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Planning Commission Chair: City needs to consider better pay for employee retention

Alexandria City Hall lit up (staff photo by James Cullum)

If Alexandria wants to hold onto its most skilled staff members, the Alexandria Planning Commission chair said the city government will need to pony up and pay more competitive wages.

A letter (item 10) drafted by Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek offered some guidance for the upcoming budget and some nudges toward more transportation funding and employee compensation.

“We encourage the City to evaluate and adjust the compensation of staff engaged in planning activities to provide salaries and benefits competitive with other government agencies and private employers in the Washington metropolitan area,” Macek wrote. “We note the departure of several capable staff members in recent years who might have been retained had the City’s compensation kept pace with regional market conditions. Efforts to reward and retain staff will promote a high-caliber workforce and facilitate the development and implementation of the City’s plans.”

The letter is scheduled for review at a Planning Commission meeting tonight (Tuesday) before going to the City Council.

Macek wrote that it’s critical that enough funding be allocated for staff to properly handle the workload of the many projects ongoing around the city, including:

“The Planning Commission seeks to ensure adequate budget to fully fund the planning activities anticipated in the year ahead,” Macek wrote. “We recommend that the City provide sufficient budget for all staff positions as well as consultant support to carry out the anticipated work program.”

The letter also included a note encouraging the City Council to go after more grant funding for planning activities — namely around transit development:

Finally, we strongly encourage the City to avail itself of grant funding available to support planning activities. The Federal Transit Administration’s Transit Oriented Development
Planning Pilot Program funds [Transit Oriented Development] planning in areas where new fixed guideway or core capacity transit capital investment is planned. Given plans for enhanced transit in the Duke Street corridor, this program could potentially fund the City’s small area planning in the area. Grants typically range between $500,000 and $1 million in size, and the program tends to be under-subscribed, so nearly every applicant has historically received a grant.

The budget advice comes even as city leaders — including Mayor Justin Wilson and City Manager Jim Parajon — warn that funding will be tight for the upcoming budget. The city is facing a $17 million shortfall and Parajon said the bag of tricks the city typically employs to close that gap is just about used up. While Wilson said the City Council will try to avoid a tax rate increase, it’s an option that’s still on the table.

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