Salary Talks Dominate Fairfax Planning for 2007

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fairfax County supervisors gave preliminary approval yesterday to a new budget that reduces the property tax rate by 11 cents and agreed to overhaul a six-year-old merit pay system for government workers.

Supervisors called "pay for performance" a flawed system that rewards some new hires over long-time employees and directed County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to report by June 1 on how a private consultant should review the system.

The $3.2 billion budget that would take effect July 1 also would eliminate the $25 decal fee for car-tax payments and give supervisors their first pay raise in eight years. The county board also told Griffin to plan to add police officers next year to patrol the county's high-crime areas, beyond the 89 additional police and fire positions approved yesterday.

The spending plan was approved 9 to 1, with Michael S. Frey (R-Sully) voting against it. Frey, who has opposed seven of the past 10 county budgets, said yesterday that he was protesting the board's vote to deny his motion to give the 8,000 employees not in public safety a 1 percent cost-of-living increase this year on top of the average 4.3 percent raise in the budget.

Frey called his proposal "very modest." But Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the salary system needs "analytic study" before changes are made. "I don't know that the taxpayers will appreciate that approach," Connolly said of Frey's plan.

A final vote on the budget is scheduled for Monday.

The spending plan would cut the tax rate to 89 cents for each $100 of assessed home value. But many homeowners would still pay higher real estate taxes this year -- $328 more for a house valued at $540,746, the county average.

The board also agreed to a request from Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) to reinvigorate a simmering debate over whether the board should become a full-time entity. Fairfax will consider asking the General Assembly to approve a change to full-time status next year as an acknowledgment that the job can no longer be called part time.

"I think if we are full time, we ought to require that we be just that," said Hyland, a lawyer and one of three supervisors without outside jobs. The board is split on the issue.

The budget would boost school spending by 6.5 percent, including $8 million for teacher salaries to keep them competitive with those in neighboring districts.

Supervisors' pay would rise to $75,000 a year from the current $59,000, but not until 2008. Compared with their counterparts in the District, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Fairfax leaders make significantly less.

The budget would also continue this year's $22 million commitment to a fund devoted to creating affordable housing.

As part of the budget's capital spending plan, the county will ask voters in November to consider a $25 million bond for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The money would be used for land acquisition and development of synthetic turf fields.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company