Fairfax to put extra money in budget into county workers' health plans
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to direct a sizable part of the county's unspent funds from the previous fiscal year to its employees by paying a little more of their current health-care premiums, contributing to their pensions and boosting planning staff.
Board members characterized the measures as modest but overdue for about 12,000 county employees whose pay has been frozen for two years.
The board, as expected, also grudgingly agreed to give an additional $1.3 million to the Priority Schools Initiative that provides extra teachers and instructional time to impoverished children. Although the supervisors considered the program worthy, they reiterated their chagrin at the way the Fairfax County School Board and Superintendent Jack D. Dale had handled the request for additional funds. The supervisors thought the school board manipulated the budget process and public opinion to squeeze extra money out of the county -- an allegation school officials deny.
Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) called the schools' handing of the request a "debacle," and several other members criticized the school system for its opaque budgeting habits and stinginess in sharing public information.
"I can get more information talking to a wall than I can asking questions in those meetings," Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock) said, referring to joint meetings between the supervisors and the school system.
Similarly, the supervisors also agreed to commit about $674,000 to hire seven full-time county planners, freeing up staffers whose time has been taken up with the massive redevelopment of Tysons Corner -- but not before gently lecturing County Executive Anthony H. Griffin about their reluctance to use so-called carryover funds to hire new people.
The county, with $59.2 million in unspent funds known as carryover, also elected to use about $10 million to continue overhauling a computer system that tracks budgeting, purchasing, pay and personnel in its agencies. The supervisors agreed to set aside $15 million for the employer contribution to county employees' pensions in 2012, $7.2 million for the worker's compensation program that covers work-related injuries, and $6.5 million for additional administrative costs -- including $2.2 million to pay for health-care premium "holidays" for its employees.
The money would be used to pay two pay periods, or a month, of health-care premiums for employees who pay about $70 a month for individual plans and as much as $340 for family plans. The payments would be made in December.
Nearly $24 million, or about 41 percent of the leftover funds, was put in a rainy-day fund, in the event of budget shortfalls in a shaky economy.
Cook criticized the board's budgeting priorities, saying that that the county agreed to raise a tax -- the vehicle registration fee -- but still had nearly $60 million left over.
The board voted unanimously on how to use the unspent funds.
In other business, the board also voted to hold public hearings on whether to ban smoking at county bus shelters and whether to renew the Saudi Arabian Embassy's lease of a property on Route 1 that houses the private Islamic Saudi Academy.