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Schools, Public Safety Seek Budget Hike

Technology a rising factor in 2007 school, public safety budgets.

For the main recipients of the City of Fairfax budget funds, change comes in the form of interactive white boards and enhanced EMS services. Both the City of Fairfax School Board and public safety departments cited the increased role of technology as a major factor in their Fiscal Year 2006-2007 budgets.

"Technology is always changing," said City of Fairfax Schools Superintendent George Stepp. The city school system is set to receive $42 million, the largest single portion of the $101.8 million worth of general funds expenditures. In FY 2005-06, it received $37 million. City of Fairfax Schools has two full-time and two part-time employees, plus a five-member school board.

However, city schools have a contract with Fairfax County Public Schools in which the city owns the buildings and the county is responsible for staffing the schools. The largest share of the city's school budget — $34 million — goes to the county as a tuition payment, with $1.3 million coming back to the city as a "classroom rental fee" for county residents who attend city schools.

According to Stepp, who presented the school's budget on Wednesday, March 22 as part of a two-day work session devoted to examining next year's expenses, most of the non-tuition money — $7 million — goes to paying off debt. Another $770,000 goes into salaries and administrative costs of the School Board, but the biggest increase from last year's adopted budget is technology funding. While the budget called for nearly $57,000 last year, the proposed amount for capital outlay funds for technology has almost quadrupled to $200,000.

"This is a bottomless pit," said Stepp at the March 22 meeting. School systems must keep up with technology to be successful, he said, and new additions and updates for this equipment become expensive. While the School Board has long supported technology programs, he said, "prices always go up."

"The more you become dependent on technology, and the more you have of it, you need people to keep it up and running and people to keep it going," he said.

It is easier for Fairfax County to keep up with expensive technological advances, said Mayor Rob Lederer. "I sure would hope that our level of education and the quality of our equipment would be compatible across both school systems," he said.

Proposed equipment would include mobile lab carts, interactive white boards to replace standard blackboards, LCD projectors, and wireless laptop computers. The interactive white boards are becoming a standard in area schools, said Stepp.

TECHNOLOGY FACTORED heavily in the City of Fairfax Police Department's budget this year, said Police Chief Rick Rappoport. With the police department moving into a new building and increased advances in the public safety field, technology has become a major focus, he said.

"We certainly felt the impact of [technological advances] and I think the city is very proud of our implementation of IT solutions to problems," said Rappoport. These advances include enhancements to reverse-911 programs, citizen notifications, and a better looking Web site, he said.

The police department is the third largest recipient of the city's general funds, receiving a proposed $10.5 million in the upcoming budget. Most of this — about $9 million — goes toward salaries, with $440,000 going toward operating expenses. The city police department has 64 officers and 27 civilian personnel.

An increasing regional focus on emergency management has required individual police departments to coordinate their technological additions and enhancements, said Rappoport.

"We've seen tremendous growth internally in the complexity of the systems we use to provide and serve information to the public," he said. "There's an increased complexity at the regional, state and federal levels as we try to coordinate our resources." Many aspects of police work are becoming connected across jurisdictions, from the ability to search pawn shop records and locate stolen goods to dealing with gangs and terrorism threats, he said.

While the police department has been able to obtain a great deal of grant funding for technology improvements, these grants cannot be used for the increased staffing needed to support the improvements. The city is not able to support a new staff position in this budget cycle, said Rappoport, so the police department will shift responsibilities and look at ways to cut back on less essential services so that it can gain more technological support.

"We can’t afford not to take advantage of these technologies," he said.

INCREASES IN the City of Fairfax Fire Department budget come mostly from salary increases and inflation, said Fire Chief Tom Owens, as well as a shifting burden from hospitals onto EMS teams for providing ambulance materials. Some jurisdictions charge ambulance fees for things such as oxygen therapy and IV therapy, he said, but the City of Fairfax does not.

"The City Council has accepted over the years that this is a service the community wants to provide at no additional cost," said Owens.

About 9 percent of the city's general fund will go to the fire department, or about $9.4 million. About $8 million of this goes into salaries and benefits for the department's 70 employees, with other recommended funding going toward things like fire hose replacement, breathing apparatus upgrades, a new public safety training center and officer preparation training.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, said Owens, a stronger focus on emergency preparedness has occurred, so the city fire department has added new technologies, such as a regional on-line emergency operations center, or Web EOC.

"It is a very robust piece of software through which you track all emergency events … and it allows the command center to stay on top of them in real time," said Owens. The software will be in use by May of this year, he said.

The city fire department has also received licensing for an AM radio station, where residents can tune in and listen to updates on Fairfax happenings and information in case of emergency events.

"[Radios] are one of those fail-safe devices when conventional technologies fail, such as phone or cable," said Owens.