County supervisors are preparing to deal with two important pay questions—one for the county staff and the other for the next board of supervisors. The questions are separate but tightly connected.
Of the two, the comprehensive study of the government’s pay structure is the top priority. Even in many tight budget years, county staff members have gotten raises. Salaries have gone up. But that doesn’t mean the compensation structure has kept pace. Supervisors don’t necessarily need to know whether they’re paying people enough; they need to know whether they can attract and retain the right people. For those who’d like to see government run more like a business, this is a question business owners ask every day.
Although there is evidence in many departments that the current structure isn’t competitive, past boards have had little hope of assembling the resources that would be needed to fix it. The improving economy now provides that breathing room, and county leaders can now get a grasp of where the problems lie and begin to address them.
The question of how much to pay the next board of supervisors is murkier and the decision could change the very nature of the position.
Today, the county board is structured to have part-time members who are paid a significant stipend to make up for some of the time and energy they sacrifice in the name of community service. They are supported by full-time staff members, whose jobs were created to allow part-time legislators to function more effectively in an increasingly complex and demanding environment.
Should the stipends for supervisors be increased for the first time since 2008? Probably.
Should the candidates elected to the board in 2019 expect to be paid for the work on the level of a full-time employee? That changes the government significantly. There would still be candidates on the ballot offering their experience as a public service. But the position also becomes a job, one that attracts professional politicians who have re-election as a significant economic motivation.
Are the current board seats limited to the independently wealthy or the retired because of the lack of stipend increases? That argument has been made, but it is not borne out in the current collection of supervisors, nor any previous one.
With a strong, capable—even, well compensated—staff, part-time supervisors can continue to serve Loudoun effectively for many terms to come.