F.C. Council Appears Poised to OK ‘Meaningful’ Salary Hike

With less than two weeks before the April 23 deadline to button up the City of Falls Church’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2013 that begins July 1, the seven-member F.C. City Council appears to be heading toward providing a “meaningful” salary increase for City employees.

A seismic eruption of City employee discontent followed the release of City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed budget last month that, practically speaking, recommended a fourth straight year of no increase in take-home pay, even though the City projects experiencing its first substantial increase in revenues since 2008.

Vice Mayor David Snyder joined a chorus of three other colleagues on the Council speaking out at this Monday’s meeting for “more compensation” for City employees. At a work session last Thursday, Council members Robin Gardner and Ron Peppe came out squarely for a 5.5 percent increase and Councilman Lawrence Webb said he wanted a real increase without specifying a number.

The three other Council members, Mayor Nader Baroukh and Council members Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin, continued to counsel restraint, saying that a one-year jump in revenues does not a long-term trend set, and concerned for the City’s ability to sustain a salary increase over time without another economic setback leading to more layoffs.

A second public Town Hall meeting of this budget season will be held this Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Teen Center at the Community Center, following a joint City Council and School Board work session on the budget tonight at City Hall.

At Monday’s meeting, two influential members of the City staff spoke out for a 5.5 percent salary increase, which would amount to only a 2.5 percent actual boost in take home pay, since last year’s one-time bonus $1,800 would not be repeated.

Jody Acosta, a longtime City resident and political activist who works in the City’s Treasurer’s Office, cited the “meaningful salary increases” being provided by surrounding jurisdictions. She said that a 5.5 percent increase, which she supported, “is not yet on a par but is a start. It sends a message to City employees that they are valued.” The cost of providing it, she said, is $270,000, which should not be too difficult to sustain.

Police Officer James Brooks noted the high cost of replacing and training new police officers in the face of attrition due to a failure to compensate adequately. “Our greatest asset is our employees,” he reminded the Council.     

At last Thursday’s work session, drawing on his experience operating a business in the private sector, Councilman Ron Peppe made the strongest argument for a substantial pay raise for F.C. employees, joining Council colleague Robin Gardner in calling for a 5.5 percent hike. 

But Peppe and Gardner were the only Council members willing to specify a number last week (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.

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 jurisdictions–ed.), and that’s what people look at.”

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 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 a March 29 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.