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Town Offers Glance at Budget Possibilities

.Six new staff positions being considered.

Town staff have offered a glimpse into some of the expenditures they are considering as they work to prepare the first draft of the town's budget for fiscal year 2008 in advance of its April 1 deadline.

In addition to a request from departments for an increase of six staff members, town staff are weighing possible employee salary increases, an adjustment to the town's pay scale and a police officer salary increase of approximately eight percent, according to town staff. All police officers will receive about a 3 percent salary increase to cover living expenditures, while the department may be budgeted for an average of five percent performance-based increases.

The increases currently being considered by staff would bring the total percentage of funds used for personnel "in line with" the approximate 61 percent seen in this year's adopted budget, according to Linda Simmons, director of Human Resources for the Town of Herndon. Simmons, along with town manager Art Anselene and finance director Mary Touhy make up the town's budget team.

In the last 10 years, the percentage of total funds spent by Herndon in a year on personnel has grown from a little more than 50 percent to past the 60 percent mark over the course of the last four years, according to town financial data. From July of 1997 to the present, town staff positions have increased from 188 to 277, according to the data. Last year, the council adopted a budget providing funds for nine additional staff members, records show.

Still, Simmons said that she doesn't see a dramatic increase in town spending at this point because the town will not experience premium increases for municipal health insurance and the Virginia employee retirement system, helping to offset personnel increases, if they are drafted.

INCREASED DEMAND for town-provided services, a growing population and the rising costs of keeping and attracting quality employees in Herndon have led to these increases, according to Simmons. She pointed out that added services, such as the management of the Chestnut Grove Cemetery and the development of a comprehensive community inspections team now totaling 12 staff members have been introduced in the last decade.

"The service requirements of your citizens have to come first," Simmons said. "There's always a need for police, but overcrowding is a big priority to a lot of our residents as well ... along with other things."

"So we look at that and make a judgment on what need to be the priorities in the budget and we work from there."

It is the needs of a community in the throes of high development that have led to these increased calls for personnel, said Herndon Town Council member Connie Hutchinson.

"The town's population continues to grow and we continue to offer more services to our residents," Hutchinson said. "So from a general sense, that has a major effect."

The six requested new staff budgeted items include two police cadets, a street maintenance equipment operator, two utility maintenance workers and a community center fitness assistant.

THE SIX STAFF positions under consideration are aside from an additional four staff positions — including three sworn police officers — that were scheduled to be reviewed by the Town Council during a public hearing on March 13. Combined, the four positions will be budgeted for approximately $50,000 from the town's general fund until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, according to Simmons.

Still, that money shouldn't be difficult to find. Herndon has accrued a projected $300,000 from vacancies held by as many as 20 staff positions over the course of this fiscal year, which will be used to directly offset those additional positions if they are passed, Simmons added. Staff members have been picking up the extra workload in their absence, she said.

Simmons declined to provide approximate figures for the other six requested positions that are under consideration by the staff for the coming fiscal year, adding that they will be released to residents and council members by the end of the month.

INCLUDED WITH the requests for new staff members, which are made from their respective departments, the town's budget team is also considering proposing an increase to the pay scale and normally budgeted performance-based salary boosts of approximately 4.5 percent, Simmons said.

An adjustment to the pay scale that will increase the maximum and minimum payments of the Herndon employees with the lowest and highest pay rates is also being considered as a result of Fairfax County market rate data.

The reason for the increases to the staff has most to do with staying competitive in an area with an extremely low jobless rate, Simmons said.

"It's no secret that we're right in the middle of a highly competitive market," she said. "What we're doing is we're bringing our salaries up to the levels of our market."

For the council, there will be a careful review of any increased expenditures of staff, while keeping in mind the town's demand for high quality services, said council member Charlie Waddell.

"The town wants the best staff possible," said Waddell. "There are specific needs in the town ... and we need to look to address those."

"We don't want to micromanage ... But I still want to look more closely at these [possible] expenditures."

Mayor Steve DeBenedittis was unavailable for comment.

The budget process is all about understanding the desires of the community and balancing that with the resources available, Simmons said.

"If you want the services you have to be willing to make that trade off," Simmons said, referring to a budget that has more than doubled in total expenditures in the last 10 years. "You just need to keep in mind your personnel costs, and you have to budget what is available."