Historic Property Gets Subdivided

Historic Property Gets Subdivided

New pension plan worked out for police, firefighters.

For the first time in nearly two centuries, the property at 206 North Quaker Lane is not in the hands of the Dawson family and will be subdivided into three lots.

"The Planning staff deserves a lot of credit for helping to make this into a truly good project” said Duncan Blair, the attorney representing the developer of the property at last Saturday’s City Council public hearing. “I think everyone is genuinely pleased with this project.”

The current house will be retained and renovated. Two additional homes will be built. There will be a 40-foot open space easement along Quaker Lane that will not be developed and there will be an access road with an appropriate turn-around for emergency vehicles.

The property has historical significance. “General Robert E. Lee visited here in the 1870s and even loaned the owner money to pay property tax,” Blair said. “This is very relevant in light of the fact that property assessments have just gone out.”

Mayor William D. Euille was curious about this reference. “Are you suggesting that we should call General Lee for some help with property taxes today,” he asked.

In the end, the special use permit was approved unanimously.

Alexandria police officers, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters will have a new pension plan. What is now a defined contribution plan will become a defined benefit plan.

More than 50 speakers expressed their opinions on this subject at Saturday’s public hearing. Barry Schiftic, president of the Alexandria Police Association, said, “Two years ago, we went to City Manager Phil Sunderland and expressed a desire to make some changes in the pension plan. We held meetings and notified everyone about these meetings. We discussed the pension plan at meetings of the Association and published the agendas well in advance. We took a vote and 79 percent said they were interested in the defined benefit plan. That’s an overwhelming majority. This pension plan is the single most positive benefit that I have ever negotiated for the officers,” he said.

JOHN VOLMER of the firefighters union agreed. “We have worked hard on this with the city staff and it is a good plan,” he said. “Is it the best possible plan? I can’t answer that but it will be good for all of our members. We are firefighters and police officers and you can’t expect us to worry about how the stock market is doing. I equate the current plan with an unknown and the defined benefit plan as a known.”

James Smith, another firefighter, agreed. “This new plan takes the uncertainty out of the retirement process,” he said. “We will now know what we will receive after a required number of years and, knowing this takes a lot of anxiety out of the retirement process.”

Currently, police officers and firefighters contribute a certain amount to a pension plan. They make individual decisions about how their money is invested and, depending on how those investments fare, their retirement account flourishes or diminishes. The new pension plan requires every officer and firefighter to contribute 7.5 percent of his salary. The city contributes 20 percent and, after so many years and/or at a certain age, public safety employees may retire with specific benefits.

“This is good for officers who are ready for retirement but not for those of us who have just begun our careers,” said Jason Bell, a police officer. “The committee that worked on this plan is not representative if you consider that the average officer has served 14 years on the police force. We also don’t believe that a vote on the matter was ever taken. Let us have another vote and live with the results of that vote.”

Some officers and firefighters wanted to maintain both plans. “This isn’t feasible from a fiscal point of view or from an administrative one,” said Mark Jinks, the deputy city manager.

Council approved the change to the defined benefit plan unanimously.