Local Commentary

Editorial: City Employees Odd Folk Out

The Falls Church City Fiscal Year 2013 budget recommendations of City Manager Wyatt Shields unveiled Monday night appear to be tame at first look, but there is plenty festering beneath the surface that may or may not put the next seven weeks of City Council deliberation to the test. It won’t help that this is an election year, and that two members of the current Council will be on the ballot seeking reelection barely a week after the budget is due to be adopted in late April.

Among the stakeholders in the budget those who bring electoral clout to the polls in early May will be residential property owners paying real estate taxes and parents with children in the City schools.

Who is dealt out of this equation? The answer: employees, both of City businesses and the City government.

First, there are the employees of businesses in the community, who can’t afford to live near anywhere they work. That’s because the current City Council has deep-sixed any and all meaningful “affordable” or “work force” housing plans that some dedicated citizens have worked for more than a decade to provide. “Affordable housing” is a faded memory in the minds of the City’s consciousness now, and that’s not likely to change.

Second, there are the employees of the City and the schools. This is an even more serious problem, because it directly involves the ongoing ability of the City to function, to provide essential basic services.

The dirty little secret at City Hall is that employee morale is already very low, and since the City began freezing salaries, while heaping onto its employees greater financial obligations for their health and pension funds, the turnover rate has shot up.

The City Council was given a polite reminder of this Monday night by Jason Widstrom, the president of the Employee Advisory Committee.

He noted that since Fiscal Year 2009, fully 40 percent of the City’s workforce including its water and sewer operations, or 104 employees, have either resigned or retired. That’s way above average, and comes at a time when taking the risk of finding new work has been very high.

In addition to the wage freeze, leaving City employees currently 15 percent below the regional average, the reduction of the employee workforce from a high of 206 in Fiscal Year 2009 to 179 in the current year has placed added burdens on existing employees.

As Widstrom pointed out, accommodating lost productivity and training required to replace a departed employee can be up to 200 percent of an annual salary. In addition, the institutional memory lost by that process can never be recovered.

The biggest insult in the current budget is the accounting myth that three percent salary increases are being offered. That is after the one-time bonuses employees got last year expire and are not renewed. So, the actual size of employee paychecks will not change at all.