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Benefiting Public Safety

Council approves new pay plan for city fire, police departments.

Firefighters and police officers in the City of Fairfax will benefit from a new pay plan the City Council approved at its Tuesday, Feb. 3 meeting.

The pay plan will allow the City of Fairfax public safety departments to become more competitive with those of surrounding jurisdictions, said City of Fairfax personnel director Larry Brock at the City Council work session. Right now, he said, the City of Fairfax Fire Department is losing firefighters and emergency personnel to counties and cities who have more attractive salaries and health plans.

Fairfax County is, by far, the greatest threat to recruitment and retention at the city fire and police departments, said Brock.

"There is a definite increase and growing competition in the region for firefighters," he said. "It's really getting out of hand." The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department provides housing for new recruits, he said, while in Prince William County, firefighters receive a $3,000 signing bonus as well as referral and retention bonuses. The city averages only four candidates per entrance examination, said Brock. The competition from the neighboring jurisdictions, coupled with a smaller pool of applicants and the high turnover rate the city fire department has experienced since 2000, led a public safety task force to consider a better pay plan for employees.

Both the police and fire department pay plans will use the Fairfax County entry-level salary as an "anchor point" on which to build a pay structure. The new plan will add a referral bonus to encourage current employees to recruit new members, as well as "longevity step" to the pay plan that employees would be eligible for after 15 years. It will also add riding pay for employees with certification in advanced life support.

"We are struggling on the recruitment side and we run the risk of losing the very capable workforce we have," said Owens. Many of the long-time fire department employees, hired during a period of rapid county growth in the 1970s, are reaching retirement age.

TODAY, BORDERING areas such as Stafford and Loudoun counties are experiencing another population boom, and so new firefighters are in hot demand.

"I tell folks, 'If you're a young person in this area with a firefighter's and paramedic certification, you can work in any jurisdiction,'" Owens said.

A large pool of qualified applicants is vital for public safety departments to be effective, said Col. Rick Rappoport, chief of the City of Fairfax Police Department.

"The quality of service degrades with a limited pool of applicants," he said.

The city police department has always operated on parity with the fire department, said Brock, and so the task force recommended a similar pay plan for the police, that would be part of the 2007 budget. The police pay plan would affect salaries and benefits but not premium pay, said Brock.

In all, he said, the pay plan overhaul would cost $1.1 million between the police and fire departments for fiscal year 2007.

The department's pay plan will go into effect July 1, and the city fire department pay plan will be effective from Jan. 1, 2006 with retroactive pay adjustments for employees.

They agreed that the plan was necessary for the continued operation of the city fire and police departments. Councilmember Scott Silverthorne said he was concerned that city firefighters, who share calls with Fairfax County, work in the county more than county firefighters work in the city.

"I think it ought to be a little more even, and perhaps we should make it even," said Councilmember Scott Silverthorne.

Councilmembers approved the pay plan unanimously, as well as a $339,000 appropriation resolution for the 2006 adjustment to the plan.

IN THE WORK session, the City of Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department also asked to add a new position to its roster: an emergency management specialist, who would develop an emergency plan for the city and make sure its resources were in order in case a catastrophic event or terrorist incident occurred.

"We are all now in some way, shape or form, engaged in this process," said Owens. However, he said, public safety personnel are stretched fairly thin with regular duties as well as attending regional seminars on emergency management. Emergency planning cannot be conducted in isolated jurisdictions, he said, and so the specialist would work with local and state governments to keep an up-to-date emergency plan and conduct community outreach efforts.

"Someone needs to take regional plans, and fashion them so they will work here," he said.

"From my perspective, this is a no-brainer," said Silverthorne.

Mayor Rob Lederer agreed. "We want to make sure we’re in a position to take care of citizens in the City of Fairfax," he said.

Councilmembers unanimously decided to move forward with the process of creating the emergency management specialist position in the city's fire department. The position, which will cost $85,000 with salary and fringe benefits, is not a uniformed position and so will not be subject to the new pay plan, said Owens.

The City Council also approved the following consent agenda items:

* Consideration of a $198,000 contract amendment with Virginia Paving for the 2005-06 street paving contract.

* Consideration of a resolution to implement the 2004-2005 changes to the Personal Property Tax Relief Act of 1998.

* Initiation of the zoning text amendment to allow sandwich board signs in the transition district surrounding the historic Old Town Fairfax, where signs are already allowed.