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County Board approves $20,000 pay raise for itself with new budget

The Arlington County Board discusses the budget at a meeting (via Arlington County)

In addition to approving a new county budget Tuesday night, the Arlington County Board also approved a $20,000 pay raise for each of its members.

Board Chair Katie Cristol said she’s uncomfortable voting on her own salary, but nonetheless in the approved budget her salary as this year’s Chair will increase from $63,413 to $83,413.

“I think what ultimately has persuaded me to support this idea is sort of depersonalizing it and the recognition that it’s actually not about my salary, it’s about a Board member’s salary,” she said.

Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey pointed out that the increases make the positions more competitive. Higher salaries — the salary for a Board member is increasing from $57,648 to $77,648 — will make members less dependent on high-earning spouses or other sources of supplemental income like consulting jobs.

“I’ve talked to far too many people who, I think, would make great County Board members and they tell me, ‘I simply can’t afford to do it,'” Garvey said. “So I’m hoping this is going to be a step in the right direction to make it, I think, actually more democratic, better representation.”

The set salaries remain below the cap set by the Board in 2019 — $95,734 for the Chair and $89,851 for members.

The Board can only raise the salary cap in the year that two board members are up for reelection, which will next happen in 2023, when Cristol and Christian Dorsey are up for reelection.

After a community survey a few years ago on the compensation of Board members, the Board came to the general consensus that it would be appropriate for members to earn a salary equivalent to the area median income for a one-member household, Cristol said. The pay raise just approved will not reach that level, but will get closer to it.

“I believe that was the benchmark, the idea there being that Board members ought to make not more than the average Arlingtonian, but not less either,” she said. “So this would get us I think about half of the way there. I believe this roughly shakes out to about a Board member making 80% of the area median income for a household of one.”

De Ferranti said that a seat on the Board, while originally intended as a part-time position, is effectively a full-time job and ought to be paid as such.

“My view is that for a locality that is approaching 240,000 people, the job of being a Board member is a full-time job,” he said. “There’s been some analysis in the past as to the number of hours, sometimes it’s 50 or 60 hours per week and sometimes it’s 35 but I think this is a full-time job.”

Member Takis Karantonis said he’s struggled with juggling the amount of work that comes with the County Board and his other work. He has had to excuse himself from certain votes, which can be uncomfortable, he said.

“This is really not helpful. It is not helpful for the Board as a whole, it is not helpful for the way this body works, it is not helpful for anybody,” he said.

Dorsey said he didn’t want any part of this issue when it came up while he was chair in 2019 — he was in the midst of personal financial troubles that would later lead to a bankruptcy filing and accusations of unethical behavior related to political donations. He said he supports the raise now because public servants should be valued for their work.

Dorsey thanked Garvey for “pressing the cause.”

“When we do the public’s business, we cannot do that effectively without really good public servants and, you know, for far too long, public servants compared to their private sector counterparts make sacrifices that often go underappreciated,” he said.

The pay raise will take effect with the county’s new Fiscal Year 2023 budget on July 1.

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