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County should prioritize EV charging and employee compensation, environmental council says

EVgo electric vehicle chargers (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

To further its environmental goals, Fairfax County’s to-do list should include building an electric vehicle charging network, addressing “critical” staff shortages, and addressing development pressure, the Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) says in a new report.

An employee compensation policy update to attract and retain workers in departments such as wastewater and solid waste was the top recommendation in the 2023 Annual Report on the Environment (ARE), EQAC Chair Larry Zaragoza told the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 29).

“If you had a problem in a facility or in operations that caused some other issues, the consequences could require a lot of corrective action, or they could be publicly undesirable,” he said.

Although it has seen some progress, Zaragoza said the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), in particular, is seeing higher vacancy rates of 16 to 22%. In some “major functions,” rates have climbed as high as 32%, according to the presentation.

Zaragoza acknowledged that the recommendation to develop a network of charging stations for electric vehicles would be challenging to implement, but necessary.

“This seems to be an issue that is challenging the nation with respect to the conversion to EVs,” Zaragoza said. “People have a fear that they won’t have options for charging their vehicles.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said that, while it’s true more EV charging stations are needed, the biggest issue is maintenance, speculating that, on a typical day, about 50% of chargers don’t seem to work.

He advised the council to look into ways to address the maintenance issues, including potential legislative measures.

“The EV charging people are racing to get as much federal money as they can to install these and then don’t have anybody to come back and repair them,” McKay said. “And to me, that’s a huge threat to EV utilization because [when] you see them on a map, you expect them to be working.”

Reiterating a recommendation made last year, the report calls for the county to provide more funding for its stormwater program through either one of two options:

  • An increase in the Stormwater Service District tax in 2024 by at least one-quarter penny, from 3.25 cents to 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value
  • A change in the base property tax rate

Mason District Supervisor Andres Jimenez asked the council to keep equity and low-income residents in mind when considering these adjustments.

“I would hope that there will be something in place to ensure that the cost increases are equitable and do not disproportionately affect low-income residents,” Jimenez said.

The report also highlights a need to address pressure from development while preserving trees and minimizing ecological degradation.

“As you have development, you often have the loss of trees, you often have loss of habitat, and to the extent that it’s possible, it’s good to try to preserve as much as you can in this process,” Zaragoza said.

McKay agreed with the need to minimize environmental damage but said the council should also carefully consider how that priority intersects with the “oldest parts of the county that are in desperate need of revitalization.”

According to the report, proposed topics that the EQAC will review this year include the impacts of data centers, flood risks, and water security.

County staff have been developing guidelines for regulating noise, water pollution, power usage and other issues raised by data centers. In a new ARE recommendation, EQAC suggests that the county collect energy consumption data on its current and planned data centers, including the extent to which they utilize green energy.

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