By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Some late number shifting helped the town police department receive funds in next year's budget for a program aimed at keeping officers.
Members on Tuesday voted 6-0 in favor of Town Manager Steven Burke's proposed spending plan for fiscal 2013 after a public hearing held on the proposal. No residents spoke at the hearing. Town Council approved the ordinance on first reading appropriating the funds as set forth in Burke's budget. Councilman N. Shae Parker proposed an amendment, which members also unanimously approved that shifted $60,000 from various line items to the police department to fund a master police officer program.
Parker said he offered the amendment "so that the public can see that we're serious about this."
The councilman read the amendment, made lengthy by the fact he cited each line item and the amount he sought reallocated to the police department. Councilman Thomas Conkey lauded Parker and town staff for the efforts made to find funding for the program.
"The council takes this challenge very seriously," Conkey said. "We recognize that our first responsibility is the public safety and welfare. We believe that the ... master police officer program is something that's going to be good for the community."
Approximately $40,000 of the $60,000 reallocated for the program came from the police department's budget, Parker said, adding that the agency made its own sacrifices to fund the initiative.
Town Council also voted on a resolution to approve an ordinance -- "under protest" -- mandating that employees pay a 1 percent increase into the Virginia Retirement System.
As proposed in Burke's budget, employees would receive a 1 percent increase in salary to offset the rising cost of retirement. The Virginia General Assembly early passed legislation mandating that local government employees pay 5 percent into the retirement system. Localities were allowed to spread out the increase over a maximum of five years.
Council approved the ordinance on its first reading to increase the employee contribution to the VRS by a rate of one percent per year for five years. The rate would take effect July 1.
Burke explained that employees still see a reduction in salary as a result of the rate increase because they must pay additional FICA tax on the 1 percent contribution.
Parker asked to amend the language of the resolution to note the council approved the changes "under protest." Council unanimously supported Parker's motion. However, the original ordinance with the amendment did not receive the council's full support as Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway voted against the measure. Parker before making his motion cited information from the VRS indicating the legislation sought to bring some relief to localities and schools.
"Did we see any budget relief from this?" Parker asked of Burke.
"No, sir," Burke replied.
"I think this was the state just working politics," Parker said. "They didn't really know what they were doing but somebody told them to so they did and it doesn't help any of the localities. ... It doesn't benefit the employee."
Conkey also criticized the Virginia General Assembly.
"It costs everybody more money and I don't know who it saves money," Conkey said. "This is a really good demonstration of what they've done to the localities."