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Video: Arlington County Board Votes 5-0 to Raise Salary Cap; Also Discusses Potential Changes to Form of Government


See below for video and an Arlington County news release on the County Board’s unanimous vote last night to set a new salary cap for Board members, effective on January 1, 2020, “at 100 percent of the Individual Area Median Income for the Greater Washington Region, or $89,851 for a Board Member and $95,734 for the Board Chair.”

As I’ve written previously, it is absolutely absurd that top elected officials – whether on County Boards, City Councils or School Boards – in major jurisdictions, and also in the Virginia General Assembly: a) aren’t considered full-time, professional positions; b) aren’t compensated accordingly. I’d add that we also can’t expect people who aren’t independently wealthy and/or have the financial means, flexibility, etc. to take on jobs like these to run for office. Which means that most people simply can’t afford to put themselves forward for these important jobs. I’d argue that this isn’t just economically discriminatory, but also tends to skew the candidate pool older and less diverse than it would be and than it SHOULD be.

And then there’s the issue that when we treat these important positions as low-paying, part-time gigs, we create a significant power vacuum. Of course, vacuums tend to get filled. In the case of local government, they’re filled heavily by the bureaucracy, and almost certainly also by powerful, local economic interests (e.g., developers). Is that what we really want? I’d argue ABSOLUTELY not.

By the way, I also agree with the Board members who are interested in exploring whether or not to add Board members and even change Arlington’s form of government. The fact is, Arlington has grown and changed tremendously over the years, which means that the current number of Board members and form of local government might not be totally appropriate to the scale and scope of what the Board has to deal with these days. So why not at least explore alternatives? I see absolutely no reason why not to do so, and lots of good reasons to do so.

P.S. As always, I’m extremely impressed with Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey – the way he conducts himself, the way he explains complex problems, the way he runs the Board’s meetings, etc. In sum, Dorsey is impressive all the way around, and Arlingtonians are VERY lucky to have him.

The Arlington County Board today voted to set a new salary cap for Board members that will take effect Jan. 1, 2020,  and remain the maximum cap for at least four years.

The Board voted unanimously to set the new cap at 100 percent of the Individual Area Median Income for the Greater Washington Region, or $89,851 for a Board Member and $95,734 for the Board Chair. To read the Board report, visit the County website.

“It is important to underscore that the Board’s action today sets a new salary cap, but does not increase Board salaries,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “The Board will not consider an increase in salaries in this calendar year, and whether we consider an increase in our salaries in 2020 will depend greatly on the overall outlook for the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget. “While it is awkward for the Board to have to vote to increase its own maximum salaries, state law leaves that responsibility to the Board,” Dorsey said. “We have not voted to increase the salary cap since 2011, and if we did not do so today, we would not be able to, under state law, for four more years. I support increasing the salary cap because I believe it will encourage more people, from varied economic backgrounds, to think about serving on this Board.”

Under state law, the Board may set a new maximum salary only once every four years, when 40 percent of the Board (two members) are standing for election. Dorsey and Board Member Katie Cristol are both up for re-election in November 2019. Any increase in salaries under the new cap would require separate Board action.

Board members, in their discussion of the proposed salary cap increase, noted that Board salaries are below the average salaries of jurisdictional comparators, and currently are at the level of 64.9 percent of Individual AMI for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metro Area for a Board Member.

Public engagement

The Board heard from 223 people who took an online survey that asked respondents to indicate what salary level they thought was appropriate for members of the County Board and provide comments on the Board’s consideration of setting a new salary cap. The Board also received messages from more than three dozen residents on the proposed increase in the salary cap. The Chair sent letters to every civic association in the County, and community organizations, seeking their input through the online survey, and the County included a link to the survey in “Inside Arlington,” the County’s weekly e-newsletter, which has 135,000 subscribers.

About the Arlington County Board

The five-member elected County Board is the County’s legislative body. The Board members serve at-large, in staggered four-year terms. They are responsible for setting the vision and policies of County Government.

In addition to monthly Board meetings, Board Members hold work sessions on various issues, including preparation of the annual operating budget.  Every two years, the Board also holds a series of work sessions to prepare the Capital Improvement Plan budget.  Among their many duties, Board Members represent the County on numerous regional bodies, and meet regularly with County civic associations and community organizations.


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