Fairfax supervisors consider raising board’s salaries

March 7, 2023

The Washington Post

By Antonio Olivio

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is considering raising the board’s salaries by as much as 45 percent for the chairman’s office and as much as 37 percent for individual supervisors — a move aimed at broadening the pool of applicants who seek a seat on the board, but one that has angered county employees seeking higher salaries.

A March 21 public hearing set by the board Tuesday will kick off a process to consider the board’s first pay raise since 2016, when the chairman’s salary was increased to $100,000 per year and supervisors began annually making $95,000.All of the positions are part time, although most board members treat them as full-time jobs, involving weekend events and time spent on regional boards.

If the plan is approved, the chairman’s salary would go up to between $140,000 and $145,000 per year, and supervisors’ salaries would increase to between $125,000 and $130,000 per year — starting in January, after county elections on board seats are held in November.

The median household income in Fairfax County is just below $128,000 per year.

Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) — who introduced the motion and would not be affected because he is leaving the board after his term expires in January — said the proposed pay raises are a way to attract more people of modest incomes to run for the county board in a community where many residents struggle to pay mortgages or to find affordable child care.

“Compensation should not be a barrier to run for or serve in public office,” Foust said before the board voted 8-2 to schedule the public hearing. Supervisors Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) and Walter L. Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) opposed setting the public hearing.

But the idea may generate some controversy at a time when Northern Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction is still dealing with the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taxpayer groups are unhappy about County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed budget, which is based on a residential property tax rate freeze that nonetheless means homeowners would pay an average of $520 more in their annual tax bills because of higher property assessments.

The county’s more than 12,000 employees are also angry about what they called insufficient pay raises proposed under that budget, which included a 2 percent pay increase, plus raises based on performance and longevity, instead of a 5.44 increase that was initially calculated.

“Despite our calls for wage fairness for county employees, it appears the county has another priority — raises for politicians,” Tammie Wondong, president of the Service Employees International Union local that represents Fairfax County employees, said in a statement.

Foust’s proposal is based on two calculations made by county staff. First, the percentage increase is roughly equivalent to how much county employee salaries have risen since the board last approved a salary hike for supervisors in 2015.

Also, the proposed amount is about as much as what full-time board members in some other large jurisdictions make, according to the county.

In Montgomery County, the council’s president is paid $171,912.46 per year. The other members receive a salary of $156,284.05, according to that county’s website. The D.C. Council chairman makes $210,000 per year, and council members are paid $154,437.

However, neighboring Prince William County’s board chair earns $49,452 per year for that part-time position, and supervisors make $43,422. Loudoun County recently increased pay for its part-time board by regular increments over the next four years, with the chair’s position going up by 6 percent in January to $91,064.

Herrity argued that Fairfax’s compensation should be more akin to its closest neighbors in Northern Virginia since the supervisor’s position is still technically part time. He also said hiking the board’s salary now sends the wrong message to county employees who are also struggling with the region’s high cost of living.

“This is public service,” said Herrity, who earns a second salary as part-time chief financial officer to a computer security company. “What we’re forgetting here is that our county, our police officers, they’re not even at the average starting salary. We’ve got some work to do there.”

Supervisor Dalia A. Palchik (D-Providence) talked about how hard it’s been to serve her constituents while scrambling to find affordable child care for her 1-year-old daughter.

“My scheduling meeting every single week is a struggle,” she said. “We are trying to figure out how to make child care, which is so unaffordable, work.”

Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk (D-Franconia) said he wouldn’t have been able to get elected as the board’s first African American man if he didn’t already have a stable retirement income from his previous work in economic development.

“I would not be sitting here if I did not have the opportunity that I had,” he said. “And there are many that don’t.”