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County board cuts tax rate, increases employee pay with adjusted budget

SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax County representatives advocate for more worker compensation to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office (courtesy SEIU Virginia 512)

With over $110 million in unallocated funds to work with, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors moved yesterday (Tuesday) to address employee compensation, tax relief and other priorities.

As approved by the board 9-1, nearly all of that available money will go toward reducing the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents and fully funding salary market rate adjustments for county employees — items totaling $47 million and $54.9 million, respectively.

Other revisions to the county’s advertised budget for fiscal year 2024 include support for bamboo removal on park land, additional staffing for the 24-hour domestic violence hotline, and the creation of a self-help legal center in the Fairfax County Courthouse.

“The adjustments I’ve outlined here show a true balance between tax relief, investing in county employees, standing up and fighting for our school system, and also making sure that the core services that have made this county…are supported in this budget,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said when introducing the mark-up package.

The budget proposal that County Executive Bryan Hill presented in February kept the county’s real estate tax rate flat at $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, but with the average residential bill calculated to increase by about $520, board members indicated that they would look for ways to cut the rate.

With yesterday’s vote, the board agreed to adopt a rate of $1.095 per $100 of value, which will lower the average increase to $412.

Herrity proposes cuts to schools budget

Several supervisors expressed disappointment at not being able to make a bigger cut. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross stated she had hoped for a 3-cent reduction, and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity proposed an “alternative” budget that he said would take five cents off.

The reduction would’ve been achieved by cutting $100 million from the county’s funding for Fairfax County Public Schools and putting $31 million for affordable housing on hold, among other cuts, according to a plan Herrity shared at a pre-mark-up session on Friday (April 28).

After FCPS told the board in a memo that Herrity’s proposal would “most definitely” prevent the school system from fully covering worker salary increases, he revised the proposal yesterday to suggest cutting $31 million from schools, taking one additional cent off the tax rate.

“I’m all for giving schools all the resources they need to address the challenges of the pandemic and challenges of our kids, but the spending needs to be done in a responsible way,” Herrity said.

Other supervisors blasted Herrity’s proposal as “budgeting by ambush” and “completely out-of-touch.” McKay noted that any reduction in salary increases for teachers would mean losing state money contingent on average raises of at least 2.5% for instructional positions in FY 2024, which begins July 1.

“The Herrity budget proposal doesn’t cut waste,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “I think you were trying to find waste. Instead of waste, you found teacher salaries and textbooks. It’s not cutting fat from the FCPS budget, it’s cutting into the bone.”

Support for FCPS constitutes 52% of Hill’s proposed $5.1 billion budget, which includes a $144 million increase for the school system compared to last year.

County workers get boosts in pay

Aside from Herrity, who voted against the mark-up package, the supervisors argued that the 1.5-cent reduction struck a good balance between providing tax relief — which also includes assessing 90% of personal property taxes for this year — and funding county workers and services.

After Hill initially proposed only covering a 2% market scale adjustment for all county employees, the package passed yesterday will fund the full 5.44% recommended by staff. Leaders of SEIU Virginia 512 and the Fairfax Workers Coalition, which both represent county workers, praised the change, while calling for a more stable approach to pay.

“We need to provide a consistent, sustainable and equitable process of compensation that eliminates the annual anxiety that all workers feel when wondering if the County is going to fulfill its commitment to employees,” the FWC said in a statement. “We’re hopeful this helps stem the loss of quality workers to other employers. We look forward to building a fair system together.”

Next year’s budget is expected to be the county’s first in 46 years where pay for many employees will be determined by a contract. According to McKay, the board could approve collective bargaining agreements this December, though general county government employees have yet to hold elections.

Fire department employees became the first to elect a bargaining unit last fall. In January, workers in the Fairfax County Police Department elected the Southern States Police Benevolent Association to represent them in the bargaining process, which is now underway, SSPBA Executive Director Sean McGowan confirmed.

“We know lasting change and true pay fairness will only come with a contract. That is our goal and we won’t stop until we get it,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax County President Tammie Wondong said.

Other compensation adjustments focus on public safety workers, including over $10.2 million to give uniformed police officers a 5% raise and increase police starting salaries by 5%. On average, current officers will see pay increases of 12.8% — in line with what Herrity had proposed — as the county hopes to address recruitment and retention challenges.

The FY 2024 budget will be formally adopted next Tuesday (May 9).

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