Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields made what appeared to many in the drama of the moment at a City Council budget work session tonight a startling announcement. He said that, contrary to the budget he recommended to the Council earlier this month, he personally favored not just a 3 percent salary increase for all City employees, but a 3 percent increase over and above a continuation of the $1,800 per employee bonus that was provided last year.
Only 3 percent without the continuation of the bonus would lead to a four year of no net increase in take home pay for all City employees, and in fact, in charts presented by the City’s Human Resources Director Richard Parker, would be a net decease in take-home pay over the last three years.
The news of Shields “true confession” seemed to shock some of the five Council members present (Ira Kaylin and Ron Peppe absent), including Vice Mayor David Snyder who asked Shields to clarify his views on the subject. When Snyder then stated that Shields had “changed his position” from that taken in his budget recommendation, Shields responded to clarify.
“I advocated my position to the Council last fall, but when I did, I was given guidance otherwise by the Council then, so the budget I presented this month was in compliance with Council wishes,” he said.
One City employee, speaking with the News-Press in the hall following the exchange, said that “Everyone here (at City Hall) knew that was Wyatt’s position all along.”
Snyder then asked Shields that if, indeed, that’s what he really recommends, that he should come up with a way of funding that proposal that doesn’t involve raising the real estate tax rate above its current $1.27 per $100 assessed valuation.
Some proposals for that were floated by Council members at the meeting, including one by Council member Robin Gardner to slow down the pace at which the City achieves its fund balance goal of two months of operating expenses. Clarifying that she was not suggesting take money out of the fund balance reserve, she said that the current proposed budget calls for achieving the two-month goal this year, whereas earlier policy guidance had stipulated that not be done for another two years.
The chart presented by Parker that was most shocking was one comparing the Falls Church average Falls Church City employee take home pay over the last three years to that of employees in the Falls Church School System, and in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and Fairfax City. It showed that, for the Fiscal Years 2010 through 2013 (as proposed), Falls Church City employees will have absorbed over those four years a net 2 percent decrease in take-home pay, compared to a 6.5 percent increase for City school employees, a 7.5 percent increase for Arlington employees, a 4.3 percent increase for Fairfax County emplyees, a 10.6 percent increase for Alexandria employees, and a 5.8 percent increase for City of Fairfax employees.
Council member Johannah Barry and Mayor Nader Baroukh both complained that the chart was “not helpful” to them, because it did not compare “apples to apples,” suggesting the differences in sizes of the jurisdictions skewed the meaning of the data. However, Parker took issue with that saying twice in the course of exchanges, “It is apples to apples.”
No one noted in that discussion that the City of Fairfax is almost the same size as Falls Church, but that its employees benefited from a net 5.8 increase in take home pay, compared to the proposed 2 percent decrease for Falls Church employees.
The “true confessions” tonight were not limited to Shields. Snyder said that he didn’t like being left out of the list of “champions” of the employees on Council that was published in a News-Press account yesterday. “I am a champion of the employees as well.” And in his own way of demonstrating his solidarity with City employees, Councilman Lawrence Webb revealed that he makes only $38,000 in his job on the state payroll at Mary Washington University with no salary increases in years. “But I enjoy my work,” he said.
Parker did say that the commonly-cited statistic that Falls Church employees earn an average 15 percent less than others in the region does need a closer look because of contingencies.
Jason Widstrom, head of the City’s Employee Advisory Council in the audience tonight told the News-Press after the session that the new development, of Shields’ open advocacy of the 3 percent plus retention of the bonus, may result in a shift in tactics from his group.