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With Fairfax County anticipating a significant budget shortfall in the next two fiscal years, the county’s standard compensation program for employees has become unsustainable, according to County Executive Ed Long.

“We cannot afford the system that we have,” he said.

County employees received a bump in pay last year, at a cost of about $50 million, but went without pay increases for two years before that. The county employs more than 11,000 people.

Long is proposing a new system in which employees would receive a cost of living increase, which the county calls a “market rate adjustment,” in odd-numbered years and would be eligible for pay for a performance-based pay increase in even-numbered years. The salary hikes for public safety employees that are based on years of service would still be paid every year, as personnel become eligible, and public safety merit increases would be paid in even-numbered years only.

“Still, trying to find $19 [million] or $20 million in the budget is going to be a challenge, but it’s much more doable,” Long said.

He is still not proposing pay increases for fiscal 2014 but would implement the new program in fiscal 2015.

The Fairfax County Government Employees Union is still reviewing the proposal, said Secretary-Treasurer Karen Conchar, but the union is unhappy that employees were not consulted before Long presented his proposal to the Board of Supervisors. Long said Tuesday that he plans to hold a series of meetings to solicit employee input.

“Some of the ideas are positive. Some of the ideas are troubling,” Conchar said. “Fairfax County employees have stood by the county during the recession, working harder, longer hours and making up for lost positions, but this proposal does not reflect the value of the employees.“

In addition to the changes to scheduled pay increases, Long also is reviewing everything from employee evaluations to training and advancement opportunities.

One of the biggest challenges facing the county is the number of employees who are at or approaching retirement age. About 20 percent of the county government’s senior leadership is currently retirement-eligible and nearly half will hit that mark by 2015 — representing nearly 300 positions, not including public safety, Long said.

Long wants to improve the county’s system for developing lower-level employees to take over higher-level roles and to ensure that outgoing retirees transfer their institutional knowledge on the way out.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com