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Fairfax County employees advocate for pay at public hearing on budget

Fairfax County’s government workers union urged the Board of Supervisors yesterday (Tuesday) to adopt a fiscal year 2022 budget that includes increased compensation for employees, whose year-long pay freeze would be prolonged if the county’s proposed budget takes effect.

The testimony came during the first of three public hearings on the advertised FY 2022 budget that have been scheduled for this week. There will also be hearings at 3 p.m. today and tomorrow (Thursday).

Service Employees International Union Virginia 512, which represents social workers, librarians, maintenance staff, and other general county government employees, says that its top priorities for the new budget are ending the pay freeze and establishing rules for collective bargaining.

“For over one year, we have worked tirelessly to keep the community running,” SEIU Virginia 512 President Tammie Wondong said. “We have done everything we can to keep Fairfax families healthy and safe, even when we have not been healthy and safe ourselves. Today, we are asking that you recognize and value county employees in this year’s budget.”

Wondong acknowledged that the county has made an effort to support employees during the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding leave options and providing hazard pay. The board is also considering offering one-time bonuses in the FY 2021 budget as part of its third-quarter review, which will be approved on April 27.

However, the union argues that that remains insufficient compensation for employees who are essential to maintaining county services but often struggle with the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and other needs.

Fairfax County Health Department employee Jenny Berkman-Parker said in a video that played during the public hearing that the most recent evidence of the ongoing pay freeze’s impact on her family came in the form of an email from her son’s university, which announced that it will raise tuition costs by 5% next year.

“I was trying to be understanding the first year. The second year is definitely more stressful,” she said. “…Now that we’re having pay freezes for two years in a row and we’ve had pay freezes in the past, my income is no longer keeping up with the cost of living.”

Fairfax County Public Schools employees would also have their pay frozen again under the advertised FY 2022 budget. The Fairfax County School Board requested a 3% pay raise for all employees, but that was not incorporated into the county’s proposal, which increases funding for the school system by just $14.1 million.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents all non-administrative FCPS staff, said in a press release issued on Monday (April 12) that 60% of respondents to a poll it conducted reported living paycheck to paycheck. Three out of four respondents said they have considered leaving for another school district due to the pay freeze.

“These statistics should not be the case in one of the wealthiest districts in the Commonwealth,” FCFT President Tina Williams said. “…Our district and county must do better.”

County Executive Bryan Hill’s proposed budget largely limits spending in response to the ongoing demands of the pandemic and uncertainty about the county’s future recovery.

When he presented his proposal on Feb. 23, Hill told the Board of Supervisors that it would cost more than $55 million to fund the county’s employee compensation program, including almost $30 million for a 2% market rate adjustment.

He recommended reducing the real estate tax rate by one cent to provide some relief to property owners, though rising home values mean that residents will still see a 4.25% increase in their tax assessments on average. The Board of Supervisors voted on March 9 to advertise a flat rate of $1.15 per $100 of assessed value as the ceiling for the new rate.

The question of how to support county services and workers while giving taxpayers some relief has formed the crux of the community conversation around the FY 2022 budget.

With some debate, the McLean Citizens Association board of directors passed a resolution on April 7 advocating for a two-cent decrease in the tax rate, citing the more than $400 million in relief funds that the county and FCPS are collectively expected to get from the American Rescue Plan.

MCA board member Jim Beggs said that he saw a nearly 10% increase in his property assessment this year.

“Our teachers deserve the respect and admiration of the public, but this COVID crisis has impacted a lot of people,” Beggs said. “…I’m one of the folks that have seen a significant increase, and a little one or two penny decrease in the rate helps a little bit.”

Some board members questioned the optics of advocating against pay increases for FCPS employees. The resolution says that the county should instead offer one-time bonuses for workers who make up to $125,000.

“It just seems so inconsistent to not be providing salary increases for teachers, especially after what they’ve been through this year,” MCA board member Debbie Matz said. “…I think that this resolution would not reflect well on us at all.”

The Board of Supervisors will mark up the budget proposal on April 27 before adopting an approved budget on May 4. Fiscal Year 2022 begins on July 1.

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