As Arlington officials head into the final stretch of preparing next year's budget, one item on the table is a program that encourages county employees to live where they work.
The Arlington County Board held its last follow-up work session with staff on Friday, and much of the focus was on employee compensation.
The county, for instance, pays eligible employees up to $130 per month as a transit subsidy. Other perks include $20 per month given to employees who bike to work, or $35 monthly to those who walk.
Next year's proposed $1 billion budget includes a pay increase for the county's approximately 3,500 employees. Many haven't had a raise in four years, and the step increase, as it is called, also benefits those who are at the top of their position's pay range, board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said.
The county, too, could once again fund a live-where-you-work program. Putting $114,000 into that program would allow the county to offer one-time grants to its employees who decide to buy a house in Arlington.
That funding level should be sufficient for about 40 employees, said Jeanne Wardlaw, the county's Compensation Division chief. Grants are capped at 1 percent of the average home price in Arlington, she said.
About 25 percent of Arlington employees live in the county. Board member Chris Zimmerman pointed out that a much higher percentage of local government employees — law enforcement and non-law enforcement — live where they work in the city of Alexandria and Fairfax County.
"It's a relatively small amount of money, but it's a permanent commitment," Zimmerman said. "I wasn't crazy about the fact that it was defunded before."
The program has been funded in the past at about the level that was talked about Friday. It was cut in 2009, as the Great Recession forced the county to cut back on everything from library hours to employee compensation.
No county department now requires its employees to live in Arlington. Hynes estimated about half of the county's executive leadership, including County Manager Barbara Donnellan, live outside of Arlington.
Hynes declined to speculate on whether the $114,000 — or any amount — for a live-where-you-work program would make it into the final budget.
Board members are processing the "last bits" of information, she said. They'll talk amongst themselves about what each would like to see funded, she said.
"It's like sausage making," she said. "Sometimes, it gets messy."
The board will make its final budget decisions at a work session at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Donnellan's includes a half-cent tax increase; the board has to raise taxes as much as 2 cents per $100 assessed value.
The maximum increase equals a $196 annual increase for owners of a $520,000 home, the average assessment in Arlington.
Formal budget adoption is slated for April 21.