Fairfax workers fight proposed pay overhaul

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

A proposed overhaul of the way Fairfax County pays its employees has left many of those workers outraged and claiming the county is neglecting the human cost of its looming budget shortfalls.

County Executive Ed Long last month announced his intentions to overhaul a "financially unsustainable" payroll system that cost the county $50 million for pay raises last year. Such a massive payout is not an option anymore because of budget shortfalls projected to be as high as $169 million in 2014 and $274 million in 2015, he said.

Instead, Long wants to give employees a cost-of-living pay increase in odd-numbered years and a performance-based raise in even-numbered years, a drastic change from the county's current system, which awards employees both increases each year. By rotating the two types of pay increases, the county will save as much as $30 million each year, he said.

But county employees are irate over the proposal and say the new system -- which was not discussed with them or most members of the Board of Supervisors until it was presented to them in December -- overlooks their contributions to the county and only seeks to avoid a bigger budget crisis.

"This is a budget plan that fits the needs of County Executive Ed Long, not a pay plan designed to help employees," said Randy Creller, chairman of the county's Employee Advisory Council. "It seems as though the county always puts its employees last when it comes to budgeting."

Employees complained that the new system would reduce their pensions, benefits and annual salaries, and some even fear they'll be forced to live paycheck to paycheck under the new system, said Paula Woodrum, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union.

The proposed system also makes Fairfax County's pay system inferior to surrounding counties and the federal government, she said, which may result in a mass exodus of employees.

"The County's greatest asset is its dedicated, hard-working men and women and they should be treated and compensated in a manner that rewards and values their contributions," Woodrum, along with representatives from county police, fire and sheriff's unions, wrote the board. "[This] initiative only serves to do just the opposite."

Long said he remains committed to the county's employees, however, and pledged to meet with them to discuss the new system.

"The county's compensation philosophy remains unchanged," Long said. "We want to maintain equitable and competitive compensation levels in order to attract and retain high-performing employees."

Employees are urging Long to withdraw his compensation proposal, at least temporarily, in hopes that he reverts back to the county's current pay system or the two sides can agree on less drastic changes. As it stands, Long wants to tie the proposal in with his fiscal 2014 budget, which wouldn't require a public hearing at which employees could speak out.

"There's no rush to put this through," Woodrum said. "We should be looking at the issues very thoughtfully."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner