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City Council spars over salary study in surplus discussion

Charlottesville City Council flip-flopped several times on giving a pay raise to low-wage staff members before mostly backing the recommended allocation of surplus funding.

Boosting pay rates ahead of a multimillion dollar compensation study was the focus of the first reading of recommended allocations for the city’s $5.8 million surplus from fiscal 2019 during council’s meeting on Tuesday.

The city must decide how to spend the surplus from the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The largest chunk of the surplus, $2.28 million, is for the capital projects fund to cover a citywide salary study and add money to the rescue squad equipment fund. The salary study would be $1.25 million.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the city should set aside $350,000 to start improving salaries for those who make less than $50,000 a year.

“I think it’s important for us to start supporting them and not asking them to wait,” she said.

Councilor Heather Hill said she was hesitant to support using a one-time allocation for something that would create ongoing operational costs.

City Manager Tarron Richardson said providing a raise to some employees rather than others wouldn’t necessarily be fair to city staff members who have been around for a while and have had stagnant wages.

“What I want to do is make sure it’s fair and equitable across the board,” he said.

Human Resources Director Michele Vineyard said the proposal came with a “good moral imperative” in the short term, but short-term fixes over the years are “how we got into this mess.”

Initially, Hill and Councilor Lloyd Snook said they didn’t support using the surplus to adjust salaries, while Walker, and Councilors Michael Payne and Sena Magill were in favor of looking at ways to increase pay.

At a retreat in July, the council, with three members who are no longer serving, emphasized the need for a citywide compensation study, which hasn’t been done in 22 years.

Richardson and staff members pressed for a specific directive for staff to consider studying about employee pay.

“Coming into this year it was a priority,” Richardson said. “I don’t want to have them do all this research and it’s not really focused on a particular area.”

Payne focused on people at the lowest pay scale and an increasingly frustrated Richardson said that would contribute to compressed salaries. Richardson eventually shook his head and said, “OK. We’ll look at it.”

He later repeatedly asked “what do you want?” and Magill, Hill and Snook favored expediting the salary study so that employees don’t have to wait as long for increases.

Some of the other proposed allocations are different than what was discussed during the fiscal 2020 budget process. At that time, city officials said they planned to use the surplus to contribute $755,000 to the affordable housing fund, $150,000 to the rental assistance fund, $500,000 to the equity fund and $394,841 for the first phase of redevelopment of Friendship Court.

Some of that money is earmarked through the proposed Capital Improvement Plan, rather than the budget surplus.

The $127.9 million Capital Improvement Program, which covers five years, includes $35.8 million for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1, 2020. The council approves a five-year capital spending plan each year, but only dedicates funding for one year at a time. Further years are included as projections.

The plan includes the $349,841 for Friendship Court and an increase of $150,000 in the rental assistance fund. The equity fund is not listed on the proposed CIP.

City staff proposed allocating $700,000 rather than the previously discussed $755,000 to the affordable housing fund. Payne said he supported the higher number.

Walker supported allocating $500,000 to the affordable housing fund and setting aside $200,000 to start building a housing reserve fund.

City staff also recommend using $50,000 to fund the startup of the Police Civilian Review Board. The council approved the structure of the oversight panel in the fall and is considering applicants.

The board will have an executive director who will provide a report to council about the need, if any, for an auditor of police department data. The staff report notes that ongoing operating costs will be allocated as part of the fiscal 2021 budget process.

City staff propose allocating $1.8 million to the retirement fund and $1.01 million would be transferred to the citywide reserve.

The proposed spending plan also contributes $624,766 to the contingency fund; $96,000 to replace Charlottesville Police Department equipment; $46,494 for courthouse maintenance and construction; and $18,500 to cover marketing of Unity Days events and a U.S. Census project coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The council asked for changes to the amount for the contingency fund, which will be presented at the panel’s next meeting. A second reading and public hearing is expected at the council’s Feb. 3 meeting.

CRB applicant list narrowed

In other business, the council provided an update on the process for appointing the Police Civilian Review Board.

Twenty-five people have applied to be on the board, which will include seven voting panelists and one nonvoting member.

Hill said that the applicant list has been narrowed, but the council wouldn’t say how many applicants were under still under consideration.

Hill said Council is determining when to interview candidates.

Four of the voting members must meet certain guidelines and it’s unclear if the applicants meet those criteria.

Three people will be appointed from a historically disadvantaged community or will live in public housing.

One member will represent a racial or social justice organization. That member can live or work in the city. All other board members must be city residents.

The nonvoting member will be someone who has policing expertise or experience, according to board documents.

Members cannot be city employees, candidates for public office, former Charlottesville Police Department employees or immediate family members of a current employee of a law enforcement agency.

Applicants used the standard application for city boards and commissions and didn’t differentiate which seat they might qualify for.

Hill said that the city has enough applicants for all the seats except the racial and social justice organization or the nonvoting member with law enforcement experience. Applications will still be accepted for those spots.

The applicants are Gwendolyn Allen, Lucas Beane, Bellamy Brown, Joshua Carp, Nancy Carpenter, Brad Carson, Paul Dobryden, Stuart Evans, Deirdre Gilmore, Elliott Harding, Vicki Hawes, Kevin Healy, Dorenda Johnson, Jaree Magee, Lillian McVey, William Mendez Jr., Dr. Alexander Munjal, Barbara Myer, Michael Parham, John Pfaltz, Claudia Sencer, Kristin Schroeder, Campbell Turner, Anthony “Tony” Wasch Jr. and James Watson.

Healy was appointed Tuesday to the city measurements and solutions group, but is still eligible to serve on the CRB.


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