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County Staff Pay Comes Up Short

Loudoun County employees’ paychecks stagnate while other public employees get raises.

There is a well-known scene in the Charlie Brown Halloween television special, in which he and his friends look into their bags to see what they got for “tricks or treats.” In turn, they shout:

“I got five pieces of candy!”

“I got a chocolate bar!”

“I got a quarter!”

Charlie Brown sadly replies, “I got a rock.”

Frankly, I never really cared for that scene because it seemed a little over the top. I mean, really, who gets rocks on Halloween?

But as Loudoun County and its neighbors finalize their budgets for the coming year, including pay increases for their respective workforces, Loudoun County employees can be forgiven if they feel a lot like Charlie Brown. For example:

  • Town of Leesburg employees got a 3 percent pay increase.

  • Fairfax County employees got a 2.5 percent increase in addition to a 2.18 percent market adjustment.

  • Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) employees got either a $1,500 raise (teachers and administrators) or a 60-cent hourly increase (classified employees such as teaching assistants and bus drivers).

But Loudoun County employees essentially got a rock.

History will someday show that the county employees received a 5 percent pay increase in FY 2013. But that fact will be completely misleading, because the raises are totally offset by a change in the way the employees’ retirement contributions are made.

More than two decades ago, in lieu of a 5 percent pay increase for the workforce, the instead agreed to start paying the county employees’ contribution to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), in addition to the county’s contribution. This was equivalent to a 5 percent increase in take-home pay.

Fast forward to 2012, when a reform-minded Board of Supervisors decided that it did not make sense for the county to pay both the employees’ and the county’s contributions to VRS. So the Board voted to make a structural change to the system in FY 2013 and start requiring the employees to pay their share of the VRS contribution.

As a result, the staff’s 5 percent pay raise is completely negated by the newly imposed 5 percent VRS contribution. The employees will receive no increase in take-home pay.

In fact, many employees will see a reduction in their paychecks of about 1 percent, since withholding for Social Security and taxes will be based on the higher gross salary they will receive, on paper only.

The Board of Supervisors held out the possibility of bonuses for employees at the end of FY 2013, under certain conditions. But there are currently a lot of questions surrounding those bonuses, and the employees cannot count on ever seeing that money.

The Charlie Brown analogy has its limits. The Peanuts gang’s Halloween haul is, after all, kid stuff, while county employees depend on their salaries to pay for life’s necessities in a region with a high cost of living.

It is demoralizing for the county workforce to see their paychecks shrink even as the economy recovers from a deep recession and employees of other agencies finally receive pay raises after years of stagnant salaries.

It does not help when employees see one headline after another saying that Loudoun County has the highest incomes in the country, and that the median income in the county is going up even higher.

The limits on staff salaries this year were not the result of the local economy, which is improving, but rather the decision by the Board of Supervisors to reduce taxes to a level that did not allow for increases in compensation. The Board could have given the workforce raises that would have increased take-home pay while still cutting taxes, but chose not to.

In this year’s budget process, the Board cut programs, laid off employees and concluded the proceedings with one supervisor saying, “We’ve only just begun.”

All of these factors have resulted in a demoralized workforce, as is obvious when talking with nearly any county employee. 

The difficult task of motivating the workforce and retaining high performing employees in an environment of negativity falls to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet, whose contract specifies that he receives the same adjustments in salary and benefits as the rest of the county workforce.

While Hemstreet recommended a 2 percent pay increase for employees, he offered up that raise in his 5 percent budget reduction option, which the Board subsequently used as the starting point for its budget deliberations.

School Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, despite a sometimes contentious budget process with a new, reform-minded School Board majority, still managed to secure modest raises for the LCPS employees.

Loudoun County government employees, on the other hand, are wondering why everyone around them is looking forward to bigger paychecks this year while they are staring down into a bag of rocks.

jaccoale June 07, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Well written article, now all the Board has to do is find away to fund Metro. Maybe they could fund the metro with rocks.
joe brewer June 07, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I feel so sorry for them! Boo hoo. You should pay for your retirement and your health benefits!
Michael Kimmel June 07, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Luckily, the county was able to come up with money to throw at the Redskins to have them take training camp out of the county. County employees can't afford to live in the county, but one of the richest franchises in the NFL gets a handout -- what's wrong with this picture??
J. Thomas June 08, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I as a county employee have receive no pay raise for 5 years, I pay for my health benefits, Joe B as do all county employees. What they don't tell you is the added work that the employees have. As for the classified employees they DID NOT receive a 60 cent an hour increase except on paper. What they left out was, they gave us a raise then cut our work days by three days, raise our health insurance, and our VRS contributions by 5%.
C B June 08, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Well said J. I also work for the County and came on board the year that they stopped giving increases. I have had none with the exception of the cola raise we got last year. I get stellar assessments and have yet to be rewarded and have found my workload more than doubled.....and I had to move out of Leesburg because I cant afford to live here.
JS8 June 08, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Same here, J. Thomas and CB!! A coworker figured out his lack of a raise is saving $5 on his property taxes. Demoralized? Bitter? Angry? Resentful? All of the above. One thing this article, and all others on the subject fail to mention is that not only are the employees on the hook for additional Social Security and Medicare taxes, but SO IS THE COUNTY. The County was making payments to the VRS on behalf of the employees, just like the deferred compensation given to football players. These payments were PRE-TAX for everyone. Not any more. Yay for fiscal responsibility /sarcasm Don't believe me? Check out [http://] tax.com/taxcom/taxblog.nsf/Permalink/UBEN-8EDJYS?OpenDocument
H June 08, 2012 at 01:37 PM
HR Thanks to Jim for this article and to J and CB! I believe political agendas get in the way of raises for County employees. Decisions are made based on what is good for the career of the Supervisor. Getting reelected is more important than doing what is right for the employees who support you.
Stelios I. June 08, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Right on point, the BOS continues thr tradition of "no respect" for county staff and poor fiscal choices! Luckily they won't last but one term with their poor decisions. Just like others before.
Dis Gruntled June 08, 2012 at 07:42 PM
What the article didn't include was that the initial enabling legislation made the option for localities to pay the employee share in lieu of raises was IRREVOCABLE. After a bunch of lobbying the Code of Virginia had to be amended to allow the irrecovable to be revoked. The first step was to delete the payments for new hires, as existing staff was covered by promises made. Now they are taking that away from many employees who work for far less than private sector comparables who were convinced to stay on during hard times by the future payment of retirement benefits. In the early 90's every county employe got a pink slip with their first paycheck in January so that if their position was cut during the budget process their 60 day notice would already have expiredand they were gone that day. County called the rest of their pay for the fiscal year ending in June 'salary savings' since it was already budgeted. Most county employees are dedicated hard working folks. Too bad we're getting shafted again. Retirement isn't a free ride. It's a part of your overall compensation intended to intice long term workers and keep down the cost of training new people when experienced staff leaves. Why finish the ride now? I'll take my experience elswhere as soon as I find something.
joe brewer June 11, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Could it be that county employees were overpaid and now it's starting to even out. I know for a fact teachers are overpaid, just read the bloated school WABE report.
Michael Kimmel June 11, 2012 at 12:07 PM
"You know for a fact that teachers are overpaid" - what a joke. Most teachers can not afford to live in Loudoun county because the salary they get won't be enough to afford the housing unless they have a spouse with a good paying job. As long as there are misconceptions like this in the county we'll continue to be lacking.
PFC Prolapse June 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM
I know for a fact you're overpaid because you're posting this message while at work.
Michael Kimmel June 11, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Just to be clear, I am not a teacher nor am I employed by Loudoun County. So what is proven here is how much you do know as a fact. The answer to that is clear.
joe brewer June 11, 2012 at 04:23 PM
86 k a year for a teacher if that ain't overpriced by 2 then you are willing to overpay these glorified babysitters. 994 million dollar school budget this year and you are ok with that? It sure looks like we are paying for all the benefits and Social Security, do correct me if I am wrong. 15 k per student, 86 per teacher for 3/4 time what a giant ripoff the school system is!
Terry Johnson June 12, 2012 at 08:42 PM
I can't speak for teachers who are under a seperate department, and got raises, but no, county employees have to pay for their own benefits and social security just like everybody else.
not20148 June 18, 2012 at 07:41 PM
This will be the case for years to come if Metro to Ashburn is completed. There will be no money for raises or busses or much of anything except Metro. Then all the workers go to FFX or DC, then all the millions of new jobs that 'Metro created' will go away, and it'll look the Red LIne before you know it. Can you hear the sarcasm? Hope so.

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