Local Commentary

Editorial: ‘Staggering’ to a New Budget?

When we say that the Falls Church City Council may be on the verge of staggering to the finish line in concluding its Fiscal Year 2013 budget, we mean that in more than a figurative way. Some on the Council, in its final work session before this coming Monday’s meeting to vote on the $60 million plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, came up with a preference to stagger, literally, the salary increase it is considering for all City employees.

While responding to forceful pressure from City employee groups, including an unprecedented willingness of administrative department heads to step up on behalf of their employees, the Council reached a clear consensus that it would budget for a 5.5 percent salary increase, the first real increase in salaries for City employees in four years.

The news brought an immediate boost in morale among many employees around town, from those who work in policy and clerical positions at City Hall to those who keep the streets safe, who tend to the City parks and repair broken infrastructure.

But just as it appeared the City employees were going to enjoy some concrete benefit, for a change, of an unexpected four percent boost in projected revenue for the coming year, nervous Cassandras on the City Council began fretting over the raise, worrying that, indeed, that this year’s revenue increase might be a chimera, a one time thing, and that committing to sustaining the 5.5 percent salary increase may be premature.

So came the talk this last week of staggering the increase, offering maybe 4.5 percent on July 1, and the extra one percent at the end of the calendar year, but only if the revenues hold up.

The talk fell short of being built into the budget ordinance that will come before the Council for a final vote this Monday, but not by a lot. The City Manager has said he will put the 5.5 percent in the ordinance, to go into effect on July 1, and Mayor Nader Baroukh clarified to the News-Press Tuesday night that he expects the Council to approve that on Monday.

It is not to say, however, that some on the Council won’t still try to modify that at Monday’s meeting.

It would be one thing if there were no options, but for the City of Falls Church there are many ways to come up with the $267,000 out of a $60 million budget to provide the 5.5 percent increase.

Stiffing the City employees their hard-earned salary increase – which still leaves them well behind the regional average and beneath the rate of inflation over the last four years – would have irreversible consequences for the City’s ability to deliver on vital services to its public.

Poor morale, more like disgust, would result in under-performance and the escalation of a talent drain. In the end, need we repeat, it is human capital that makes Falls Church and any viable entity, work.