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The Right Note: Time for a Raise?

GOP county board candidate Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This month County Board Chair Libby Garvey put forward the idea of giving a raise to County Board Members. Garvey suggested the salaries could be raised from the current $51,500 ($56,500 for the Chair) to the median income of Arlington, around $110,000.

Under our form of government in Virginia, the raise cannot occur until after the 2019 election when two seats are up once again which means any raise would not take effect until 2020. Every single member of the Board will have been elected or re-elected at that point, which would give the public plenty of time to speak on the issue.

Board Member John Vihstadt opposed the massive pay raise and said it was valuable for Board Members to hold other jobs. I agree.

There is no compelling evidence that turning the Board into a full-time legislative body would improve the outcomes, making a full-time salary unnecessary. Moreover, having to hold down a real job puts a Board Member on par with the average Arlingtonian who wants to speak on an issue at 9 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week at work.

While Garvey’s suggestion of essentially doubling the salary may set an unrealistic ceiling for the discussion, giving the Board some level of a raise is not something this fiscal conservative would dismiss out-of-hand. While it is public service, Board Members should be compensated fairly — taking into account that a Board Member cannot go out to dinner or even to a neighborhood block party without essentially being “on the job.”

But if a majority the Board really wants the public to be accepting of any raise, they could start by making a case for why they deserve it in this year’s close-out discussions.

The Board should be given credit for creating a close-out process that seeks more public input. However, they did not address essential questions for the public to consider.

Why is there always a revenue windfall? Why is the automatic assumption that the revenue windfall should be spent? Why not consider using the revenue to lower the tax rate for 2017?

Revenue once again came in significantly over projections — $29 million to be exact. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, this underestimation happens every single year. The money is spent at close-out time. Then the County Manager issues a report telling us we have a mythical budget gap requiring taxes to go up next year. And the cycle continues.

They call the revenue estimates the result of “fiscally responsible budgeting.” But the real result has been a bias towards higher and higher spending fueled by more property tax revenue.

If Board Members want public support for a raise in 2020, they should consider giving the taxpayers a “raise.” The Board should vote to give the next four years of excess revenue back to the taxpayers instead of spending it in the close-out process.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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