F.C. Council Sharply Split on Pay Levels for City Employees

Drawing on his experience operating a business in the private sector, Falls Church City Councilman Ron Peppe made the strongest argument for a substantial pay raise for F.C. employees at a City Council work session tonight, joining Council colleague Robin Gardner is calling for a 5.5 percent hike. That amount, with a one-time $1,800 bonus from this year not extended, would in fact leave the City’s workforce with a modest 2.5 percent net hike in take home pay.

However, it would be a significant improvement over the three percent net hike contained in City Manager Wyatt Shields’ recommended budget, which would not increase take home pay at all.

But Peppe and Gardner were the only Council members willing to specify a number tonight (with Vice Mayor David Snyder absent). Councilman Lawrence Webb said he wanted to hear what Shields recommended, and Shields did not settle on a number but said “compensation brings the best bang for the buck” of all the Fiscal Year 2013 budget contingencies the Council was considering in a first stab at a “mark up” of the budget.

On the other hand, Mayor Nader Baroukh and Council members Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry all came down on the side of caution over compensation in their remarks, saying that a one-year boost in City revenues reflected in the current budget hardly justifies making long-term salary commitments.

But Peppe spoke the strongest for a real salary hike, “With the regional economy beginning to recover, now is the time the City risks losing its best performers,” Peppe said. “You need to pay your performers and keep them motivated,” he said. “Make cuts elsewhere. It simply doesn’t work to say that because our income is low, we can’t pay you. We’re already 15 percent behind (other regional justidictions–ed.), and that’s what people look at.”

While all the Council members gave lip service to providing for the City’s employees, there was no consensus on a level of compensation tonight and no one put their cards on the table for a percentage increase except for Gardner and Peppe at 5.5 percent.

Members of the City’s Employee Advisory Committee and other employee groups were present at the work session, which was delayed by an hour-and-a-half while the Council met in a closed session.

The session was also not videotaped for posting to the City’s Granicus web service because, according to Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, no money was budgeted to videotape any sessions that were not either on a Monday night or an official Town Hall meeting.

The only heated exchange in the meeting came when Mayor Baroukh named the News-Press to claim it misreported the Council’s vote on its budget guidance to the City Manager last November. “Wyatt did it (craft his budget–ed.) on his own, not from what the Council said,” Baroukh intoned. Gardner jumped in, “You know what, we did give him guidance.”

At last week’s work session, when Shields revealed to the Council that he wanted a greater employee compensation level than the three percent he included in his budget, he said the reason he went with the three percent number was because of “Council guidance” from the previous November.