Last November, voters in Fairfax County overwhelmingly defeated the ill-conceived plan to impose a meals tax on our businesses and residents. Throughout 2016, I was proud to help lead a coalition of local chambers of commerce, the restaurant and hospitality industry and many civic leaders to defeat this poorly-crafted proposal. I wanted to say “thank you” to the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce for its support in that effort. The meals tax defeat was important not only because it put a halt to this single industry tax, but because it led to a flat tax rate and a review of the county’s overly generous pension benefits.
The meals tax defeat was cited as a chief reason the Board of Supervisors (BOS) held the real estate tax rate flat in the FY2018 budget which was approved in April. Prior to FY2018, the BOS had raised taxes by roughly 25 percent. The BOS got the message that they need to do what our families and businesses have to do; cut spending when revenues aren’t growing. The budget was cut without significant impact to county priorities – education, transportation and public safety.
While I have been working on pension reform since I joined the BOS, the meals tax debate provided an opportunity to showcase the significant financial impact of pensions on both the budget and our county employees. For example, a county employee hired right out of school can retire with a full pension as early as 55. Not only do they get the pension but they receive county paid social security payments (with a guaranteed 3 percent increase) until they are eligible for real federal social security. Because of the high cost of the pension benefits we’re not able to pay county employees and teachers’ competitive salaries. The county’s cost of fringe benefits is two to three times the typical private sector benefits – costing 56 to 85 percent of salary.
The BOS is currently conducting a review of pension costs, largely as a result of the meals tax debate. We need to get our compensation in line so that we can attract, reward and retain today’s best employees, including teachers, and not continue funding an overly generous dinosaur of a pension program. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be reaching out to the business community once again for your help in reforming our compensation program, so we can continue to work together to make Fairfax County the best county in the country.
Patrick Herrity serves the Springfield Magisterial District as supervisor. He writes for the Chamber throughout the year. Supervisor Herrity invites you to reach out to him at email@example.com.