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Fairfax only local county not giving workers a raise

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Local,Maryland,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Arlington,Alexandria,Montgomery County,Fairfax County,Prince Georges County

Communities across the Washington area are cutting services and eyeing tax increases to deal with budget shortfalls they face next year, but only Fairfax County says it won't have the money to give its employees a raise.

County Executive Ed Long said he couldn't fund pay increases next year, in part because of "the combination of anemic revenue growth and increasing requirements for services" that would've left the county with a $169 million hole in its 2014 budget -- a shortfall expected to grow to $274 million in 2015. The county's 12,000 employees did receive a raise last year that cost the county $50 million.

But other local leaders in Virginia and Maryland are not following Long's lead. Arlington County and Alexandria in Virginia and Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland have built pay raises into their 2014 budgets.

"We're asking our employees to do a lot," said Thomas Himler, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker's budget chief. "We're offering something positive on the wage adjustment -- we should still net an increase."

Baker last week offered a budget proposal that provides about $18 million for raises, enough to give each of the county's 6,000 workers about a 3.5 percent raise, but the county executive also announced that each employee will have to take five unpaid furlough days next year.

Arlington is taking away a paid holiday -- Columbus Day -- and eliminating 46 positions, but officials there have dedicated about $3.6 million to raises for the county's 3,500 workers. Alexandria budgeted about the same amount for its 2,500-person workforce, though any increase for city employees will be tempered by higher health care and pension costs.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed pay increases for county employees totaling nearly $32 million, which includes a 13.5 percent increase for more than 5,000 county union workers. It's the first pay increase most workers have seen in four years.

But Fairfax's top administrator opted to avoid many of the service cuts other jurisdictions made to fund the pay hikes. Under Long's proposal, Fairfax workers would not face any unpaid furloughs, see their health benefits spike or lose paid holidays.

Long also proposed a massive overhaul of Fairfax's payroll system that could ultimately reduce future pay increases. Workers are now eligible for cost-of-living raises and performance raises each year, but Long is proposing giving cost-of-living increases only in odd-numbered years and performance raises only in even-numbered years.

Fairfax hasn't ruled out an employee pay raise for next year, said Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield. But the County Board of Supervisors is now examining agency budgets looking for cuts and plans to use any savings it find to reduce or eliminate the 2-cent property tax increase that Long proposed. Supervisors would consider raises only after they resolve the tax issue, Herrity said.

"It's important not to let us fall behind," said Paula Woodrum, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union. "We're working to get there."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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