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A Question of Sustainability

One of the favorite watchwords of the Arlington County Board to explain why they are raising taxes and spending every year is sustainability. That thought came to mind in reading about the protest staged by the police and fire fighters unions during the public comment period at yesterday’s Board meeting. The longer version is reported in the online Arlington Sun-Gazette while the Washington Post has a shorter version on page C12.

According to the Sun-Gazette:

“The unions are upset at what they see as hard-won gains on salaries, benefits, health care, disability and retirement matters being lost to what one firefighter called the “depraved indifference” of top county leaders.”

The Sun-Gazette further reports:

“There is no dispute from the Arlington public-safety unions that pay and benefits have improved dramatically in recent years. Their concern is that the trend has started to reverse itself . . . (County Manager Ron) Carlee said the county government's unfunded liabilities for such benefits now top a half-billion dollars, and that the current county system “is not sustainable over the long term.” [emphasis added]

“The county government's contribution to each public-safety employee's retirement plan has increased from $1,600 to almost $14,000 a year, Carlee said, while public-safety employees have seen an increase in total compensation of around 10 percent annually for each of the last six years – ‘far beyond anything we have contemplated for other employees.’”

The firefighters union, especially, seems to have a legitimate complaint about how disability retirees are treated or mistreated, as reported in the Washington Post. However, that is an issue completely separate from the matter of pay and benefits. On this, rather than growling, County Manager Ron Carlee has what seems the more reasoned position.

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