As more and more of Prince William County's 1,200 salaried employes leave for higher pay in other jurisdictions, the county is earning a reputation as the "personnel pool of Northern Virginia," according to some county officials.
The county's loss -- 3.8 percent in the last eight months alone -- can be counted in more than just dollars.
"When you lose a well-trained employe," said Personnel Director Cleil Fitzwater, "you lose more than the money it will cost to advertise for and train someone to replace him or her. You lose what you can't put a dollar figure on -- their experience."
According to Fitzwater, hardly a department in the county government has not been affected by the drain; but with the loss of 13 trained officers since October, the police department has been hit hardest. "We've lost men before but that's a high figure," said Police Chief George Owens. As with so many of the employes who leave, many of Owens' men -- each of whom costs $37,000 to train the first year on the job -- have stepped over the county line to Fairfax.
"Not all of them go there," Owens said. "Some leave Virginia altogether. But a lot of them do go to Fairfax or Arlington and they all tell me it's because they got a better offer."
Fitzwater notes that some employes quit before they've worked a day. "It's been happening a lot lately," he says. "The job has been offered, it's been accepted, and then just before they're supposed to start, the department head will get a call. 'Sorry, I won't be coming in tomorrow. I've got a job in Fairfax or another jurisdiction that pays better.' "
Fitzwater lost a person on his own staff recently who left for a neighboring jurisdiction -- "same job, same work" -- for $4,000 more a year. "I can't blame him for leaving for that much of an increase," Fitzwater said. "My only consolation is when I call Fairfax and tell them they're taking all our good people, I'll get a call from Loudoun County. 'Hey, you're taking all our good people.' So it works both ways."
County Executive Robert Noe, concerned about reports from his department heads that valued employes are leaving to improve their pay checks, last month asked the Board of Supervisors for $3.18 million to upgrade county employes' pay scales with a 4 percent cost-of-living increase as part of his $137.5 million budget. Noe also requested that a salary cap on certain positions be eliminated.
After a meeting with a staff committee, Noe went before the board again last week and requested an additional $667,000. The increase would add 30 positions to those originally targeted for raises. According to Fitzwater, there hasn't been an overall salary adjustment for employes since 1980.