Fairfax County Board of Supervisors opens door to potential pay raises

In front of the Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Over the past two years, salaries have ticked up for local elected officials across Northern Virginia, and Fairfax County doesn’t want to get left out.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 today (Tuesday) to consider raising the annual pay to somewhere in the $125,000 to $130,000 range for board members and up to $140,000 to $145,000 for the chairman at a public hearing later this month.

Current Board Chair Jeff McKay earns $100,000 per year, while the supervisors earn $95,000 a year.

“I recognize all the challenges we have with compensation,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who introduced the motion. “We’re all committed to addressing them as best we can, but I just think we should be able to move forward with this and ensure future board are adequately compensated.”

In accordance with Virginia law, the new salaries would go into effect when a new board takes office on Jan. 1, 2024, if they’re approved. The Board of Supervisors last got a pay raise in 2015.

According to data collected by staff, Fairfax County pays its board chair and supervisors more than any other locality in Northern Virginia, where the next highest salaries can be found in Loudoun County. On the low end of the scale, Alexandria City Council members receive just $37,500, and its chair gets $40,000.

Fairfax County’s board supervisor and chair salaries compared to other D.C. area localities (via Fairfax County)

The proposed ranges would bring Fairfax County closer to D.C. and Maryland, where legislators are compensated as full-time employees. In Virginia, even state lawmakers officially work part-time, an approach that some argue is outdated and untenable.

Foust, who is retiring after this year, said he views his position as a full-time job, noting that supervisors participate in regional groups like the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and are “rightly” expected to be responsive around the clock, thanks to the availability of email, texting and social media.

From Foust’s board matter:

A reasonable compensation increase recognizes the growing responsibilities and expectations of this job and will help Fairfax County attract Board members who are able to meet those demands, reflect the age, gender, and racial diversity of our County, and who do not need to rely on outside employment or personal wealth to do so. Compensation should not be a barrier to run for, or serve in, public office.

However, some board members balked at the idea of raising their own salaries at a time when the county is grappling with high real estate taxes and inflation.

While agreeing that the life of a supervisor is busy, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity lamented that board raises are being considered when the county’s starting pay for police officers is reportedly the lowest in the D.C. region, according to ABC7.

He also noted that the budget for fiscal year 2023, which began on July 1, allocated an additional $1.1 million to cover personnel and operating expenses for the chair and district superviors offices.

“Budgets are about priorities, and to me, this sends the wrong message from a board that won’t even second a motion to look for cost reductions,” Herrity said. “We’ve got to do a little better. I don’t think I can support this.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn also opposed the motion, citing the percentage increase in salaries compared to the market rate adjustments (MRA) that county employees have gotten. The current budget covered MRAs of 4.01%, along with an average merit increase of 3.7%, per county data.

“I do not support raising supervisor salaries more than what county employees have received during the past 8 years,” Alcorn said in an emailed statement to FFXnow.

As part of Tuesday’s vote, the board directed staff to “develop a mechanism” that would allow any board member who disagrees with the pay raise “to return any additional compensation they receive to the County.”

Other supervisors argued that the current pay for their positions — which is below the county’s median household income of $133,974, per Census data — discourages many candidates from running for office, perhaps because they can’t afford to live in the district they’d serve or they’re a single parent struggling to find child care.

“I hope to not be the only woman who’s able to give birth and have a child and try to figure that out while serving on this board,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “I’m extremely disappointed that we don’t yet have many candidates coming forward who are women, women of color, young women, young families of color wanting to represent and be more representative of who our county is today in 2023.”

Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who became the first African American man elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2019, said he was only able to run for office after retiring from a 30-year career working for the county.

“I would not be sitting here if I did not have the opportunity that I have, and there are many who don’t,” he said. “It becomes an impediment, and if we want diversity, if we talk about the value of it and we’re serious about it, I think we have to be honest about this question of compensation.”

Staff was directed to update future boards on compensation across region every four years “so that those Boards may have the opportunity to consider this action every four years rather than every eight years as has been prior practice,” according to Foust’s board matter.

A public hearing on the proposed salary increases has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on March 21.