Arlington County Board members informally agreed Tuesday to give themselves a 2.3 percent raise, their first in five years, as they prepare to pass a county budget that will raise taxes by more than $200 for the average homeowner.
The raises, which are equivalent to the 2.8 percent average raise expected to be given to county employees, will boost the $49,000 salary for four board members to $50,127 and the board chairman’s salary from $53,900 to $55,140.
The County Board authorized the raise a year ago but did not take it. It will cost the county $7,268 more per year.
Chairman Mary Hynes (D) said at a board workshop meeting Tuesday that there has been some discussion among members about a raise, and she decided it should be made public now, four days before the board is scheduled to pass its $1.03 billion budget, with a tax rate that will jump 1.3 cents.
Because assessments rose on most homes this year, homeowners were looking at higher tax bills even if the tax rate did not change. County Manager Barbara Donnellan had recommended a tax increase of a half-cent in February, which would have pushed the average homeowner’s county tax bill to $6,645. But the County Board advertised a higher property tax rate increase of 2 cents, or 97.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.
“This has been a year in which this board has really stepped up as we got through the downturn,” she said, citing the government’s increased funding of schools, libraries, housing and other services. “There’s a lot here that moves our county forward. It’s not extravagant. We’ve made a lot of infrastructure improvements.”
“I’m sure we’ll still get blasted for doing this. The story writes itself,” said board member Chris Zimmerman (D).
The board had agreed in concept last week to raise the pay of the 3,500 employees, whose raises last year were about 1 percent.
Minutes before the issue of a pay raise for elected officials came up, the board was grappling with an unwelcome surprise from the Virginia legislature that could cost $1.9 million. Under Virginia law, public employees must contribute 5 percent of their pay to the Virginia Retirement System. Most school districts picked up the cost for their employees because it was less expensive than giving raises, Hynes said.
But last week, the legislature required schools to offset that cost and mandated a raise for school workers, effectively about 1.2 percent after deductions are taken. The state, however, would not pay for the raise but is requiring counties and cities to cover the cost out of local tax dollars, Hynes said.
County board members, who learned the details Monday night, agreed to add three-tenths of a cent to the tax rate to cover the costs. If the action is overturned, the money will go into a contingency fund.