes to provide the Schools, it does not control how the money is spent.

Commenting on the News-Press website, City Council member Robin Gardner said that while new hires to the police department are now earning less than the entry-level salaries they came in at, replacing them will be costly for the City. “A lot of money goes into training police candidates and the start up cost for new police officers is nothing to sneeze at,” she wrote.

Mayor Nader Baroukh, in a statement issued Tuesday, sought to  assure the public that a lot has yet to be determined before the budget is finally adopted by the Council on April 25. “Development of a sound budget to meet the strategic needs of the City is one of the most important tasks of the City Council,” he stated. “Over the next few weeks, the Council will thoroughly review the Manager’s proposal and consider input from citizens.  We encourage citizens to attend upcoming Town Hall meetings and public hearings and email comments to Council with suggestions and comments.”

The first public Town Hall meeting on the budget is slated for this Saturday, March 19, at 10 a.m. at the Community Center.