The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved major changes to its employee retirement systems in an attempt to keep the growing cost of pensions at a manageable rate.

The revisions, which apply to new hires beginning in 2013, increase the minimum retirement age from 50 to 55, cap unused sick leave at 2,080 hours, raise the "Rule of 80," which uses age and years of service to determine when an employee can retire, to the "Rule of 85," and other measures.

Supervisor Penny Gross, D-Mason, said she was pleased the county was able to make the necessary changes to the system without "breaking faith with our current staff."

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The Board of Supervisors at its meeting on Tuesday:
• Said it would eliminate 17 positions within the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which oversees most of the county's service programs for residents with disabilities. The move comes in response to the board's admission that it overshot its fiscal 2013 budget by nearly $9.5 million. It also gave $3.02 million from its reserve to the board to close its budget shortfall.
• Approved the construction of a 23-story tower at 1760 Reston Parkway in Reston.
• Directed the Planning and Zoning Department to update and modernize the county's sign ordinance.

"Changes such as these are never easy, but occasionally needed," Gross said. "We'll continue to have conversations about how to improve, not disadvantage, relationships with county employees."

A previous study authorized by the board recommended the county stay with a pension program rather than a 401(k)-type defined-contribution plan, and revealed that the county would save as much as $11.5 million by fiscal 2027 once the changes had time to go into effect.

However, because the changes don't affect current county employees, Supervisor Catherine Hudgins, D-Hunter Mill, said they could prove "dangerous" because they create a form of unequal employment between co-workers who sit side by side. Hudgins still voted in favor of the change.

Christopher Cochrane, president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police and a 23-year veteran on the force, said he was pleased the county decided to stay with a defined-benefits plan but raised concerns about capping sick leave at 2,080 hours, or 260 days.

Although recognizing it was a necessary cost-cutting measure, he said the cap could "dramatically" impact staffing and retention of future county employees.

Still, the plan drew full support from Karen Conchar, president of the Fairfax County Government Employees Union, as well as 800-plus others who signed the petition that she presented to the board.

Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield, said the changes were a good start to addressing the financial challenges associated with the fact that people are living and working longer than before, but warned that future changes may be needed to address further cost-cutting measures.