Other than the public schools, public safety is the only county department allowed an increase from last year, a fact that has County Administrator Kirby Bowers agreeing that the Fiscal Year 2004 Proposed Fiscal Plan has “unmet needs.”
“Given our fiscal circumstances, I don’t think we’re in a position to do some of the things we would normally like to do under normal economic times,” Bowers said, adding that the county’s needs and requests have to be balanced with an affordable budget and a reasonable tax rate.
The $802 million budget Bowers proposes aims to address both a growing population and a slowdown in the economy, he said. “The demand increases at an exponential level when our revenue is slowing down,” he said. “Are there unmet needs in the budget? Absolutely.”
Bowers followed the funding targets set by the Board of Supervisors. The board limited the budget to a 1-cent tax increase, or $4.5 million, for public safety enhancements and a 1 percent increase in local per-student funding for the school system, which is $22 million. The School Board requested $407.6 million, $19.3 million above the board’s request.
THE PUBLIC SAFETY increases Bowers proposes will provide additional staff for the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Fire and Rescue Services.
Bowers recommended 32.5 full time equivalents (FTEs) be added to the Sheriff’s Office staff in criminal investigations, court security and dispatching, along with additional School Resource Officers and a new gang intelligence unit to address an increase in gang activity in the county. He recommended eight deputy positions be brought on to maintain the county’s service plan standard of 0.8 field deputies for every 1,000 in population. The office currently has 140 field deputy positions.
“With the financial situation in the county the way it is, I appreciate the effort by the county to help us meet our most critical needs. It doesn’t help us meet all of our needs,” said Sheriff Stephen Simpson, adding that the county falls short by 40 deputy positions in meeting the national standard of 1 deputy per 1,000 population. “We’re still behind, but with the amount of money that has been dedicated for public safety, that’s all we could do with it.”
Simpson is glad for the gang unit, which will gather intelligence information and work with other jurisdictions to share information. “The increase in gang activity we’re seeing, we need to be able to aggressively deal with that,” he said, adding that gang activity must be addressed in the early stages to keep gangs out of the county.
Gang activity, most of it assaults, robberies and a few stabbings, began increasing last summer, the majority of the activity in eastern Loudoun and in Leesburg, Simpson said. “It is a regional problem. We’re starting to see the effects of the activities moving this way,” he said. “These people are well organized. They’re career criminals. If we allowed them to, they would take over.”
AS FOR FIRE and Rescue Services, Bowers recommended providing $2.5 million to continue replacing proffer funding once provided by homeowner associations for the county’s 17 volunteer fire and rescue companies, along with increasing county support for those companies by 4.5 percent. He proposed adding 29.1 FTEs to increase field coverage, expand the career battalion chief program and establish an 8-member Advanced Life Support unit for the Route 50 corridor, along with adding a full-time operations officer for the Emergency Communications Center. Fifteen of the positions are proposed to cover employee leave openings that have remained unfilled since the positions were transferred to the Ashburn, Leesburg and South Riding stations in FY-03.
“That’s what we asked for,” said Mary Maguire, public information officer for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, about Bowers’ proposed increase in staffing levels. “This is to get us back to where we need to be … so we never fall below minimum staffing.”
Bowers recommended a staffing level of 285 FTEs for the department, compared to 56.5 FTEs in FY-93. The department has 1,369 volunteers, 58 percent who are currently active. The number of active volunteers has remained the same over the past several years, though the county’s population and the number of calls increased. Emergency calls increased from 15,874 calls in FY-99 to 18,397 calls in FY-02, and since 1992, have increased nearly 128 percent.
“This puts us closer to meeting our goals, but we still have a lot of needs out there,” Maguire said. “We’re having to make sure we are back to our full strength without expanding services.”