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County workers, homeowners share impact of rising costs as board starts to mark up budget

Fairfax County worker Karen Johnson speaks at a budget hearing (via Fairfax County)

Karen Johnson commutes two hours each way to get to work in Fair Oaks, leaving at 5 a.m. from her home in Fredericksburg.

Johnson, a child care center teacher, has tried to live in Fairfax County but can’t afford it, she said on April 12 at a budget hearing with fellow union members. She called on the Board of Supervisors to fund proposed raises to the county’s 11,000-plus merit workers.

“The pay we receive every two weeks is a stress day for me because it’s a balancing act,” Johnson said. “Rents are downright outrageous, and the cost of living has soared.”

With labor groups and workers raising concerns about the cost of living in Fairfax County, the average vacancy rate across the government was 15%, representing 2,125 openings, as of March 18, according to a budget question-and-answer response to Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw.

According to county staff, county government employees received nearly 8% in market rate adjustments (MRA) over a seven-year period when their compensation plan called for nearly 14%. Public safety got 11.5% in additional raises out of 16% planned, and general county employees got 10.5% out of 14.5% planned.

“It should be noted that the unfunded budget years for merit/performance/longevity increases in the last two years were due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” staff said in a response to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 President David Broder, whose union includes a chapter for Fairfax County government employees, said workers are asking the Board of Supervisors to adopt the pay plan in the proposed budget, which calls for 4.01% MRA increases, merit increases, and longevity raises.

“We’re not asking to get rich,” Johnson said. “But we’re just asking for you to fully fund the raises in the budget…this year so that we can do the job that we love.”

Advocacy groups and residents have pressed for the county to address a variety of priorities in its $4.8 billion general fund budget, from parks funding and affordable housing to relief for rising vehicle and real estate taxes.

Resident Jim McMahon said at a hearing on April 13 that he could face a $3,000 increase in his property bill due to a nearly 20% increase in his assessment, which came after an approximately 15% increase last year.

He asked the board to reconsider the budget, make up for spending increases by reducing other areas, and reduce tax rates. He noted that, thanks to a law from the 1970s, California caps annual assessments at 2% each year.

“They did that so that they could try to give residents the means to continue to be able to afford to live in California, and then they do an adjustment at the sale time to the level of the property tax to the current level,” McMahon said. “But for the residents who are there already, they’re trying to help them.”

The Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee will meet at 3 p.m. today (Friday) to discuss possible adjustments to the budget. The full budget markup is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday (April 26).

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