A big jolt in City employee paychecks is coming next week, while City taxpayers learned they could be enjoying another big tax cut (up to 4 cents, depending on how it goes) in the spring and plastic bag users at the City’s supermarkets and drug stores will be charged a nickel per bag come April 1.
These were among the big decisions the Falls Church City Council made at its marathon meeting this Monday which convened at 7:30 p.m. following a reception honoring the swearing in of new and re-elected Council members, the departure of one, and did not finally adjourn, including a closed session, until 1:08 a.m. It was the Council’s final meeting of the year and there was a lot on its plate.
The biggest news came in a report on an internal study of the Falls Church Police Department where it was determined by an internal study to immediately introduce a 12 percent salary increase across the board. That will go into effect next week at the same time overall City employee compensation will be increased by three percent, on top of $1,500 bonuses and additional $1,500 special bonuses for employees for their special efforts during the pandemic.
These changes will all show up in paychecks arriving on Dec. 22, and City officials hope they will work to reverse the current serious manpower shortages that have shown up all across the City government.
The swift action by the Council, especially in the major increases authorized for the City police, underscored the seriousness of the manpower shortages that the Council was made privy to in the last couple weeks. In the case of police, filling vacancies may not occur overnight because of the requirements for qualifying new employees, but it will make a huge difference in morale and the mid- to longer-term health of the department.
The immediate 12 percent salary adjustments will bring the City force into the middle of the pack of jurisdictions in the region, said Council member Phil Duncan. “This represents a significant signal from the Council to City employees,” he said, about the willingness to fairly compensate its workforce.
With the close proximity of police, for example, with those of neighboring jurisdictions in training facilities and other interactions, the comparative levels of compensation have been widely known and the City has been facing an increasing shortage of police personnel being lost to other jurisdictions right around it.
It was deemed that the Council could not wait to act as soon as possible, and all the proposed increases passed unanimously by 7-0 votes.
The Council voted 7-0 on how to allocate the federal funds coming as part of the pandemic-recovery American Rescue Plan that included sharing 50 percent with the City schools, designating funding for stormwater protections, affordable housing, business development, and a middle school HVAC system in addition to salary and other compensation moves and sidewalk improvements.
In hearing from the developers of the One City Center 4.6 acre mixed use project slated to go in above and adjacent the Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant in the City’s central downtown intersection of Broad and Washington, they learned of the Atlantic Realty developers willingness to increase the percentage of residential units that will officially be offered a “affordable” rates to 10 percent of the total units, matching what has become the new baseline for such units in the City.
That project is also set to include a 25,000 square foot grocery and 8,300 square feet of ground floor retail, as well as major upgrades of the facades to the existing George Mason Square building there. Buildings will go up to 115 feet.
The project is projected to bring close to a million annually into City coffers and to add significantly to the redevelopment in that downtown area, being across that central intersection from the Insight Group’s already approved even bigger project anchored by a Whole Foods market and a permanent home for the Creative Cauldron theater performance and educational program.
“It will become a true, walkable mixed use community in the core of the City in tandem with the Insight project and the Harris Teeter just up the street,” said Andrew Painter of the F.C. Chamber of Commerce and consultant for the project.
“Retail begets retail,” noted Adam Schulman of Atlantic Realty.
In a discussion of budget recommendations for the coming year, the Council mulled prospects for robust revenue growth that could accommodate the School system’s projected 6;2 percent growth needs, and after that offer relief for City taxpayers of “zero to four cents” on the tax rate, potentially exceeding last spring’s rate cut from $1.355 to $1,32 per $100 of assessed real estate value.
A more precise number could not be projected since, among other things, the City’s new assessor comes to work starting next week.
The Council was unanimous in calling for the plastic bag tax, coherent with what other jurisdictions in the region will be charging. The 5 cent tax, effective as of April 1, 2022, is not seen as a revenue source, but simply to “send a signal about the enormous cost to the solid waste system” of those bags, said City Manager Wyatt Shields.
In a reception at City Hall prior to the meeting Monday, the Council welcomed those re-elected and elected last month, including Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, Debra Shantz-Hiscott, David Snyder (who attended the meeting remotely from San Diego, where he was on a business trip) and newcomer Caroline Lian.
It also recognized Ross Litkenhous, who will be leaving the Council next month who delivered emotional remarks, calling his service on the Council “the most rewarding and purposeful thing I’ve ever done in my career.”