Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The recent audit of the Arlington County Fire Department’s (ACFD) budget crunching overtime costs is exactly the type of work that was envisioned when the independent auditor was proposed.

As reported on ARLnow, the audit found that ACFD is insufficiently staffed to avoid overtime. The department is fighting against attrition of an average of two employees per month. According to the audit, “it takes almost 12 months and costs almost $100,000 per recruit to recruit, hire and train” new firefighters  And ACFD is unable to conduct as much training of existing personnel.

Also, the audit identified that AFCD uses two separate systems to track hours worked and payroll. There is no reason these systems should not be combined into one, so that everything is tracked as efficiently and accurately as possible.

Now that we have identified and made public the issues to be addressed, what is the County Board and the County Manager going to do about it? Will they do it soon, or put it off for further study? Do they need to spend 2019 closeout funds to speed up the hiring of additional firefighters and EMS personnel?

And what about elsewhere across the government?

The latest work plan for the County Auditor shows the next two priorities for the office also have the potential of producing actionable items for the Board in 2019: overtime in the Sheriff’s office, and how the county tracks money it gives out as part of economic development incentives. In 2020, the plan is to look at contract administration and real estate assessment and appeals.

The plan also lists items the Auditor would like to get to if time and resources allow, including oversight of Business Improvement Districts, procurement practices, neighborhood conservation, and site plan benefits.

Why shouldn’t we get audits on all of the above items done by the end of 2020? I have written in the past that the County Board is not dedicating enough resources to the auditor’s office. Doubling the output of the office would be a good first step.

In reality, implementing actionable recommendations from the audits should save the taxpayers money over time. But, if the Board is really worried about finding the money, they could pay for it instead of giving themselves a 60% raise.

The Board needs to take action to turn the audits’ recommendations into real reforms. And, the Board needs to give the County Auditor’s office the resources they need to move even faster.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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