Falls Church’s soft spoken veteran director of human resources Richard Parker was so soft spoken at tonight’s Falls Church City Council work session on the coming Fiscal Year 2012 budget that his comment was almost buried beneath a litany of numbers about City employeef compensation, pension and health insurance levels. He suddenly, softly, threw in, “In my 25 years in Falls Church, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He was referring to the level of activity in recent months by City employees seeking emergency draws on their deferred compensation accounts and advances on their paychecks.”Our employees are getting hammered by rent increases, rising gas prices and rising food costs,” he said. Later, he explained that the financial squeeze from three years of salary freezes in Falls Church “is now effecting everyone.” He said that employees bought homes on the belief that over times their salaries would continue to rise over time, and that in other cases, a spouse’s loss of work could be a factor. but that the situation has now changed drastically overall. “It’s due to a combination of things,” he said. Faced with the prospect of significant real cuts in take home pay, he said, “I know of four or five” Falls Church police officers who are actively looking for work elsewhere.
“Quite frankly” Parker said, “Employees are asking,’What is my future in this organization? A lot of other places are starting to recover, and no other jurisdictions are showing negatives” in terms of employee net take home pay like Falls Church.
Parker’s muted eloquence stirred some on the Council, including two usually at loggerheads, to explore options for putting more into City employ paychecks in the coming fiscal year. Council member and former mayor Robin Gardner said boldly. “I want to compensate our employees better.” Council member Lawrence Webb chimed in, saying, “We have to say ‘we value what you do here, we know you make a difference,” and, “We have to show them in some kind of monetary way.”
While Vice Mayor David Snyder objected, saying that talk of defections by City employees, including police, bely figures showing average compensation in Falls Church is higher than in neighboring Fairfax County. “This could be rhetoric beyond what the numbers show,” he said. Snyder also noted that downward pressures on Falls Church employee take home pay is due to the fact that the City’s employee pension funds reward the City employees comparatively greater down the road.
But the bottom line, Parker retorted, is that “paychecks are going down” for Falls Church City employees, and they’re not elsewhere.
Council member Ira Kaylin stressed that any salary increases would have terrible multiplier effects for the City, especially in terms of future pension fund costs, at a time when the City simply can’t afford it. “If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money,” he intoned. “We face a very difficult future for the City if we can’t figure out how to raise revenues.”
In a rare moment of agreement, however, Kaylin did agree with Gardner on the concept that if a way could be found for City employees to be compensated further, it would be best done through one-time bonuses, rather than salary increases.
The subject was left by the Council with the following preminary conclusions, as summarized by Mayor Nader Baroukh: No one objected to City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposal to increase the employee participation in their own pension plans from 1.6 to 5 percent for regular employees and from 2.2. to 7 percent for police, but that the discussion of potential salary increases or bonuses would await additional data for discussion in coming weeks before the Council’s final adoption of its budget April 26.