Fixing Employee Pay Scale Could Strain County Government Budget

County administrator Tim Hemstreet told supervisors this week that a new study on the county government’s pay scale could bring difficult budget news next year.

County consultants are nearing the end of a study of the county’s classification and compensation system, the way the county sets out job descriptions and pay rates. The current employee classification system was set out in 2002—which means the county has seen a lot of growth and a lot of new job descriptions pop up since, particularly in technology.

The study will be finished in August, and supervisors will see it after their August recess in September. It will give county supervisors an idea of what they will have to spend to update their compensation levels and catch up to other Northern Virginia jurisdictions. Supervisors will then have to decide how much they’re willing to spend to get there.

“However, the amount is easily more than the entire amount of enhancements that we have had in previous years,” Hemstreet said.

That means that fixing the pay scale must be balanced against the normal budget growth that comes with opening new county facilities like community centers, parks, and fire stations, and adding staff to keep up.

In fact, county leaders know they’re already behind their own old stated goals—to pay 95 percent of what other localities in the region pay. For that purpose, Loudoun measures itself again Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William, and the City of Alexandria.

Hemstreet has said that although the county is relatively lightly staffed for its population and his staff carry a heavier load than their colleagues in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, he would rather emphasize higher pay for the right people over blanket growth in the county ranks.

Some supervisors agreed.

“If we’re going to get serious about compensation, it’s going to take an enormous investment,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “And I’d rather invest in the employees that we have, because I think we’ll get more out of them early on, and make that our focus for this coming budget year.”

Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he expects the next budget cycle to be much more challenging than the last. But he also said the county shouldn’t be comparing itself only to jurisdictions to the east.

“Not all of our employees are coming from the east, a lot of them come from the west,” Buona said.

Supervisors also agree that updates to the pay scales will probably have to be phased in over years.

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said when staffing up the county, it won’t be enough to simply try to keep up with providing the same level of service to county residents.

“At some point we are going to have to act like we are what we are, which is a large and growing county,” Randall said. “We are not a county of 100,000 people anymore. We are not Fairfax county’s younger sister, and we have to start acting like it.”

With an estimated population of about 386,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Loudoun is Virginia’s fourth most populous locality, behind Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Virginia Beach.

“It only makes sense if current service levels are appropriate, and what we know in many of our departments is that current services levels may not be appropriate because we may not have enough employees already,” Randall said.

Last year, the county government had a major staffing-up after years of tough budgets, adding the equivalent of 212 full-time jobs. None of those positions have yet been hired, as the 2018 fiscal year began July 1.

With the finance committee advising departments to keep their new resources requests to a minimum this year, that surge in hiring could be over next year.

The pay scale won’t be the only big-ticket item on supervisors’ plates in the next budget. For example, county staff members are also looking at new cloud computing and disaster recovery strategies—as highlighted by problems at the county’s own data center that brought down much of its computer network for two days.

Fire and rescue leaders have also pressed supervisors to staff up fire and rescue squads to account for injury, exhaustion, and time off among their crews.

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