Officially there are now 35 unfilled positions in the Falls Church City government, as reported in the City’s Second Quarter Financial Report, representing 15 percent of the total workforce here.
But while this is clearly putting a crimp on the ability to get things done around town, it is not a problem unique to Falls Church, but reflective of regional and national trends as the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns continues to be slow.
Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press this week that he’s optimistic that the situation is turning around. “We’ve made some very good hires in just the last three weeks,” he said.
Becky Witsman of the City’s Business Development Office reported to the monthly meeting of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) Tuesday that progress on filling two of the three slots in her office is very underway, even though the vacancies began appearing six months ago.
“Nationally, there are currently two jobs open for every person seeking one,” Shields told the News-Press, “So the problem is not ours alone, and we face a lot of competition from our regional neighbors.”
Some of the recent vacancies in the Little City are the result of quality personnel getting recruited away by jurisdictional neighbors and even regional agencies, and that has added pressure here to increase compensation levels to remain competitive.
This is behind Shields’ decision to devote most of the higher than expected projected revenue yields from real estate development to more competitive employee salaries. Projected at four percent growth in December, the release of official annual assessments last month showed the real estate market growth in F.C. at 4.6 percent, due mostly to new commercial construction.
It has already been made public that Shields will recommend that salaries for City employees be jumped from 4 to 5 percent growth.
It is hoped this will allay the concerns being expressed from some that the City is not pressing ahead aggressively enough given the amount of development now underway from end to end of the City’s 2.2 square miles.
“Anyone can see from all the construction cranes that are now in the air above us that our challenge will be to stay up with the aggressive growth that is now underway,” one local developer said.
Shields is expected to present his recommended budget to the Council for the coming fiscal year before the end of this month. But with his expected emphasis on employee compensation, heads of some departments in the City government have begun expressing concern that over $2 million in unfunded needs will not be met.
Nobody, for example, is now talking about any cut in the real estate tax rate this year, but at best to hold the line (although that would lead to increases in taxes for City residents based on assessed value growth). The last two years saw major cuts in the tax rate for $100 of assessed valuation from $1.365 to $1.23.
But if the commercial construction boom continues in Falls Church, then tax rate cuts could be the order of the day for the next few years.
This year, Shields’ anticipated recommendation would give the City a significant competitive advantage over neighboring Fairfax County, if the latest plan from that county’s executive Bryan Hill holds. It calls for only a two percent pay hike for the county’s 12,000 employees, along with some performance and longevity bonuses. That’s also based on a tax rate freeze that would result in an average hike in tax bills of $520.