The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decision earlier this week to trim some pension benefits long enjoyed by county employees has been unpopular in some quarters but board chairman Sharon Bulova says the decision was necessary.
“This board, and future boards, must always examine county programs to ensure we are achieving a balance between the benefit of that service and the affordability to taxpayers,” Bulova said in a statement.
“A majority of our board felt strongly that our existing defined benefit plan serves the county well and helps us to attract and retain the stable workforce we need to provide the quality services our constituents value, depend upon and appreciate.” However, she noted that the approved changes are “needed to ensure that retirees will continue to have a comfortable pension in their retirement years.”
Tuesday’s vote will end the pre-Social Security supplement for future county employees and will eliminate an additional allowance that increases the retirement annuity by 3 percent.
Employees will have the option to advance future retirement income to offset the removal of the pre-Social Security supplement.
Bulova also defended the elimination of the annuity allowance, stating, “This 3 [percent] formula increase was adopted in 1989 to address a change made that year in how the state taxed retirement income. It was meant to allow retirees time to adjust their financial plans based on the new and unexpected tax increase and was not meant to be a permanent change.”
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) has been an advocate of county pension reform for years. He said the board “missed an opportunity” to build a compensation plan that would best attract employees and teachers, but noted that the approved change to do away with the pre-Social Security supplement is “meaningful.”
Other changes rejected
Meanwhile, the board rejected three other proposed changes to the county’s retirement system. In a 7-3 vote, supervisors chose to maintain the minimum retirement age of 55 and the rule of 85 (age plus years of service). The supervisors were split on whether to increase the salary averaging period from three years to five years; tied board votes fail.
The newly approved changes will affect only new county employees hired on July 1, 2019, or later.
The proposals — crafted by a county retirement working group made up of board members, county employees, a county retiree and a representative of the school district — were hotly debated in the months leading up Wednesday’s vote.
At a board of supervisors meeting on Nov. 20, 46 community members signed up to give public comments about the proposals, including representatives from the Fairfax Coalition of Police, Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics, Police Officers Retirement System Board of Trustees, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, McLean Citizens Association, Fairfax Workers Coalition, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, SEIU Virginia 512, Fairfax Education Association, Fairfax County Republican Committee, and Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition.
Several speakers expressed concern that the changes would create a two-tiered employee system and negatively impact hiring, while others questioned whether the retirement system would remain viable without changes.