After Tamyka Buckman pays her monthly bills for housing and utilities, she said she is “lucky” to be left with $200 to cover gas, groceries, lunch money for her kids and co-pays for doctor visits.
Buckman, who said she has a college degree in criminal justice, is a deputy clerk at the Fredericksburg General District Court. Her salary is $29,839.
She said she loves her job and being able to “offer a smile to those seeking assistance,” but her voice broke at times as she talked about struggling to provide for her two children since becoming a single mother nine months ago.
“I fight hard every day to provide a decent lifestyle for my children,” she said. “Sometimes, all I have to offer them for dinner is ramen noodles or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I have tried to get assistance from social services, but as a state employee, I make too much.”
Buckman spoke before City Council on Wednesday evening during a public hearing on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1.
She asked council to approve requests from the General District Court and Juvenile and District Relations Court for an additional $36,000 to supplement clerk salaries by $3,000.
These additional funds were not recommended in City Manager Tim Baroody’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget, which would provide a total of $28,700 to the General District Court.
Providing financial support to state employees, such as court clerks, and constitutional officers—elected officials such as the commonwealth’s attorney, commissioner of the revenue, treasurer and sheriff—who provide services to local citizens came up several times at the public hearing and a budget work session that preceded it.
A portion of those employee’s salaries are paid by the State Compensation Board, which city council members said does not adequately fund those positions.
“Not enough people understand these Constitutional Officers,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said during the work session. “People need to understand the direct impact of the Comp Board not being willing to adequately fund them.”
Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney LaBravia Jenkins and Treasurer Brenda Wood also spoke at the public hearing to ask for increased funding for their offices, which they said are stretched thin.
“My office consists of six attorneys plus myself,” Jenkins said. “It has been at that level for last 10 years. Retention is an issue. We’re surrounded by counties that pay better. In the last year and a half, we have lost four of our six attorneys to Spotsylvania, which pays for the same qualified person $10,000 to $20,000 more.”
Jenkins said the workload for her attorneys has increased due to the requirement that they review footage from body-worn cameras, with which city police are now outfitted. She said that last year, attorneys had to review 10,543 hours of footage from these cameras.
“I’m not asking for a new attorney, but for an attorney who will stay with us,” she said.
Baroody’s proposed budget does recommended an increase of $56,663 over last year to Jenkins’s office, for a total of $983,308, though it maintains current staffing levels.
His budget also recommends an additional part-time position and extended hours for the existing part-time position in the Treasurer’s office.
Responding to Buckman, Greenlaw said to those in attendance that the situation she and other court clerks face is “very serious.”
“But they are state employees,” she said. “We have many situations where the people who serve you are state of Virginia employees. And the State Compensation Board does not compensate them adequately. Consequently, they expect the cities and the counties to take up the slack and we often do, and don’t mind doing. You need to impress upon your legislators that the compensation board needs to be fairer with its own employees as well.”
Also during the work session Wednesday evening, Greenlaw and City Council members expressed a desire to contribute as much as $50,000 in the fiscal 2019 budget to the Fredericksburg Area Continuum of Care’s proposal to end unsheltered homelessness in Planning District 16.
The COC presented its proposal to all local jurisdictions, but none of the others are supporting the initiative in their budgets.
“The city is stepping up and the counties are not,” said council member Timothy Duffy. “This is frustrating me. The rest of the region needs to step up. I can hear the voters saying, ‘Why do we have to take care of this problem?’ But we do. We have to be the leaders.”
Greenlaw said she is “so proud” of the city for wanting to support the initiative.
“I think we’re making a statement [to the other localities] saying, ‘Look guys, we’re going to do this, we’re going to see this community housed one way or another and we’re going to be leaders,’ ” she said.