Unions draining local gov budgets, says tax cut activist as Va. county hikes public sector salaries

Salaries for local government employees in Fairfax Country are going up after the county accepted $1.03 billion in federal COVID aid.

Updated: July 19, 2022 - 12:08am

Labor union demands are draining local government budgets, warned a tax reduction activist in a county just outside the nation's capital that raised government employee salaries between 4%-14% after it collected $1 billion in federal pandemic stimulus funding.

"Fairfax County is a government of the unions, by the unions, for the unions," said Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Tax Alliance, during an interview. "The supervisors are elected in the election that has the lowest turnout, and so the 35,000 county and school employees and their families and their friends and the thousands of other non-full-time employees -- for which they do not report the number -- I think are a significant fraction of the turnout in that off-year election. It's very important for them [the board] to keep the employees happy."

Purves wrote in a recent column that Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay received $100,000 from the local firefighters union and firefighters were among those receiving generous pay raises on the high end of the scale in the latest budget.

"They want payback for that," he said.

Purves described Fairfax County's FY2023 budget as the latest example of the grip that unions have on local government officials across the nation.

The majority Democrat board spent $1.62 million on the continuation of the county's collective bargaining program in its latest budget. 

"They are giving the unions more power with collective bargaining," Purves said.

The average pay increases in Fairfax County's FY2023 budget were 6.16% for "non-uniformed merit employees" and 9.31% for "uniformed merit employees" with a scale going up to 14.01%. The "market rate" pay adjustment in the budget is 4.01%

The cost of a county employee's benefits package has reached an average of 59% of their salary, Purves said. He told Just the News that the average county salary is $91,000, and the benefits package spending brings it to an average of $144,690.

Purves said the total estimated cost of the salary and benefits increases to taxpayers is $252 million. He noted that residents are facing higher tax bills due to increased home and vehicle values. Virginia counties tax vehicles as personal property each year, and the average value of used cars has skyrocketed nationally due, in part, to the computer chip shortage.

Purves said McKay touted the budget as one that brings relief to residents, but real estate tax bills will be about $600 higher than the previous year. While the board reduced the real estate tax rate by 3 cents, it wasn't enough to offset the rise of home values.

McKay's office was not available for comment before publication. 

According to Bryan Hill, the county's executive, the county government has received $1.03 billion in "anticipated or awarded" federal COVID relief aid. Some of that funding, outlined in the most recent public update posted in February, was applied to county staff salaries related to affordable housing, health and public safety.

In neighboring Loudoun County, the Board of Supervisors reduced the real estate tax rate by 9 cents, but tax bills are still set to rise by about $200. Loudoun County also raised salaries by 5% on average.