Comments at Arlington County Budget Hearing, March 29, 2022.
Community activist Suzanne Sundburg reports that the FY23 Budget includes funding for 115 new county jobs (Online Budget, p. 41–44 [54-57]). It took the County eight years — from 2009 to 2017 — to add 106 new positions. So 115 in one year — funded by a residential real estate tax hike of 5.3 percent plus increased fees — is extraordinary (Online Budget, p. 95, ). During the Great Recession, Arlington shed jobs, whereas during the pandemic Arlington added 16 new positions in FY20 and another 55 new positions in FY21 (FY21 CAFR, p. 284).
Sundburg’s concerns are twofold: First, the list of vacant county positions (not including schools) contains over 400 unfilled jobs, which represents at least 10% of the county’s total workforce. Leading one to wonder whether the county would truly need all 115 new positions if current openings were filled?
Second is the weak justification for some new positions. Though the permit office should reopen to in-person service in FY23, virtually all permitting functions are now automated. It is unclear why additional staff is required. Also, a new building-inspector position mirrors an existing position, advertised as being unfilled for over 30 days. Why duplicate a position that you cannot fill? And though library staffing will exceed its prepandemic 2019 level, Arlington still won’t be reopening the Center for Local History (now accesssible by appointment only) or restoring Sunday hours at more branches, when school libraries are closed.
Meanwhile, many public safety positions remain “frozen” and unfilled.
So what’s the cost to add 115 new positions? “Using an average the county’s FY 2021 list of midpoint salary figures for County positions — $90,328 — the total comes to roughly $10 million just to cover salary.” Governing.com notes that total compensation costs for local government (which includes benefits, retirement, etc.) can double that salary figure, In this case, total compensation cost could reach $20million. Sundburg adds: “Each cent of the tax rate yields roughly $8.3 million. So, we’re talking about the equivalent of well over a penny per $100 of assessed home value” in order for taxpayers to fund the cost of these new hires’ salaries.
To Sundburg, it’s reasonable to ask whether “the manager is proposing new positions of questionable utility in order to lock revenue from this year’s homeowner tax-assessment hike into his FY2023 budget.”
“The manager is looking out for his own interests and those of his employees. The question is who is looking out for us?”