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Votes

Council Abolishes 'Pay Party'

Night paving approved for certain city streets.

Alexandria City Council Tuesday night voted to go back to the future with a vote to abolish "pay parity" for the city's three public safety departments and "let each department and its representatives justify the need for pay adjustments based on comparisons with like jobs in comparator jurisdictions" and conditions within each department.

Adopted in 1997 to stem the flow of attrition, primarily from the Sheriff's Department, "pay parity" provides that compensation for the sworn positions in all three departments, Sheriff, Police and Fire, increase if one increases. This has resulted in some individual Alexandria grade levels being higher than those in comparative jurisdictions, according to an analysis by City Manager's Office.

"This is one of the reasons I believe that the pay parity policy needs to be changed," said City Manager James K. Hartmann in his May 19 memorandum to City Council. "I also believe that each department's pay for sworn jobs should be able to be justified on its own."

He further assured Council, "As the city has demonstrated since pay parity was adopted in 1997, we are concerned about how pay for sworn public safety jobs compares to other similar jobs in the local market. We have taken steps over the years since then to adjust pay to address market conditions. We will continue to do so when this is warranted, and we are able to do so."

Council was reassured of that Tuesday night. "We have no intention of changing the pay scales within the departments. We would not let great attrition occur," said Michele Evans, assistant city manager, Council Relations and Administration.

"Obviously there was a time in the past when things were not done properly. The Sheriffs came to me and said they were being compared to other jurisdiction departments not doing comparable jobs," Hartmann said. Alexandria's Sheriff Department is responsible for many high-profile cases due to the location of the Federal Courthouse in the city.

"What we have before us is a recommendation based on many meetings about pay parity which was born out of the fact that at one time there was a lot of discrepancy. We've done an awful lot to get the three departments on an equal footing," Alexandria Mayor William Euille said.

"Pay parity is being done away with nationally. I believe this is the right thing to do," he said.

That opinion was not held by Councilwoman Joyce Woodson, the only one to vote against the motion to adopt the new policy when it came to a vote. "If the present policy is working, why change it?" she inquired.

"I didn't hear the police say why it should be changed in their testimony," she said. During public testimony on the subject, police representatives backed the proposal declaring, "Ending parity will give greater latitude."

Speaking against the proposal were several representative of the Sheriff's Department who pointed out that prior to pay parity there was considerable attrition within that department, primarily to the City Police Department. They noted that between 1981 and 1997 they lost 150 employees to other law enforcement departments. This virtually ended with the adoption of pay parity, according to representatives of the Sheriff's department.

"I'm concerned about pay parity with the police department. I would urge you not to remove pay parity between the Sheriff's and Police departments. Equal compensation is paramount to hiring and maintaining qualified employees," said John Wright, a 10 year veteran of the Sheriff's Department.

Prior to the vote various members of Council assured Sheriff's Department representatives that they will not let disparity in compensation occur. This was buttressed by both Evans and Hartmann.

"The benefit here is to get the compensation right," Hartmann said. "All three groups will continue to have a very strong voice," Evans assured. There was no testimony from the Fire Department.

In order to properly analyze pay parity, the city retained Analytic Solutions, a personnel consulting firm, "to report on the status of pay parity among Public Safety occupations in five jurisdictions in the region" and look at pay parity beyond the Washington area.

The five jurisdictions evaluated were Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties in Virginia and Prince Georges and Montgomery counties in Maryland. Only Prince William County has a pay parity policy, according to the consultant.

Their conclusions were: pay parity among public safety occupations is not the norm; and pay of police officers and firefighters is higher and more closely aligned than that of Deputy Sheriffs and Correctional Officers, which in most jurisdictions is "significantly lower."

When it came to compensation for general City employees, Council approved "the use of 100 percent of the average of the midpoint salaries" of comparator jurisdictions. They also approved a two percent market rate adjustment for all general city employees effective July 1.

ANOTHER CONTENTIOUS ISSUE reluctantly approved by Council was the night paving of certain arterial and collector streets between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday during the summer. Richard Baier, director, Transportation & Environmental Services Department, explained the proposal was part of the City's paving program for fiscal 2007.

He was particularly adamant about resurfacing Mount Vernon Avenue. "Mount Vernon Avenue can not wait another year," Baier insisted.

Projects will be undertaken in two tier priority order: Tier one is North Patrick Street from Queen to Second Streets; Mount Vernon Avenue from Braddock Road to Commonwealth Avenue; and Jefferson Davis Highway from Four Mile Run Bridge, City/Arlington County Line, South to East Glebe. Tier two is King Street from Cedar Street to Janney's Lane and Duke Street from Diagonal to Daingerfield roads.

This proposal also authorized Virginia Paving to operate "after hours" to produce the necessary asphalt and pointed out that the June 28, 2005 Council action approving night paving for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project was still in effect. That is expected to take place in July.

Prior to the vote Councilman Paul Smedberg told Baier, "A lot of people up here (sitting on Council) are very reluctant to vote for this." In addition to the actually paving during night hours, the operation of the Virginia Paving plant has been a controversial issue in the City's West End, particularly with the residents of Cameron Station.

In making the motion to approve the proposal, Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper included a condition that the work be completed within four weeks. It was approved on a vote of seven to zero.