Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey (D) said she wants to discuss raising — and possibly doubling — pay for elected board members, because the job requires “more than full time” hours.
Garvey said in an interview that she would support “something on the order” of matching board pay more closely to the median family income in the county, which is $110,900. Board members are currently paid $51,480, and the chairman receives $56,629 per year; the board last raised its own pay in 2012.
“This is more than a full-time job, with more than one event practically every night, board meetings that go late into the night and weekend appearances,” said Garvey, who manages real estate part time and has become known on the board for questioning major capital spending. “If people are working 21/2 full-time jobs and worried about paying the mortgage and having a family, I don’t think they can do that.”
Three of the five elected board members have separate full-time jobs. John Vihstadt (I) is a partner with the law firm Krooth & Altman in Washington; Christian Dorsey (D) is director of external and government affairs for the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank; and Katie Cristol (D) is an education-policy adviser with Education First, a policy and strategy organization. Only Garvey and Jay Fisette (D) are primarily employed as board members.
Fisette said a 100 percent pay boost “sounds too high, sounds unrealistic.”
Vihstadt said he does not favor a pay raise, either, although he has cut back on his practice hours and given up some income since he was elected to the board in 2014.
“I think an outside job helps ground us and serves to remind us this is how the rest of the community lives all the time,” he said. “A lot of people already treat this as a full-time job, and if you can afford to do that, you can, but it insulates you and stifles your creativity.”
Both Cristol and Dorsey, who were elected 11 months ago, said they have had to cut back on their main employment to handle the government positions. They said they would welcome a public discussion about whether the board is paid adequately.
Dorsey said that between County Board responsibilities and his appointment to represent Arlington on the Metro Board of Directors, his work at the Economic Policy Institute has become part time. He quickly added that he knew what he was getting into when he ran for office, although “most people can’t believe we do this for part-time pay.”
Salaries for elected officials in the greater Washington area range widely among jurisdictions, with the bigger cities and counties paying its leaders more.
Arlington County has about 225,000 residents, according to U.S. Census reports, about one-third as many as the District and less than a quarter of the population of Fairfax or Montgomery counties.
Washington, which acts as both a city and state, pays full-time council members $134,852 per year; the council chair makes $190,000. Fairfax County, the biggest local government by population, pays its board chair $100,000 and board members $95,000. Montgomery County pays council members $128,519 and the council president about $141,000.
The city of Alexandria, with about 150,000 residents, pays its part-time council members $27,500 and its mayor $30,500. The Alexandria City Council dropped an effort to raise its pay 10 months ago after running into public resistance and running out of time to act.
Garvey, who is heavily favored to win a second full term Nov. 8, said she is unlikely to propose a pay raise this year. She said she wanted to raise the idea now to give the public time to respond and to figure out how to calculate a fair salary.
In any case, the Arlington County Board could not legally pass a pay raise until 2019, because under Virginia law, the vote has to occur in a year in which at least 40 percent of its seats are up for election. Because Arlington has staggered terms, that’s three years away.
Any pay increase would not take effect until January 2020, said Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac.
Montgomery County’s council in 2013 approved an increase for its members after the 2014 elections, then tied annual adjustments to the region’s consumer price index. That will bring the council compensation to a projected $136,258 by 2017.