In one of the largest turnouts ever at a Falls Church City Council meeting, attendees were filling the aisles and jamming the lobby area in the back as a potentially-record turnout of City employees filled the Council chambers at the Falls Church City Hall tonight to speak out and exhibit solidarity in support of a meaningful salary increase in the coming year’s budget.
The F.C. City Council is now considering a budget that would extend no increase in take-home pay to a four straight year for City employees, and the opposition came not only from rank-and-file employees, but to heads of City departments, such as Kathy Allan, supervisor of the Department of Public Works who asked the Council about the 20 employees under her command, “What can I say to them? What do I offer them?”
Another City employee told the News-Press outside the hearing that a “big insult” came when Mayor Nader Baroukh opened the public hearing by cutting back the time limit for public comment from three to two minutes. “He just took a third of the time off the speeches we had prepared,” she said.
She said while she was encouraged by the comments following the public hearing by Council members Robin Gardner and Lawrence Webb, she noted that others gave lip service to respecting the concerns of the employees, but then went on to say things like the City’s fund balance and emergency services were equal priorities.
The Council will hold a work session on employee compensation issues in the budget this Thursday at City Hall, and Jason Widstrom, president of the City’s Employee Advisory Council said that he’s considering calling for another mass employee turnout for that session.
Calling for employee salary increases from 6 to 9 percent to keep the City in competition with surrounding jurisdictions were people like employee Joshua Goff, a third generation City employee whose grandfather, father and uncle, along with him, have a combined 85 years of City service.
“Are we not a staff you want to compensate?,” asked Elizabeth Perry. James Brooks asked, “Am I not worthy?” and challenged the City Council to ask itself, “Can they (City employees) work elsewhere….Will they work elsewhere?”
Two statistics cited most often were the fact that Falls Church City employees are earned 15 percent below the regional average, and that there has been a 40 percent turnover of City employees in the last four years. Those were numbers that Mayor Baroukh said he disputed.
Talk among City employees outside the Council chambers went to the impact they could play if they mobilized in the upcoming City election, when Mayor Baroukh and Councilman Webb face re-election.
A point of contention on the Council was between Councilman Gardner and Mayor Baroukh, Gardner said she supports finding more money for City employees by shaving the amount the City now feels it must keep in the bank as a fund balance reserve, while Baroukh said that reserve is, effectively, sacrosanct.