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F.C. City Employees Jam Council Chambers, Press for Salary Hike

councilpackedphoto205Oppose 4th Straight Year of No Boost In Take-Home Pay

After one of the most tumultuous, if still civil, City Council meetings in Falls Church history Monday night, a work session scheduled at City Hall tonight will press the Council still further on the issue of providing a meaningful salary increase, the first in four years, for City employees in the upcoming City budget.

councilpackedphoto205

JASON WIDSTROM, head of the City of Falls Church’s Employee Advisory Committee, is shown at the podium Monday as he invited the room full of F.C. City employees to stand and join him in petitioning the City Council to provide them with a significant salary increase in the coming year, and not to burden them with a fourth year of no increase in their take home pay. (Photo: News-Press)

Oppose 4th Straight Year of No Boost In Take-Home Pay

After one of the most tumultuous, if still civil, City Council meetings in Falls Church history Monday night, a work session scheduled at City Hall tonight will press the Council still further on the issue of providing a meaningful salary increase, the first in four years, for City employees in the upcoming City budget.

Council members will wrestle with detailed numbers on the salary situation tonight, and it is likely that another large turnout of City employees will jam the small conference room where the meeting will be held.

So far, Council members Robin Gardner and Lawrence Webb have said straight up that they will support a salary increase, and the five other members of the Council have all said they need to weigh all options and crunch the numbers before they can decide (at Monday’s meeting, Council members Ira Kaylin and Ron Peppe were absent).

Vice Mayor David Snyder, for example, clarifying his position with a written note to the News-Press Tuesday, said, “I will be looking at the statistics to see what more we can do for employees. One proposal that came up was to cut the emergency management function, which I think is a bad idea. I will be looking for alternatives.”

Mayor Nader Baroukh “pledged” Monday night to observe the City’s fund balance policy goal which calls for two months, or $11.5 million, of the City’s $69 million operating budget to be kept non-utilized sitting in the bank in compliance with the recommendations of Wall Street bond rating agencies.

Gardner questioned the need to keep so much on the sidelines while City employees are facing, effectively, a fourth straight year of no salary increase as they absorb greater burdens for pension and health insurance costs, for making up for a 10-percent downsizing of the City’s workforce, and for facing inflationary pressures in the wider economy, including gas prices rising above $4 a gallon while most housing in Falls Church remains unaffordable to him.

(Mayor Baroukh objected to a News-Press characterization of his position as considering the fund balance policy “sacrosanct” in an on-line report posted following Monday’s meeting. In an e-mail to the News-Press he protested that the word was “your term, not mine,” adding that “I find the restoration of the City’s fund balance extremely important because it provides a buffer against emergencies and economic down turns, and affects the City’s cost of borrowing.”)

But at Monday’s meeting, jammed to the proverbial rafters with City employees, many of whom petitioned the Council for a real salary increase, Baroukh drew criticism from some for announcing at the outset that he would restrict public comment from the usual three minutes to two minutes, or a third less time.

In a communique, Jason Widstrom, chair of the City’s Employee Advisory Committee (EAC), said that his message to the Council had to be “slightly truncated” because of the mayor’s decision. Another City employee wrote that the mayor’s move “was very disrespectful and totally unnecessary.”

City employee Mary Gonda, writing an on-line comment on the News-Press web site, noted, “When attending a City Council meeting, individuals requesting a speaker’s slip know what the time limit is going to be, and have prepared their topic accordingly. It came across that the mayor did not want to hear the City employees’ message when he cut the time limit from three to two minutes.”

It was one of the largest turnouts ever at a Falls Church City Council meeting Monday. Attendees filled the aisles and jammed the lobby area in the back as it was a potentially-record turnout of City employees.

The F.C. City Council is considering a budget recommended by City Manager Wyatt Shields that would extend no increase in take-home pay to a fourth straight year for City employees.
In a highly-uncommon development, the opposition expressed to this came not only from rank-and-file employees, but to heads of City departments, such as Kathy Allan, supervisor of the Department of Public Works who asked the Council about the 20 employees under her command. “What can I say to them? What do I offer them?,” she petitioned.

Calling for employee salary increases from 6 to 9 percent to keep the City in competition with surrounding jurisdictions were people like employee Joshua Goff, a third generation City employee whose grandfather, father and uncle, along with him, have a combined 85 years of City service.

“Are we not a staff you want to compensate?,” asked Elizabeth Perry. James Brooks asked, “Am I not worthy?” and challenged the City Council to ask itself, “Can they (City employees) work elsewhere….Will they work elsewhere?”

Two statistics cited most often were the fact that Falls Church City employees are earned 15 percent below the regional average, and that there has been a 40 percent turnover of City employees in the last four years. Those were numbers that Mayor Baroukh said he disputed.

Talk among City employees outside the Council chambers went to the impact they could play if they mobilized in the upcoming City election, when Mayor Baroukh and Councilman Webb face re-election.

 

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