Workforce Retention Should Be a Priority
Supervisor Pat Herrity | The Herrity Report
Workforce retention is the issue of our decade, affecting all industries including the public sector. Staffing issues affect the primary function we provide for residents: critical services. My colleagues on the Board are pushing a false narrative that for the FY 2024 budget we can either fund competitive employee compensation or reduce the tax burden for residents, but not both. We can do both if we make the difficult decisions that our residents must make daily with their own household budgets.
The County is struggling to recruit and retain police officers, paramedics, solid waste workers, behavioral health specialists, social workers, teachers, bus drivers, crossing guards, and the list goes on. Overall, the County’s vacancy rate is over 15 percent and that is affecting everything from our ability to pick up trash to fighting crime. The vacancy rate means that the remaining employees are having to pick up the workload.
Providing services to our residents is the primary function of the County government and our workforce should be a priority for the FY 2024 budget as in all budgets. In both my professional career and in public service I have made attracting and retaining a high caliber workforce a priority and pay is a part of that. Unfortunately, we have too much of our compensation dollars in pensions and having an above-market pension plan is not producing the results our residents need.
The Board has historically promised to fund employee market rate adjustments and historically has, more often than not, unfortunately broken that promise. The Board approved up to a 38 percent raise for the Board of Supervisors, but only 2 percent of the full 5.44 percent MRA for employees. We, as leaders, should not be getting more than County employees who directly serve the needs of our residents. It sends the wrong message and we’re losing employees because of it.
Each year that I proposed an alternative budget it is one that lowers the tax bill for the average resident but includes compensation for employees equal to or better than the adopted budget. This year I hear residents saying that the Board needs to prioritize 1) a reduced tax bill and 2) funding critical services. For that reason, I’ve asked that the Board fully fund the market rate adjustment (MRA) for County employees providing those critical services and will be recommending a tax cut as well.
Despite numerous testimonies on the police staffing crisis, my proposal is the only one on the table to address the shortage of nearly 200 officers. Despite testimony from non-uniformed employees on the need to fully fund the MRA, my proposal is the only one on the table so far. Interestingly, this is the same Board that preached the critical need for public collective bargaining to address employee needs yet is ignoring the resounding request from our employees for the bare minimum. I voted against public collective bargaining in part because I believe we should be able to take care of our employees without adding the exorbitant cost of legal process fees on our residents or tying our hands when it comes to affordability for residents.
Even as I put forward the proposal to fully fund the MRA, I am also working on a proposal to cut the tax rate to address the other concern of residents and employees: affordability.
It is critical we send the right message to our employees. We can fully fund the MRA, fund our priorities and reduce the taxes on our residents if we as a Board spend responsibly and set priorities.
This article was excerpted from The Herrity Report — subscribe here to receive Supervisor Pat Herrity’s official newsletter about Fairfax County government.