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Showdown Looms on Relocation Of F.C. School Office to City Hall

City Staff Salary Levels Debated In Meet Thursday

This Monday night’s Falls Church City budget meeting could provide some good theater for aficionados of the intricacies of The Little City’s affairs.

Not to minimize the importance of the matters set for discussion, Monday’s meeting of three separate City entities will be crammed into the tiny Dogwood Room at City Hall to discuss what is expected to emerge as a contentious issue – amid an expensive overhaul of the Falls Church City Hall, the issue of whether provision for the relocation of the offices of the School Board to City Hall will or will not be included.

Amid the difficult Fiscal Year 2012 budget deliberations set to conclude with the adoption of a new operating budget on April 25, the City Council, Planning Commission and School Board will all be together Monday for a momentous discussion of the City’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), with City Hall renovations high on the priority list.

The renovations are long overdue for security reasons, especially due to the fact that court proceedings are held in the Council chambers every week and law enforcement is taxed to ensure everyone’s safety especially as detainees are shuttled in and out, and often held temporarily in the tiny City Hall jail.

But in an effort to find cost efficiencies everywhere possible, the City Council and Planning Commission have been mulling moving the School Board offices as part of the City Hall makeover. Currently occupying the second floor of the new 800 W. Broad Street “Flower Building,” the School Board has cherished its long history of independence from the City government by having its own offices in a separate location.

Now, the School Board is already on record opposing the idea of having its offices transplanted to a new City Hall. Among the arguments are that the cost of building the space onto City Hall will be far greater than the currently-favorable lease terms.

However, some suggest that the move to City Hall is reflective of a political posture on the City Council not as wholly supportive of the Schools as Councils of the past. In fact, there have no lack of indications from some of the relatively new members of the Council that they may cut back on the School Board’s request for transfer of funds.

The argument is that the schools got more from the state than they originally projected this spring, and that while the City’s employees are being asked to take significant cuts in net take home pay, the School Board moved in its budget to offer a half-“step” salary increase to its.

But the point was made by School employee Mary Beth Connolly, director of its Business In Education (BIE) Partnership, at this past Monday night’s City Council meeting that due to demands for increased employee participation in retirement and pension plans, a large portion of school employees will take a deeper cut than their City-side counterparts.

Specifically, she pointed to the 94 School employees (25 percent of the total) who are signed onto the City’s retirement plan, mostly non-teachers. They are going to have to absorb the same increase in their required pay-in share of retirement costs as City employees, but unlike the City employees, they will not get the one-time $1,300 added compensation the City Manager has added in to soften the blow for City employees.

She noted than the School’s half-“step” salary increase will provide an average $875 salary increase, less than the $1,300 proposed for City employees, even though the School employees will be seeing their responsibility for their retirement plans increasing the same extra five percent as the City’s employees.

Issues related to salary compensation for City employees will be the subject of the City Council’s work session Thursday night. In particular, the heavy opposition already expressed by the City’s police to the proposal their retirement participation be increased to seven percent will undergo scrutiny.

The Council has already indicated that it will find a way to avoid the steep cuts proposed by City Manager Wyatt Shields to the Mary Riley Styles Library, and the Council provided itself with some wiggle room last Monday night by giving a preliminary approval to a budget that would increase the tax rate to $1.28 per $100 of assessed valuation, even though most have indicated they don’t intend to raise the number above the $1.25 rate (a penny above the current rate) proposed by Shields in the final April 25 budget vote.

Both Thursday’s and Monday’s work sessions are slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.

 

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