After three austere budget cycles, county agencies and employees are making it clear that they are fed up with doing more with less.
At the Board of Supervisors’ hearings on the fiscal 2013 county budget Tuesday and Wednesday, dozens of speakers outlined pent-up, unmet needs for schools, housing programs, parks, libraries and arts groups. County employee unions said the lack of regular pay increases they expected when they were hired is causing growing discontent among their ranks.
“The board cannot continue to provide all of the services it desires without adequately paying the people who provide those services,” said Randy Creller, chairman of the Employee Advisory Council. “Staff retention pressures are building, and you will pay the price for that.”
The county executive’s $6.7 billion budget proposal includes funding for a 2.18 percent cost of living increase for county employees, at an increased cost of more than $22 million. The county also expects to spend an additional $38 million covering increases in insurance and retirement benefits, as well as fully absorbing the partial year pay increase granted to employees in September.
However, county employees want to know when the county expects to be able to fund the “pay for performance” side of its pay scale again, which allowed most employees to also receive a 0 to 3.5 percent merit-based pay increase each year, Creller said.
Police officers are frustrated because they have not been receiving the longevity-based steps up the pay scale ladder that they were promised during recruitment, said Christoper Cochrane, president of the Fairfax County Police Union.
“Due to their outstanding professionalism, most citizens don’t realize how disgruntled officers are,” Cochrane said. “Officers are irritated, discontent, confused and annoyed.”
The public school system is also struggling to find a way to give pay raises to its employees, said School Board Chairwoman Janie Strauss (Dranesville).
Because of changes to the Virginia Retirement System mandated by the Virginia General Assembly, school employees must contribute an additional 5 percent of their pay to the retirement system and the school system must provide a 5 percent pay raise to offset the costs.
The additional expenses associated with this requirement mean that the School Board can, at best, offer employees an additional 0.5 percent cost of living adjustment that will actually turn up in their take-home pay, Strauss said. It also may mean that schools officials cannot restore academic programs that were cut over the last three years.
To help accomplish their goals, the School Board is asking for about $8 million in additional county funding, on top of the already proposed increase, meaning that schools would receive about $80 million more from the county than in the current fiscal year.
Without that funding, “we will be in real danger of not giving our neediest and youngest students more time in school … and in danger of not being able to reduce class sizes in overcrowded classrooms,” Strauss said.
Schools funding and personnel costs are the biggest driver of the county budget, but there are many others asking the Board of Supervisors for comparatively small amounts of money to shore up their programs.
Representatives of county nonprofits that work to prevent people from becoming homeless and to assist people who are homeless spoke of the need to continue funding the county’s “affordable housing blueprint,” a plan that is the centerpiece of the county’s goal to end homelessness by 2017.
“We believe this is the wrong time to be disinvesting in solutions that are working,” said Amanda Andere, executive director of Facets, a Fairfax-based nonprofit.
Other agencies that provide services to people in need—offering things like low-cost dental care, addiction treatment, mental health services and support for people with disabilities— said they are also struggling to continue to meet the community’s needs under their current funding levels.
“We are treading water with services that are essentially healthcare services,” said Glenn Kamber, a member of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, one of the county’s primary delivery agencies for social services.
He urged county supervisors to “move us toward a way that we can be proud of our family services in the same way we are proud of our school system.”
The Board of Supervisors will meet next Friday to try and reconcile the county’s competing needs and discuss potential amendments to County Executive Anthony Griffin’s proposed budget.
They have the option of raising real estate tax rates by up to 1 cent, to $1.08 per $100 of assessed value, to provide an additional $20 million to spend on county services.
The board is slated to vote on amendments April 24 and officially adopt the budget May 1.