Countywide

County board approves lower-than-advertised pay raises, its first in eight years

SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax President Tammie Wondong advocates for better worker compensation at a public hearing on proposed Board of Supervisors pay raises (via Fairfax County)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will get its first salary increase in eight years, starting next January.

The current board voted 8-2 last night (Tuesday) to raise the pay to $123,283 for a supervisor position and to $138,283 for the chairman — slightly lower than the ranges that were proposed on March 7.

Based on staff calculations, the approved increase for board members is in line with what general county employees received, on average, in merit and market rate adjustments since the board last got a raise in 2015, according to Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

“Supervisor compensation should be set at a level that would enable anyone to serve regardless of personal circumstances. To advance that goal, I think, is appropriate,” Foust said before putting the motion up for a vote.

The vote came after a public hearing that lasted over two hours, with some speakers becoming emotional as they shared stories of how they’ve struggled with the area’s rising cost-of-living or how employee vacancies and hiring challenges have affected county services, from parks to support for foster care families.

Aside from one Braddock District resident who suggested they would “not be out of line,” considering inflation over the past eight years, all the speakers voiced opposition to the originally proposed raises that could’ve increased supervisor salaries up to $130,000 and the chairman’s up to $145,000.

“Too many are just getting by, and others are on the verge of falling into crisis,” Carolyn Bivens said. “Respectfully, in my opinion, the case has not been made for making the Board of Supervisors positions full time. More importantly, a 35 to 45% increase would be viewed as tone-deaf in this environment.”

Some said they support the board getting pay raises, but the amounts advertised were “insulting” when the county is only proposing 2% market rate adjustments for workers in its next budget, rather than the 5% that was forecast.

Other jurisdictions in Virginia are advertising MRA increases of up to 6-9%, according to Fairfax Workers Coalition Executive Director David Lyons.

He acknowledged that Virginia law requires a different process for adjusting the compensation of elected officials than for other public employees, but the proposal created a perception “that you care more about yourselves than you do your workers.”

“What we do have is a shortage of human service workers. We have a shortage of cops. We have a shortage in solid waste collection that is causing the county to contract out good jobs,” he said. “And in the case of all these jobs, citizens will suffer as the vacancies grow, as the quality drops and as real experience keeps going out the door. That’s why this proposal struck people as wrong.”

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said board raises would be “outrageous” when the county is also dealing with employee retention and recruitment challenges as well as surging taxes and inflation.

“We need to prioritize our spending and protect critical county services, not fund board raises,” Herrity said.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn also voted against the motion. When asked for comment, his office said his previously publicized stance that the board shouldn’t get a pay increase exceeding the cumulative MRAs given to employees hasn’t changed.

Virginia’s system of having board members determine their own raises during election years results in “a painful process,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, who will retire after this year, said it “would be a good idea” to increase board salaries annually based on a formula like other county employees, as suggested by one speaker.

Multiple board members stated that they’re committed to improving compensation for county workers in the budget, presenting a tough balancing act as they also look to lower the real estate tax rate.

“While the vote tonight must be decoupled from that larger budget conversation, rest assured that many of us will continue to fight for our employees while working to try to reduce the impact of our limited funding avenues that currently relies on our residential landowners in Fairfax County,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said.

Public hearings on the fiscal year 2024 budget will be held April 11-13. A final plan will be adopted on May 9.