At a March 7, 2023 meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville District) made a motion that the Board consider raising their salaries. After a discussion among the Supervisors, the motion was passed by a vote of 8-2. Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield District) and Supervisor Walter L. Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill District) “voted “No” and all the other Supervisors voted “Yes.” A public hearing on the proposed salary increase is scheduled for Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
A video of the March 7, 2023 Board meeting is available on the Fairfax County government website at http://video.fairfaxcounty.gov/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=7 The motion, the discussion on it, and the vote on the motion appear on the video beginning at approximately the 1 hour and 29 minute mark and ending at approximately the 2 hour mark. Although I summarize various points made by the Supervisors during the meeting, I urge people in Fairfax County to review the video of the Board meeting themselves and form their own impressions and opinions
Supervisor Foust offered the following reasons for the proposed salary raise: (1) the Supervisors have not had a salary increase since 2015; (2) inflation has eroded the value of the current salaries; (3) the proposed salary increases would be comparable with the salaries of officials in surrounding jurisdictions, and comparable to the compensation increases received by Fairfax County employees since 2015; (4) the Board’s increasing workload and duties make it a demanding full-time job that warrants a reasonable compensation increase; (5) increased Board salaries would make it easier for more diverse candidates to run for office by reducing a “barrier” to running to serve in public office; and (6) the amounts of salary increases proposed would be lower than the amounts recommended by the County Executive’s staff. Supervisor Foust also said that a mechanism should be set up to allow any Supervisor who did not want to accept a salary increase to return the amount of the salary increase to Fairfax County.
Before the Board voted on Supervisor Foust’s motion, some of the Supervisors commented on the motion. Supervisor Herrity spoke against the motion. Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay (D-At Large), Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason District), Supervisor Dalia A. Palchik (D-Providence), and Supervisor Rodney L. Lusk (D. Franconia District) spoke in favor of the motion. Chairman McKay called for a vote. As noted earlier, the vote was 8-2 in favor of the motion.
According to FFX Now(Fairfax County News), a Board Supervisor’s salary currently is $95,000 a year and the Chairman’s salary is $100,000 a year; the proposed increases would raise Supervisor salaries to about $125,000-$130,000, and the Chairman’s salary to about $140,000-$145,000. See the news story here.
Some of the reasons offered at the Board meeting in support of the proposed salary increases have surface plausibility but have flaws. Other reasons offered in support of the proposed salary increase are dubious on their face.
Full-time job. When explaining the motion, Supervisor Foust stated the Board’s increasing workload and duties make it a demanding full-time job that warrants a reasonable compensation increase.
Every member of the Board knew or should have known the salary they would receive when they first ran for office. If they thought that the salary was inadequate, they were free to not run for office. If after being elected they came to the conclusion that the salary was inadequate in light of their workload, they were free to not run for re-election and seek employment elsewhere at a higher salary. Any person in government or the private sector can decide to seek alternative employment if they conclude that their workload and duties have increased and become burdensome.
Moreover, how many Fairfax County employees have full-time jobs and receive less than $95,000 to $100,000 a year? How many employees of Fairfax County have difficult and dangerous jobs like police, firefighters, and emergency response crews and earn less than $95,000 to $100,000 a year? How many people in Fairfax County have full-time jobs and receive less than $95,000 to $100,000 a year? How many people in Fairfax County have to work in more than one job to make ends meet for themselves and their families and still receive less than $95,000 to $100,000 a year? Apparently, most of the Supervisors think they deserve special treatment in the form of even higher salaries.
Inflation. Everyone is suffering from inflation. Raising salaries may help mitigate the effects of inflation, but does nothing to address the causes of inflation. Furthermore, using Fairfax County tax revenues to try to fight inflation probably would adversely impact funding for essential County services. Regardless of my skepticism on the merits of using Fairfax County tax revenues to try to mitigate the effects of inflation, the problem of inflation was raised as a reason to increase Supervisor salaries. So, I want to identify problems that would arise from an uncritical acceptance of the claim that inflation provides a justification for a salary increase for the Supervisors.
Unlike the Supervisors, people in Fairfax County don’t have the option of voting themselves a salary increase at taxpayer expense to help mitigate the adverse effects of inflation. If taxpayer money is going to be spent in an effort to provide mitigation from the adverse effects of inflation, why should Fairfax County Supervisors get privileged treatment?
Given the adverse consequences of inflation that all the people of Fairfax County are trying to deal with, there is the added financial burden many people and businesses in Fairfax County will be face in the form of increased real estate tax bills in 2023 due to a significant increase in property tax assessments. The people of Fairfax County should consider the indignity of getting higher real estate tax bills while most of the Supervisors want to give themselves a hefty salary increase at taxpayer expense. The Supervisors want salary increases to ease the effects of inflation on them, but they seem indifferent to the reality that higher real estate taxes contribute to the financial burdens of inflation on the people of Fairfax County.
Moreover, the Board has made occasional statements about the need for more affordable housing in Fairfax County. Given those statements, the Supervisors should not reward themselves with a significant salary increase while ever increasing real estate tax bills (a) make it harder for Fairfax County homeowners to afford keeping their homes, and (b) force owners of rental property to pass on the cost of increased real estate taxes to the people who live in apartments or home rentals, or risk absorbing increasing losses that may eventually force them out of the rental business. Ever rising real estate taxes put financial pressure on homeowners and owners of rental property that contribute to making homes and residential rental property less affordable. What’s the point of Supervisors calling for more affordable housing in Fairfax County but doing nothing to mitigate the adverse effects of ever increasing real estate tax bills?
Comparability to other jurisdictions. Having Supervisor salaries comparable to the salaries of equivalent or similar officials in nearby jurisdictions sounds reasonable. But is it?
Professional sports, entertainment, and many other occupations in the private sector must compete to attract experienced, qualified people. Offering higher salaries and benefits are a major way to gain an advantage in recruiting and hiring experienced, qualified people. But attracting people to run for public office is different. Fairfax County is not competing with other jurisdictions to attract people to run for the office of Supervisor. There does not seem to be any shortage of people in Fairfax County eager and willing to run for the office of Fairfax County Supervisor.
Furthermore, why should the people of Fairfax County simply assume that the salaries of officials in neighboring jurisdictions are fair and reasonable? Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. Without any consideration of the actual duties and responsibilities and working conditions of the various officials being compared, a simple comparison of salary figures would be superficial and potentially misleading. Moreover, the comparison with other jurisdictions cited in support of the proposed salary increases was selective. After the Board meeting, Supervisor Herrity reported (The Herrity Report, March 9, 2023) the following:
“For those of you, like me, who want to dig into the details of where this “staff recommendation” and the large increases came from, you will note that they used only jurisdictions in DC and Maryland to compute the numbers (purportedly because they were Full Time positions) showing we were below “market” (59% to 66). If they had compared with just our surrounding Virginia jurisdictions, current Board pay is well above market (154% to 166%). If you include both, we are right at market. Please see the charts here for the details.”
The Herrity Report can be accessed at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/springfield/herrity-report
Arguing that the salaries of Board positions should be comparable to those of officials in other jurisdictions suggests a status-conscious “keeping up with the neighbors” attitude rather than a prudent assessment of the pros and cons of any proposed salary increase.
Higher Supervisor salaries to encourage more diverse candidates to run for office. This justification for a salary increase is problematic and somewhat puzzling.
The suggestion that many people find the current Board salaries to be a barrier to running for election to a seat on the Board is laughable. There are plenty of people in Fairfax County who would love to have the “burden” of trying to live on a salary of $95,000 to $100,000. If current Supervisor salaries are considered a “barrier” to people who think of running for a seat on the Board, then it logically follows that any salary below $95,000 to $100,000 is a “barrier” to most people seeking full-time employment in Fairfax County. Do the Supervisors think that the cost of living in Fairfax County has become so expensive that any job providing income under $95,000 to $100,000 is a “barrier” to people trying to make a living or raising a family in Fairfax County?
Moreover, why should taxpayer funds be used, directly or indirectly, to encourage people to run for public office in Fairfax County? A person’s decision to run for office stems from personal conviction, personal motivation, or persuasive recruitment by a political party. There is no good reason to use taxpayer money (in the form of salary increases) to encourage anyone in making such a decision. Taxpayer money should not be used to directly or indirectly support what is essentially a personal or political party decision. Commitment to public service, not higher Supervisor salaries, should be the reason people run for office.
Furthermore, candidates for public office exhibit a range of different personalities, different interests, different beliefs, different motivations, varying degrees of ambition, and different personal situations. The process by which individuals decide whether to run for the office of Supervisor is personal, idiosyncratic, and difficult to predict. What factors are considered relevant and important to a decision on whether to run for office varies from person to person. Although higher Supervisor salaries might be one factor that encourages some people to run for office, the higher salary will not ensure that such additional candidates will be more diverse or more representative of the people of Fairfax County. It is just as likely to attract politically ambitious people eager to get paid a lucrative salary while pursuing their political ambitions.
If the current Supervisors really want to encourage more diverse, more representative people run for the office of Supervisor, they can (1) announce they are not running for re-election, (2) work to recruit people who they think are diverse and more representative of Fairfax County, and (3) work to help such people get elected in a future election. After all, even if the prospect of a higher salary for Supervisors tempts some people to run for office, incumbents intent on getting re-elected are an obstacle to those people trying to get elected.
Finally, what’s a person to think when officials cite high minded reasons to justify a salary increase which will financially benefit those officials? It’s hard not to be skeptical or cynical.
Equity. Since the adoption of the One Fairfax policy, the Board likes to invoke equity as an important goal and standard for its decisions. During the discussion about the salary increase proposal there appeared to be no reference to the One Fairfax policy. Why not?
Where is the equity in Supervisors enacting a significant salary increase for themselves while doing nothing meaningful to address the increasing real estate tax bills for Fairfax County homeowners and other real estate owners (especially those who provide apartments and housing rentals)?
Where is the equity in Supervisors enacting a significant salary increase for themselves while claiming there is a need for more affordable housing in Fairfax County but doing nothing meaningful about increasing real estate tax bills that make it harder for Fairfax County homeowners to afford to keep their homes, and apartment dwellers to afford their rent?
Where is the equity in Supervisors enacting a significant salary increase for themselves while refusing to look into possible operational efficiencies and reductions in County expenditures that could provide relief to Fairfax County taxpayers? The Board refused to even discuss Supervisor Herrity’s May 22, 2022 motion that the Board ask the County Executive to look into County revenues and expenditures to determine the feasibility of introducing efficiencies in operations and reductions in County expenses, including seeking recommendations from a citizen budget review task force. See Herrity Report (February 28, 2023). The Herrity Report can be accessed at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/springfield/herrity-report
For all the reasons stated in this article, I urge the people of Fairfax County to exercise their constitutional rights (Virginia Constitution, Article I, Sections 2, 6, and 12) to let the Supervisors know that the proposed salary increases are not reasonable, not justified, inequitable, and unfair to the people of Fairfax County.
And, if the Supervisors enact the proposed salary increases for the Board, Fairfax County voters should cast their votes in the 2023 election to (1) throw out of office any Board member who votes “Yes” for the proposed salary increases, and (2) elect new Board members who are publicly committed to (a) repealing any such salary increases, and (b) refusing to accept any salary increase as long as it takes for the Board to repeal the salary increases.