Retirement benefits for Arlington County employees trail those of most other Washington area governments, according to a report released Monday evening.
The analysis, conducted by the Segal Co., was commissioned by the Arlington County Board as a follow-up to a February report that revealed similar news.
"Arlington has a long way to go to make its retirement competitive for teachers and public safety employees," said board member Mike Lane (R). "I would expect the board to make it a priority in next year's budget deliberations. We're so noncompetitive that it may take a multi-year solution."
The county's goal is to rank in the 75th percentile when compared to other governments. In other words, in Arlington's vision, only one-quarter of comparable jurisdictions would pay higher benefits. But the report concludes that, on average, Arlington's retirement benefits are in the 25th percentile when compared to 10 other jurisdictions or employers in the region, including Fairfax, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Alexandria and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority.
The situation is especially bleak for police officers and firefighters. For example, an Arlington firefighter who retired after 30 years of service would receive roughly $26,000 annually, compared with $43,000 in Loudoun County or $53,000 in Alexandria.
"We've been telling the County Board this for a number of years," said Jim Wasem, president of the Arlington Coalition of Police.
The county's retirement package was last modified in 1981. Before 1981, Wasem said, a police officer who retired after 25 years of work received an annual pension worth 60 percent of final salary.
Today, he said, the package is less then 38 percent of final salary. A teacher with a master's degree who retires after 30 years would receive less in Arlington County than in Alexandria and Falls Church cities or in Prince William and Fairfax counties.
The board's appointed Task Force on Retirement Principles and Compensation Practices is gathering information and conducting focus groups with county employees, task force chairman Bill Hansell said. The task force will issue a report and recommendations to the County Board by mid-October.
Despite the assessment, Arlington is not in dire straits when it comes to its employees, said Dick Bridges, assistant county manager for public information. "We are competitive," Bridges said. "We don't have people crossing county lines to go work somewhere else."