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Council Pursuing Federal Funding

The Alexandria Police Department will have nine additional officers at half the cost, if federal funding is approved.

City Council gave the go-ahead for the grant application to be submitted, despite some reservations. “If we can find the money somewhere next year or in three years, then why not now,” said Councilwoman Joyce Woodson. “We keep being told, and rightly so, that hard times are ahead financially. While I believe that we will still see the benefits of our real-estate market next year, that is probably not the case in the future. This is 30 percent of our contingent reserve fund. Presumably, this money will not continue to come from contingent reserve but will be absorbed into the budget next year. Then, in three years, we are going to have to come up with $1.4 million or, with inflation, $1.6 million. It just gives me some concern.”

Funding would come through the COPS program, a source that has provided the city with the ability to hire 12 officers over the years. The cost to the city is about $700,000 a year, a sum that will be matched by the federal government. At the end of the three-year grant, the city will have to find funds for the entire cost. The COPS program has been focused on providing police officers to work in neighborhoods and schools.

“That focus appears to have changed, and I am a bit concerned about that,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “This program has been successful because it has put officers in communities. Now the focus has shifted to homeland security, and, while there is certainly a need for this now, in five years that might not be the case. However, we are always going to need officers to work with citizens in their own communities.”

Police chief Charles Samarra told Council, “The federal government wants to shift the focus of this program to homeland security to deal with prospective terror threats in local communities,” he said. “Right now, when the terror threat level is raised, we must remove officers from the streets to handle the extra details that are required to protect the city. These nine officers would allow us to have nine officers on the streets while nine additional officers are performing the homeland security details that are required. Also, they will not be required to perform these duties 24 hours a day, and when they are not, they can be on the streets.”

Recent analysis of the department showed a need for more officers. “I became convinced to support this grant application because I believe that, over the next few years, we are going to have to find the money to hire more officers,” said City Manager Philip Sunderland. “This is the most cost-effective way to do that, since we can leverage some federal money. While we will have to take a significant amount of money from contingent reserve, there is still a good amount left.”

Council voted unanimously to allow the department to pursue the federal funding.

PASSAGE TO PTO DELAY DRAWS CONCERNS

The underground pedestrian concourse that will allow U.S. Patent and Trademark office employees and visitors to cross Duke Street safely will not be ready when the first PTO building opens.

The concourse is a requirement in the Special Use Permit. “This is a condition that the developer must meet,” said Councilman David Speck, who raised the issue at Tuesday night’s Council meeting. “What is the reason for this delay, and what can we do about it?”

The concourse was slated to be complete at the end of 2003. Norfolk and Southern, the owner of the Carlyle property, has notified the city that the concourse cannot be completed until the spring of 2004 or perhaps later.

“There are some significant issues with relocating utilities and some other areas of concern,” said Richard Baier, the city’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services. “I think it is unrealistic for us to expect that we are going to get them to complete this concourse by the end of the year. We will certainly work with them and help to resolve any issues, but in the meantime, we need to come up with a temporary solution. We are considering running a shuttle from the Metro to PTO and are looking at other possibilities.”

Speck remained concerned, saying, “The problem is, once people get used to driving to work, it’s going to be very hard to get them back on Metro,” he said.

Whenever it begins, the work will take nine to 10 months. “Everyone needs to understand that this is going to take a long time,” Baier said. “And there will be significant disruptions to traffic on Duke Street while it is in progress.”

Despite the problems with the concourse, the first PTO building is going to be completed ahead of schedule and will be occupied in December of this year or at the beginning of 2004.

NEW ONLINE NEWS FROM CITY IS FREE

Alexandrians will be able to subscribe to a new service in June and receive daily crime reports from the police, City Council dockets, city news releases and more, via e-mail.

The service is called “eNews You Can Use” and will be up and running by mid-June. It is patterned after a similar service in Prince William County and will initially even use the Prince William County server.

“Many people already receive the daily crime reports and City Council’s dockets,” said Barbara Gordon, the city’s public information officer. “This service will allow those subscribers and anyone else in the city who has access to the Internet and an e-mail address to subscribe to any or all of our information. They will only receive the information that they request, and names and e-mail addresses will be kept confidential and will not be sold or given to anyone else.”

Sunderland said he sees other potential uses for the service. “We considered many different options but have decided to crawl before we walk,” he said. “Later, we might add emergency notifications, or what I like to call ‘citizen obligation notifications,’ like reminding people when their taxes are due or what their responsibilities are in snow removal. Let’s see how this works and add other things later.”

To subscribe to the service, citizens will go to the city’s Web site at www.ci.alexandria.va.us and click on the eNews You Can use icon. There will be a list of subscription options, and users can select the areas on which they wish to receive information. Once the city has processed the subscription request, users will select a password and user ID so that they can change or cancel their subscription at any time. The service is free.