Local Commentary

Editorial: Wall Street Vs. City Employees

Incumbent Falls Church City Councilman Lawrence Webb, seeking re-election this spring, distinguished himself, in our view, from six other candidates running when all appeared at the monthly luncheon of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

Webb was the only one of the seven willing to stand up and state explicitly that he will advocate and fight for a more substantial salary increases for City employees than is currently proposed.

The candidates were asked to respond to concerns that a “brain drain” threatens the quality of public services and the school system in Falls Church because data is showing surrounding jurisdictions weighing in with far more substantial salary hikes now that there are signs of recovery from the recent deep recession.

For all intents and purposes, with the budget currently proposed by City Manager Wyatt Shields, Falls Church city employees are facing a fourth straight year with no net increase in take-home pay. On top of that, they face a still-greater burden to provide a share of pension and health insurance benefits, and are tasked with providing the services the public has come to expect despite an over 10 percent decrease in the size of the City’s workforce.

The candidates at Tuesday’s luncheon all gave generalized lip service or obfuscated the issue as one comparing the zero-growth City employee salary plan with a one-step (3 percent) salary increase for school employees, which is really only 2 percent when measured against a 1 percent increase in their cost of retirement insurance.

The question dealt not with comparables between the City’s school and municipal employees, but was in the context of the larger reality of what surrounding jurisdictions are offering. On top of that, Falls Church continues to be unaffordable for most City, or private sector for that matter, employees because of a lack of affordable housing.

The combination promises to only accelerate the flight of quality employees from both the City school and municipal workforces. Already in the last year, the City lost some very key employees who took with them not only their talents and expertise, but their substantial institutional history of Falls Church.

While the are a lot of factors to balance in the shaping of this spring’s $69 million budget, there are growing questions about some of its priorities. Two of the most central ones deal with debt. On the one hand, the City has decided that it needs to keep two months’ worth of annual operating expenses sitting in the bank, not one month as was its earlier policy. Second, the City has very limited plans to borrow, even though the current plans keep it below half the level its own policies would support, and this is being done when interest rates are at record lows (they won’t be forever).

Bottom line, Wall Street, the nation’s most discredited institution, is pressuring Falls Church to adopt austerity. It is being done at a terrible cost to the City.