Loudoun supervisors have braced for a public backlash since proposing a raise for the next county board—but if there is one, it wasn’t evident at a public hearing Wednesday night.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) and County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) have proposed a pay bump of 62 percent, from $41,200 to $66,826 for supervisors. Under state law, the board cannot give itself a raise in its current term—the salary increase wouldn’t go into effect until 2020, after the next election.
That pay increase is designed to track with the growth of the county’s general operating budget since the board’s last pay increase in 2008. It equates to where salaries would be now if supervisors received approximately 4 percent raises every year.
Only three people spoke at a public hearing, all in favor.
Real estate executive Brent Campbell, the chairman of the county board-appointed Housing Advisory Board, a member of the Loudoun Water Board of Directors, and former Hamilton Town Council member, said there are two reasons to pay supervisors—one, to thank them for their service.
“Another potential suggestion is that it’s actually a way to enable people who are just average people, and who aren’t independently wealthy, to be able to run for office,” Campbell said. “That’s a unique characteristic here in the U.S. that really just anybody can run for office.” He also pointed out the high cost of living in Loudoun, with a median household income well over $100,000.
“I think it’s in the public interest that a board member could, if they so choose, to have this be their full-time job and still pay the mortgage and put food on the table.”
Mark Miller, chairman of the Loudoun County Public Library Board of Trustees, cofounder of the Smashing Walnuts Foundation, and recent appointee to the Board of the Library of Virginia, said “at the minimum, the chair of the Board of Supervisors should be paid as constitutional officers are.”
Constitutional officers in a county with Loudoun’s population are paid $124,175 to $147,509 depending on their office, according to the state compensation board. The proposed raises would increase the salary for the county chairman from $50,000 to $81,100.
Blowback from the Dais
The fiercest opposition to the idea came from members of the board itself.
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said, “if we gave ourselves the same raise the county staff got each of these years, the numbers would be much lower and more reasonable, and I might even support that.” If supervisor salaries had tracked with county staff raises—which ranged from no raise some years to 3 percent others—a county supervisor would be paid $49,935.27 this year.
“The optics and timing of this are terrible,” Buona said. “This is about our 18th month in office. I don’t think we’d have done this our fourth year in office—it’s an election year. So let’s do it early in the term so that citizens would forget about it by election time.”
He also said the board would be taking this vote during the summer, when Loudouners are on vacation, “and oh, by the way, let’s do it at the very last public hearing before the board takes its August recess… so everybody that votes yes can run and hide and not have to deal with their constituents.”
He also said arguments that this raise would only apply to the next board are “disingenuous.”
“There’s a lot members up here saying, ‘well, it’s the next board that gets the raise. I don’t know if I’m going to run again.’ That’s disingenuous, because I think everybody up here for the most part knows if they’re going to run again.”
Randall disagreed, starting with the assertion that every member of the board knew whether he or she would run again—arguing that Buona himself has acknowledged in conversation between them that he has not yet decided.
She also pushed back against the idea that supervisors taking the vote at a time designed to avoid public scrutiny. She said she has been reaching out to citizens and organizations to get the word out about the public hearing.
“Not only am I not running and hiding, I’m going out and begging people, and I’ve actually said, ‘no matter what you think about it, come in and come to the board room and speak to us,’” Randall said. She further argued, considering that for years now elections have meant turnover for a majority on the board, that it’s “very unlikely” that the majority of people on the dais today would receive this raise.
And Letourneau pointed out that the conversation on salary began before school was out.
“I’ll also point out that we made the most consequential decision in the last 50 years of this county, and that was to opt into Metro, the day before July 4th[in 2012],” Letourneau said. “So don’t give me that. …Nobody’s trying to hide anything, and if we were, we were doing a very bad job.”
Other supervisors have given mixed responses. Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) joined Buona in opposing the idea, agreeing that the job of supervisor is meant to be part-time. Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she could not support the full proposed raise, but instead the equivalent of a 2 percent annual raise.
If supervisors received 2 percent raises every year since the current salary was set in 2008, they would be paid $52,251.56 in 2020, when this raise would take effect.
“There is a reason why the three most vocal people against this represent districts where they’re either built out, or very little is happening with land use or transportation,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), referring to the idea’s opponents: Algonkian District Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R); Buona, from Ashburn; and Higgins, from the Catoctin District.
“Secondly,” Meyer added, “There’s a reason why the most vocal opponent of this is the most independently wealthy on the board.” Buona is senior vice president of corporate development at Telos Corporation.
The board will vote on the proposed raise on July 20.