PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — Firefighters in Prince William County are sounding the alarm ahead of the county’s budget season, saying what they’re being paid is not enough and could ultimately hurt folks in the county.

Mitch Nason, the president of Prince William County Professional Firefighters, told DC News Now the pay for Fire and Rescue employees has been stagnant since before the pandemic. He said it’s left the county in the tough position to either play a big game of ‘catch-up’ or risk continuing to lose workers to neighboring counties.

“We’re the lowest-paid fire department in the region, and it’s showing itself in our inability to recruit and retain firefighters to protect our community,” Nason said in an interview.

Nason said the pay gap has led to a ‘staffing crisis.’ For years, he has felt the county has not compensated him and other first responders adequately.

“If [the budget] was managed in a reasonable, fiscally responsible manner year after year, you’d never be faced with these large-needed adjustments,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Supervisors will get its first glimpse at the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In it is a proposed 6.8% market adjustment for fire and rescue workers.

That’s what a consulting firm said is the difference between starting pay for firefighters in Prince William and those elsewhere in northern Virginia.

“We do know that there is a disparity that exists,” said Supervisor Margaret Franklin, who represents the Woodbridge district. “So the question is, ‘how do we get beyond that to implement numbers that are fair and competitive?'”

Franklin said what’s in the proposed budget is a starting point, and will be debated for weeks.

“We’re in a situation where we’re playing catch-up,” she said. “Not only because they deserve the pay, but also because we do want our government entities to be competitive with other jurisdictions.”

Nason is not sold that the increase is enough. He told DC News Now even with that 6.8% bump, hourly wages in the county will remain the lowest in the region.

According to the union, Prince William County firefighters would make $19.35 an hour (on average, they work 56-hour work weeks), while only Alexandria firefighters in FY24 would also make less than $20 an hour. However, as part of their recently-approved collective bargaining agreement, firefighters in Alexandria will see their hours reduced from 56 to 50 in the coming years.

The first unveiling of the FY24 budget will happen at the board meeting on Tuesday, February 28.