City Budget Looks for Additional Fire and Police Staff

City Budget Looks for Additional Fire and Police Staff

The City of Fairfax Fire Department's advanced life support (ALS) truck that goes to calls that are actually in Fairfax County and not the city was one point of discussion at the recent City of Fairfax budget hearings, Wednesday, March 20.

"We are an all-ALS response team," which is different from a normal response team, fire chief Gary Mesaris said.

Councilman Scott Silverthorne looked at the graph that reflected cost.

"A lot of that's being driven by our calls to the county," he said. Those are expenses the city pays for but that benefit county residents.

In addition, the fire department is also asking for six more officers to reduce the overtime pay — which was reduced last year — and subsequent reliance on volunteers. The cost of new hires was calculated in a savings of $189,000 in the long run.

On the law-enforcement side, chief of police Richard Rappoport presented his case for three more officers. His slide show featured the seven major "index" crimes - homicide, larceny, vehicle theft, burglary, forcible rape, assault and robbery - reinforced with a bar graph that showed crimes leveling off the last two years.

"As you can see, they've leveled off this year," he said.

But compared with the whole country, where a rape occurs every six minutes, the city has low crime, according to Rappoport's figures. A rape occurs only every 73 days in Fairfax.

"I think without question Fairfax County is a very safe place to live on a national scale," he said.

These were just a few of the justifications Mayor John Mason and the City Council heard on March 19 and 20 as all the players in the city budget pleaded their case for the upcoming year. The city proposes a budget of $96,952,585 for FY ‘02-03, which is an increase of 10.7 percent from last year. A majority of that goes to general-fund budget expenditures, proposed at $77,304,451, up from the estimate of $72,347,580 for the current year.

The current year's budget is an estimate, since the fiscal year was not over at the time of the meeting. These figures were from City Manager Bob Sisson's office, and now the Council has a chance to provide input.

Mayor John Mason was aware of the county emergency calls.

"About half of the EMS [emergency medical service] calls were in the county," he said.

As part of the process, the public spoke out on the budget, and then the Council will adopt it in some form on April 9.

"The City Council has to weigh preferences," said public information specialist Todd Hoffman, who was familiar with the process.

Mayor Mason noted the little room the city has to work with because the city is committed to certain items, such as schools.

"A lot of our budget, we're already committed to by contract," he said.

The city manager has recommended a real-estate tax rate of $1.01, and the Council has advertised a rate of one dollar, after determining there were some savings in other areas. That will be finalized as well and has to remain at a dollar or less due to the fact it was advertised at that rate. Mason thinks it may be lower.

"My expectation is it will be slightly below that," he said.

"Historically, they [Council] found savings in other areas," Hoffman said, noting that this year they found some savings in the health-care fund.

Members of the public were invited to present their issues on the budget on March 12 and again on April 9 before the Council finalizes it. Although there were no residents providing input on March 12, Mason expects there might be a few people voicing opinions because of the recent tax assessments, which were higher than last year.

One member of the fire department noted that increase at the end of the fire department's presentation. Deputy Chief William Boehm II had a question about his real-estate tax but didn't expect an answer as he departed.

"Can you tell me why my house assessment went up 27 percent?" he said.

City resident Christine Lange commutes to Washington, D.C., to her job at the Shakespeare theater and sees a lot of traffic cutting through her neighborhood. She's interested in the transportation side of the budget.

"One of the things that interests me is all the talk about the commute," she said.

There are traffic police assigned to that particular area so additional officers could help her situation, but she's unsure. She's discouraged thus far, though.

"The one lady stands at the light, which doesn't help me," she said.

Cheryl and Wendell Williams work for National Institutes of Health in the city and are considering relocating from their home in Baltimore.

"It [Fairfax City] attracted us because of the caliber of schools and housing. How the funding affects education," Wendell Williams said.