On the day the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the FY2014 budget, the leaders of Fairfax County’s four public employee unions issued a joint statement saying the budget “failed” staff and county residents.
“By passing a budget that fails to attract the best and the brightest, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has put the services our residents depend on at risk. Meanwhile, Fairfax County employees continue to fall behind their peers across Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland,” according to a statement by the SAFE Coalition (Standing Altogether for Fairfax County Employees), which represents the unions.
The statement was signed by John R. Niemiec, president of Fairfax County Professional Firefighters & Paramedics, IAFF Local 2068; Chris Cochrane, president of Fairfax Coalition of Police, IUPA Local 5000; Kevin Pittman, president of the Fairfax Deputy Sheriff’s Coalition, IUPA Local 5016; and Paula Woodrum, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union, SEIU VA 512.
Combined, SAFE represents about 4,000 active and retired members out of the county’s 12,000 active employees.
“Fairfax County employees provide vital public services to the county’s residents, ensuring Fairfax is a great place to live and work. But the FY 2014 budget fails to recognize these two principles: quality public services and a quality workforce. Instead, the budget cuts vital services to county residents and fails to honor the county’s obligations to its employees,” according to Tuesday’s statement.
Union representatives said they have been working with supervisors for months to find a solution that keeps taxes low, service quality high and employees fairly compensated.
They thought they had a deal on the table last week, but the board—in a 9-1 vote—approved a budget that does not increase employee compensation. Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) was the dissenting member of the board.
Supervisors said maintaining county compensation at the current FY2013 was necessary to help eliminate a projected shortfall of $169 million. Other measures in the FY2014 budget that address the shortfall include a one-penny increase on the property tax rate, $21 million in county agency reductions, and the net elimination of 41 positions. The budget also creates an $8.1 million reserve to address the impact of sequestration and federal cuts.
The budget reflects the fiscal challenges the county has faced as a result of the prolonged and sluggish recovery from the recession, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-at-large). She said the negative impact of the sequester on the commercial tax base and federal employees added to the board’s budget decisions.
“A great amount of effort and compromise went into this year’s budget,” Bulova said Tuesday. “During difficult economic times, our board has agreed to invest in important county priorities such as education, public safety, community services and critical transportation improvements while keeping taxes affordable for our residents.”
Virginia law denies public employees collective bargaining rights, and—as a “right-to-work” state—employees are not required to become members of a union. Proponents maintain this helps counties like Fairfax resist wage and benefit demands. In 2008, when county officials froze all salaries for county government and school employees, there was little outcry.
But union officials said they will continue to push for solutions that include “fair compensation” for employees.
“Even in the face of pay freezes and furloughs over the past several years, county workers prided themselves on providing highest quality public services to the residents of Fairfax County,” Woodrum said during an April 11 public hearing. “And you, the Board of Supervisors, will expect no different from my membership in the face of the unknown factors around sequestration and other economic issues that may affect our FY 2014 budget.”
Woodrum pointed out that in recent years, county workers have experienced double-digit increases in health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions and medical services, expiration of payroll tax breaks, and experienced a decrease in their household discretionary spending.
“We will continue to appeal to board members to remedy these shortfalls as best we can,” she said.
Supervisors React to Budget Concerns
“The board appreciates that employees have continued to provide quality services to our residents with professionalism and dedication, even in the face of pay freezes and tough economic times. The creation of a fair and sustainable compensation package for implementation in FY 2015 is a critical element in the long-term stability of the county workforce. The board is committed to working with employee groups to develop and refine an overall pay structure that invests in our workforce and helps in recruiting and retaining high quality employees.” - Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-at-large)
“I understand why our employees are upset and I can’t blame them. However, we’ve got to play the economic hand we’re dealt and this year is tough for everyone, employees and residents alike.” - Jeffrey C. McKay (D-Lee)
"I agree we need to revamp our employee compensation system. We don't have great governmental services by accident. We have them because we attract and retain great employees. To keep them we need a competitive compensation plan. Our old plan was not workable and we have been going year by year for the last four years, knowing that we needed a new permanent plan. We will be working with our employee groups during the spring and summer months to develop such a plan. This was a tough budget year and we had to balance a number of factors. We made the difficult decision to freeze county pay as part of that difficult balance. We will have a new system in place next year. We understand the frustration of our employees and appreciate all their hard work on behalf of the people of Fairfax County.” - John C. Cook (R-Braddock)
"Our employees are our biggest asset, and to ensure our services remain top notch we must continue to attract and retain the best and the brightest. I was a vocal advocate for incentive compensation for our employees this budget year based on cost savings achieved at carryover. This concept was very successfully implemented at the state level under Governor McDonnell. The county has a spending problem, not a revenue problem and money saved from the common sense solutions I have proposed, in addition to ones identified and implemented by our employees, could have gone a long way to help our employees and residents." - Pat Herrity (R-Springfield)