Tepid Response to P4P Cap in McLean

Tepid Response to P4P Cap in McLean

Members of the McLean Citizens Association’s Budget and Taxation Committee planned a pizza, wine, and beer party on Tax Day, April 15, to celebrate the end of their three-month study of Fairfax County’s labyrinthian $2.6 billion budget.

They had modest cause to celebrate: Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin last week suggested lowering the cap on pay increases for the county’s non-uniform employees.

Jim Turner, the bottom-line obsessive co-chair of the MCA’s bipartisan budget committee, had a tepid response to Griffin’s proposal, which would reduce the maximum pay raise in FY 2004 from seven to 5.2 percent.

“It’s a step in the right direction, unless now 100 percent of the people get the outstanding rating of 5.2 percent,” said Turner.

At the urging of its B & T committee, the MCA on April 2 asked that county pay raises be frozen until the Pay for Performance (P4P) system is brought under stricter control.

Under P4P, employees other than police, fire, and school personnel have received pay raises averaging 15.3 percent in the three years since P4P took effect.

After polling its 40 members, the MCA observed that the average rate of increase of their tax assessments was the same amount: more than 15 percent, with increases higher than 10 percent for four consecutive years.

The MCA also wants the county to create an Office of Financial management to report to the public and institute zero-based budgeting to require that every program be re-evaluated for effectiveness every year.

Turner said that because the county’s money managers answer to internal supervisors, rather than the public, taxpayers don’t know how the county spends its money.

Turner attributes budgetary bloat in county spending to “the silting theory” that occurs when a new program begins.

“Initially, it will take 100 people to do the job,” Turner said. “A couple years later, things aren’t quite on track. “So you hire another 30 people to make the program really sing.

“Before long, you have 400 people; 250 of them work really hard.

But you never get rid of anybody. You just hire more.

Before long, the whole thing is too staffed up to get anything done,” Turner said.

“My interest is having someone responsible for reporting the essential facts and figures to the public, and determine if they are getting their money’s worth from the schools and county government.

Zero-based budgeting, Turner said, would require county agencies to justify their expense year by year.

Often in government, he said, “You always come in with big fat benefits, and you always add. You never take back.

“The way we do budgeting in the county, this is an “add to” approach.

You are not starting from zero and justifying every dime you spend. “That is how you do away with programs. We don’t have that. That is what corporations do,” he said.

“I was looking for a stand-alone authority who is responsible for getting out facts and figures to the public so they can digest what is going on.

“The financial responsibility within the schools and within the county is subordinate to whoever runs these things.

“I am not certain the public gets the right story. A good CFO would be out there pounding the hell out of the [board of] supervisors saying ‘look, this think is out of whack.’” Turner said.

“A CFO would report all the facts and would say: more than 80 percent of our employees on the county side got raises of 5 percent or above last year.

“That would allow the public to know, by making this information very clear, that this is what is going on.”

In the three years since P4P went into effect, the average pay raise has steadily increased from 4.9 percent in FY2001, 5.1 percent in FY 2002 and 5.3 percent so far this year.

Last year, Providence District Supervisor Gerry Connolly and other supervisors said the upward trend showed a reluctance by supervisors to grade their subordinates strictly.

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