Schools, Police Lobby for Funds

Schools, Police Lobby for Funds

School funding dominated the agenda at the April 10 public hearing on the county budget, but the Board of Supervisors also heard from the Police Department, Fire Department, Chamber of Commerce, social services and other groups.

Steven Eddy, a member of the Coalition for Good Schools, said that although Fairfax County residents are paying more in real-estate taxes, the overall tax burden for Virginians is relatively light. "Virginia is a low tax state, ranking 46th out of 50 states," he said. "So let us put that in perspective."

Eddy recommended that the supervisors not only fund the School Board's full request but increase the amount allocated to schools while at the same time easing the burden on homeowners, although he didn't say how that was to be done.

"I personally believe that the most prudent and fair action would be to meet the needs of both the homeowners and school system by providing extra relief to each," he said.

Several other speakers urged the Board not to cut the language-immersion programs at Orange Hunt elementary school in Springfield. According to Nicole Brown, a coordinator of the Orange Hunt German Club, schools superintendent Daniel Domenech proposed cutting the programs to save $100,000.

She added that cutting the programs would not save significant amounts of money because students would have to be moved to other schools. "All these children still have to be taught," she said.

Supervisors denounced putting the immersion programs on the cut list as a way to scare parents into lobbying the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the School Board's budget.

"I think putting immersion programs on the cut list like they did is wrong," said Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville). "It's not eliminating any position. ... This was done for different reasons than substance."

Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence) noted that there was never any talk of cutting funds for public schools. He added that the Board was considering additional increases besides the 7-percent increase already contained in the advertised budget. "The question is how much more money will Fairfax County provide the schools this year?"

Domenech says the schools need $65 million more than the Board of Supervisors has allocated.

JASON REICHEL, a board member of the Fairfax Coalition of Police, told the supervisors that the advertised budget plan did not give Fairfax County police officers comparable compensation to other jurisdictions in the area. Citizens, he said, "are getting a big bang for their buck whether or not they know it, at the risk of officer safety."

Chief of police Thomas Manger said he asked the Board for a 5-percent, across-the-board increase in pay to make the county's Police Department more attractive to starting officers to offset the increasing attrition rate.

"You have to look beyond starting salary," he said, adding that officers in other jurisdictions have better benefits and receive take-home cars from the department.

At the April 9 public hearing, R. Michael Mohler, president of the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics, urged the Board to fully fund the Hazardous Materials Team. Currently, the county pays almost the same amount in overtime to firefighters and paramedics meeting the demand for a Hazmat services as it would to a full-time unit, he said.

"Fairfax County has grown too large, and the demand is too great, to continue a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' emergency service," he said.

Mohler also called on the supervisors to help retired firefighters with their health-care benefits. "The high cost of health care is seriously eroding our retirees' ability to live on their retirement income," he said. "We hope that you will give strong consideration to our retirees' previously requested retirement adjustment."

ALSO AT THE APRIL 10 hearing, a representative from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce expressed concern about the impact on business of the region's transportation crisis.

"Our economic growth will stagnate, and jobs and tax revenue will decline, if we don't take significant short-term action," said Michael Carlin, of the Chamber of Commerce.

Carlin also called on the Board to set up a working group composed of supervisors, School Board members and staff to identify school priorities and ways to fund them. "Other counties in our region have taken this approach," he said. "It has improved their ability to set and accomplish priorities. It has largely removed annual funding battles and replaces them with a process for agreement."

Other speakers at the hearings expressed support for social services, Wolf Trap education programs, and library construction in Oakton and Burke.