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Vienna Adjusts Strategies, Fills Vacancies

Long-time vacancies in police, staff administration filled after revamp of salaries, Web site.

A jump in municipal efficiency and flexibility is expected in the coming months as the Town of Vienna has nearly arrived at full employment, filling some long-standing vacancies with the assistance of salary adjustments and a Web site overhaul, according to staff members.

The results of the hiring push are some of the first benefits of the increased salary rates approved in June in this year’s budget, according to Nancy McMahon, director of administrative services for the Town of Vienna. That budget included a six percent increase to average resident real estate tax bills, and approximately $750,000 in increased spending for staff salaries and benefits, according to budget figures.

Since the start of 2007, Vienna has hired eight permanent employees, according to town figures. While the town’s turnover rate last year — at just under three percent — is relatively small, retirements of key staff members and a tight job market had made the job of recruiting new employees difficult, according to McMahon.

"It’s not like we’re in the rust belt where there’s a huge pool of candidates to choose from," said McMahon. "In this area, we’re pulling people from other places and we’re doing that for either more money, better benefits, or something more intangible, like a shorter commute."

"We’re in competition with every other employer out here."

NOWHERE ELSE was the region’s competitive employment atmosphere felt more than at the Vienna Police Department, according to Vienna Police Department Captain Mike Miller. The police department will be at full employment of 41 officers for the first time in several years as two police officers are welcomed to the department this week and three academy-bound officers complete their training in the early next year, he said.

The vacancies had long been a thorn in the side of the Vienna Police Department, reaching as many as nine at one point about three years ago, Miller said. The difference came when the department incorporated a new Web site, building a waiting list with continuous testing - even when vacancies didn’t exist - and the increases to salary rates, he added.

Having full employment "gives you the opportunity to do the things that when you’re short several people, you can’t always do," Miller said.

The effects of the vacancies were mostly seen when specialized officers, such as narcotics or surveillance experts, were required to put in time patrolling Vienna’s streets.

"The street is the backbone of the department, that’s what the public sees and the public expects a unified response if it is needed anytime," Miller said. "So the street will never see a difference, we will always have that level of service out there … we might just have to pull from other areas at times to meet that."

When all five new hires join the department, those specialized officers will be able to once again focus on their specific duties, he said.

"It’s been a long time, but we can get back to doing the investigations and the surveillance that is sometimes difficult for us to do when you’re short five guys," Miller said. "I can’t wait to get them on the street."

OVERALL, Vienna residents can expect an increase to efficiency from the municipal staff as a result of the incoming employees, McMahon said.

Holly Chu, director of Vienna’s Department of Public Works, has had to manage with a one-third deficiency in engineering staff power since being promoted to the department’s lead position earlier this year. With one of two staff engineers missing since that time, it has caused a slow-down in the department’s efficiency, which is only set to worsen as more projects in this year’s budget initiate and state regulations become more stringent, Chu said.

"It translates into things getting postponed, it slows everything down," she said. "I would say that there is never any shortage of things that public works needs to be doing."

That vacancy should be filled in the coming weeks, according to McMahon.

To make sure that the staff’s overall efficiency is preserved as much as possible over the years, the town will need to continue to develop its staff internally and remain competitively in line with other area employers, McMahon said.

"More experience in one position means better productivity … and our employees will be able to operate independently in a number of jobs, if they are, say, someone who has been here for several years and been in many positions," she said.

Still, the town will need to revisit the recruitment world from time to time to fill its positions, and success is often difficult to gauge, McMahon added.

"It’s either feast or famine," she said. "Some positions you’ll get 100 applications for, others will sit open and you’ll wonder why you haven’t found the right candidate."

"The best thing we can do is to make sure we stay in line with the market and keep our benefits competitive."