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Arlington’s First Responders Ask for Better Pay

Police and fire officials flooded last night’s (April 3) budget hearing to speak out against stagnant wages.

Public safety personnel say that police and fire wages are too low to allow them to live in Arlington long-term. Many are joining up, but soon realizing that their pay is insufficient to live in the county and raise a family.

The starting salary for a firefighter in Arlington is $48,000, while an entry-level police officer makes just under $53,000, according to organizers of last night’s demonstration.

A recent study found that single Arlingtonians can live comfortably on just over $56,000 a year; a couple with two children can live comfortably with just under $114,000 per year.

The proposed 2019 budget includes a four percent raise for ACFD but only a two-and-a-half percent raise for ACPD.

A “strategic restructuring” is in the works at the Arlington County Police Department, as its functional strength falls well below its authorized force. Recruiting has been a challenge, officials say.

Matthew Martin, the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association president, said that the department currently operating with 44 officers below full strength. That’s about two full patrol squads, according to the association.

‘Your police department is in trouble,” said Martin. “We can’t recruit and retain the high-quality officers that we need.”

The high turnover itself is a financial problem, as the department must then pay for recruiting and training the short-time officers, forcing the county to advertise job opportunities on billboards as far away as suburban Pittsburgh.

Ashley Savage, the police department spokeswoman, told the Tribune-Review that the billboard campaign “eventually will cover territory from Youngstown, Ohio, to Cleveland and from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.”

Matt Quinn, a financial crimes unit detective who has been on the force for 12 years, said that since there are not enough officers for core services it’s hard even for those who don’t leave the department to move up.

“We have to focus on our core services, which is patrol, which means we have to make sure that that’s taken care of before people start looking at the detective bureau or other assignments within the bureau,” Quinn said.

Arlington County will not raise property tax rates this year, but fees are set to rise for several county services and amenities while other programs are seeing their budgets cut.

IAFF Local 2800, which represents Arlington’s professional firefighters and paramedics, noted that ACFD is paid as much as 20 percent less than their nearby counterparts.

So even if the demands are met, and a four percent increase is achieved, it’s just a start in the eyes of several fire and police officials.

“I think it’s a start for the department as a whole… but definitely over the next couple years we have to work at compressing the pay scale and increasing the starting pay to attract more good candidates,” Quinn explained, saying it would be a good start in a multi-year process.

The County Board room, at capacity, was closed off shortly after opening as dozens of people — many in support of other causes, like nixing a proposed cut for Arlington Independent Media — poured in. The overflow crowd was allowed to watch and listen from the hall.

“We brought the fire department here, I think we’ll be fine,” one officer joked after the room was instructed to squeeze in to fit more people in the seats.

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Police Department Plans Restructuring Amid Staffing Challenges

The Arlington County Police Department is planning a “strategic restructuring” as a wave of retirements and departures leaves significant gaps in its staffing.

Services could be reduced as the department’s functional strength falls to a projected 50 officers below its authorized force of 370, according to an internal memo sent by police chief M. Jay Farr and obtained by ARLnow.com.

The Arlington Police Beneficiary Association, an employee organization representing Arlington officers that is advocating for higher police compensation in the county’s current budget process, said the “historic understaffing” is due to “sub-par pay.”

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for rank-and-file officers, on top of pay hikes for all county employees. The raise does not apply to the department’s command staff. The County Board voted over the weekend against a property tax rate increase, meaning that any additional money for the department beyond Schwartz’s recommendation will likely result in reductions elsewhere in the budget.

The police department is actively recruiting to try to fill staffing holes, but faces competition from other D.C. area local police departments as well as federal law enforcement agencies that often have higher levels of pay. Asked about the numbers, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said the total staffing level at the department is a bit higher than the functional staffing level.

“The Arlington County Police Department has an authorized staffing of 370 officers and a current strength of 346 officers,” she told ARLnow.com. “Our current strength includes recruits currently at the academy as well as officers on light duty so our functional staffing is a little lower.”

A table showing retirements and non-retirement departures from the police department, as provided by a county spokeswoman, shows a sharp uptick in 2017.

In a statement, Savage said the planned restructuring will “maximize our available resources.”

Our goals and objectives as a department have not changed, nor has our commitment to providing professional law enforcement services to the residents, visitors and businesses of Arlington County. However, our methods of achieving these goals must adapt to our current staffing challenges. To maximize our available resources, we will be completing a strategic restructuring of the police department. This will be accomplished by our command staff collaborating with the entirety of the police department and devising a staffing plan jointly. Our staffing and structure will focus on prioritizing core services and ensuring the services we are able to provide are effective and efficient. The ultimate goal is to design a police department reflective of our current staffing levels, limit the workload strain on officers by focusing on core services and promote a balanced work/life atmosphere. Our plan will also be forward looking to support growth as staffing improves. It is anticipated that the restructuring will be complete by late spring and additional information will be available at that time.

“Great work happens throughout this agency on a daily basis and this I am confident this will continue despite our current staffing challenges,” Chief Farr said in a statement issued to ARLnow.com. “The strategic restructure will provide us with an opportunity to maximize our resources by building a police department reflective of our current staffing levels while supporting our mission to reduce the incidence of crime and improve the quality of life in Arlington County.”

In the memo, below, Farr says the police department will be reevaluating its ability to provide support for special events in the county as part of the restructuring process.

The Arlington County Fire Department, meanwhile, is facing similar pressures. Fire department personnel are slated to receive an extra 4 percent bump in pay over the standard county employee raise in Schwartz’s budget, but the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association says even that might not be enough to fill gaps in staffing.

The full memo about restructuring from Chief Farr, after the jump.

Greetings,

As we head into what we know will be a challenging year, I want to share some information on where we stand today and what the next steps for the police department will be.

We have undoubtedly seen a significant reduction in our workforce due to normal attrition, retirements and officers seeking other opportunities. I, along with the rest of the command staff, recognize the impacts the reduced staffing has had on all of you and the dedicated work you perform each and every day for the citizens, visitors and businesses of Arlington County. The police department has an authorized staffing of 370 officers and, by April of this year, our functional staffing number is projected to be as low as 320 officers.

While our goals and objectives as a department have not changed, our methods of achieving them must adapt to our current challenges.

To maximize our available resources, we will be completing a strategic restructuring of the police department. This will be accomplished by our command staff collaborating with the entirety of the police department and devising a staffing plan jointly. Our staffing and structure will focus on prioritizing core services and ensuring the services we are able to provide are effective and efficient. The ultimate goal is to design a police department reflective of our current staffing levels, limit the workload strain on staff by focusing on core services and promote a balanced work/life atmosphere.

This restructuring will give us the opportunity to review the department as a whole and to add services in critical areas that may currently be deficient. Our plan will also be forward looking to support growth as staffing improves. Additionally, the process will include trying to identify opportunities for career development and growth throughout the agency. We will also reevaluate the support the police department provides to special events.

For me personally, it is disheartening to be with the department this long, experience the hard work everyone has undertaken to make this a leading police agency and have to reduce many of the aspects that allow us to positively impact the quality of life of our community on a daily basis. I am proud of the dedicated work you provide to the community and the communities’ appreciation is evident in the support we receive. Great work happens throughout this agency on a daily basis and this, I am sure, will continue.

Those of us committed to seeing this through have invested a tremendous part of our professional lives in building this agency. Please know that we will weather this storm together, this is a team effort, and it is one that we will overcome collectively. The goal is to complete the restructuring process by the spring draft. Additional information will be shared as we move forward, but I wanted to ensure this information was shared directly with all of you at the onset of the process. If you have questions or concerns, please contact any member of the command staff.

M. Jay Farr
Chief of Police
Arlington County, VA

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County Department Changes Name, Designs New Logo

One of Arlington County’s safety departments has undergone a staff-led rebranding effort, complete with a new name and a new look.

As of July 1, emergency management employees and those in the county’s Emergency Communications Center work in the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. Department staff voted for the name from several suggestions.

“While we do not often change the name of our departments, and not all departments have logos, in the past 15 years some have had name changes,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. Two examples are the current Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which both underwent reorganizations.

At the heart of the Office of Emergency Management’s rebranding is an effort to be more inclusive of the entire department’s staff. The two initially had been separate divisions — OEM fell under the fire department and ECC under the police department — but they merged into the same department in 2004. Still, they kept their separate functions: Emergency management staff plan public preparedness campaigns and hazard and crisis mitigation, while communications staff run the 911 call center and dispatch first responders to the public.

The name, however, technically only covered the emergency management section, not the communications staff. Department director Jack Brown sought out a new name that more accurately represents both functions.

“The mission sets are a bit different, but bringing them together under one department makes a lot of sense,” said Brown. “The previous name only reflected part of the mission. We are on the same team, and our name now reflects that.”

Schwartz confirmed that these types of name changes should benefit both the county staff and the public. “Our goal is to ensure that each department’s mission and purpose is clear, both internally and publicly… We believe the new name makes the work of this critical team clear to all,” he said.

Instead of hiring an independent consultant for the rebranding, the project was fueled entirely by ECC and OEM staff, including the logo design. The logo incorporates elements representing various aspects of the department’s safety missions. For example, the radio tower represents communications, and the lightning and rain drops represent preparedness for weather events. The individual parts are encompassed within a pentagon shape.

“Our set of missions are within that pentagon. It’s a symbol, it reminds us why we’re here,” Brown said. “We’re here not just because of the Pentagon and 9/11. We’re here because really bad things happen and we want to prevent them from happening. If they do happen, we’re here to help the public get through it.”

That being said, Brown adds: “But these symbols are nothing without our people and their character. Our brand is our professionalism, our work ethic and our mutual commitment to public safety. I think these changes reflect that and I’m proud of this department and its future.”

Brown has been contemplating the rebranding for a couple years but set the plan into motion last fall. He received an overwhelmingly positive response when he asked for employee feedback about the idea, and some employees volunteered to help with the project.

The new brand’s launch was intentionally timed to reduce effects to the community. “We’re not going to do it in the middle of budget cycle, we’ll do it at the beginning of a fiscal year,” Brown said. That way, none of the budget documents for fiscal year 2017 needed to be remade and the department could start fiscal year 2018 with its new name.

To further reduce expenses, the department will not overhaul all items bearing its old name and logo in one fell swoop. Employees have been encouraged to make no-cost changes such as updating websites, presentations and email signature lines with the new name and logo. Plus, some low-cost items such as letterheads and entrance signs will be reprinted over the next few weeks. But lower priority items including business cards and branded clothing will remain unchanged for the time being.

“I’m very mindful of the county budget and its limited resources. Something like this shouldn’t break the bank,” Brown said. “Over time, as normal expendables need to be replaced we can make those changes. I’m not going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars of taxpayers money because of a changed logo and name.”

So far, employees seem to have a positive view of the changes. “I think they’re proud of it,” Brown said of the rebranding and the teamwork that went into it. “We’re all here for the same purpose: to keep Arlington safe. We have to take care of the public and also each other.”

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Arlington County Seeking New ‘Public Art Project Manager’

Decorative sculpture planned for Pentagon City's Metropolitan Park development (image via Arlington County)Arlington County’s public art program is seeking a new “Public Art Project Manager.”

Project managers are responsible for developing and managing public art projects for the county, as well as advising on county requests for art and design enhancements. They also help educate residents and county staff about the importance of art in Arlington.

“The work entails communication and project-related activities to publicize, advocate for, support and elevate the profile of public art and design enhancements in the County,” according to the job listing.

“The work also includes collection maintenance oversight for Arlington’s collection of permanent public art and portable works, the associated database and website, and supports the work of the Public Art Committee of the Arlington Commission of the Arts.

Project managers work under Angela Adams, the public art administrator.

The position became available after one of the former project managers moved to a different department to take a part-time job, said Jim Byers, marketing director for Arlington Cultural Affairs. Byers could not say who moved from the department because it’s a personnel matter, he said.

The public art department website currently lists Deirdre Ehlen and Aliza Schiff as project managers.

Those wishing to apply need to have a bachelor’s degree in an art or design-related field, such as fine arts, art history or urban planning. Candidates also need two years experience in arts administration, public arts or a design-related field.

The application is available online.

Arlington’s public art program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Upcoming public art projects in the county include:

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Morning Notes

Snow in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Encouraging Residency for Top County Staff — Top Arlington County officials should be encouraged to live in Arlington, County Board members said over the weekend, but they stopped short of saying that it should be a requirement. The Board responded to a resident’s concern about non-county residents on staff. County Manager Barbara Donnellan, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac and outgoing Police Chief Doug Scott all live outside the county. [InsideNova]

For Rent: Tiny Two-Story Cottage — A 450 square foot, 1 BR / 1 BA cottage is for rent just off of Lee Highway, near District Taco, and one blogger thinks it’s the “coolest rental in Arlington.” The tiny, standalone house features a living area and kitchenette on the first floor, and a second floor loft bedroom. It’s listed at $1,200 per month. [Real House Life of Arlington]

Millennial Complains About Housing Costs — A member of the millennial generation has written an op-ed in the Washington Post complaining that while his mom was able to buy a house in Arlington as a young photographer in 1976, he is unable to afford one today, as are many other so-called millennials. Nonetheless, millennials currently make up 39 percent of the county’s population. [Washington Post]

Arlington Flag Team Makes National Finals — The Arlington 13-14 girls NFL Flag football team has made the national final game in Arizona, set to be played tonight. The game will be live-streamed on the internet. [Twitter, NFL Flag]

Snow Cancellation Map — How much snow does it take to cancel school in Arlington? About three inches, according to a map created by a Reddit user, which shows cancellation stats by county across the U.S. The map indicates that just a couple hours to the northwest, it takes a foot of snow to cancel school, while a couple of hours to the south “any snow” will result in a cancellation. [Imgur, Reddit]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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County Working on Automated Water Meter Installation

You may not have even realized it, but your water meter will get a makeover soon, if it hasn’t already. The county is about half finished with its efforts to install new automated meter reading (AMR) systems on residential buildings.

The new meters allow employees to easily gather water use information without physically having to access meter boxes. They are equipped with a radio transmitter than sends each meter reading to an employee who slowly drives through the neighborhoods.

“The meters tend to lose accuracy as they age, so one of the benefits is the increased accuracy of the reading,” said county engineer Mary Strawn.

AMR will reduce errors now that employees will not have to manually enter meter numbers. It’s also viewed as a safety measure, considering workers won’t have to scramble in some places with hard to reach meters.

Residents can expect to see fewer “estimated reads” on their bills, due to the efficiency of the new meters. Previously, if county workers were unable to find a meter due to factors like snow accumulation, they would estimate a customer’s monthly water use.

The county began installing AMR equipment on commercial and multi-family residences in 2007. Now, the project has moved on to the 30,000 single family residences. Workers are about halfway through that task, and hope to finish by early 2013.

Notifications are being sent out to residents before work on their meters begins. Installation only takes about five minutes, so most people probably won’t even notice that work has been done.

Sometimes, after the meter has been upgraded, residents may temporarily notice a burst of air or rust colored water. This is not harmful, and briefly running the cold water should clear this up.

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Morning Notes

Man Arrested in Videotaped Beating — A 21-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the videotaped beating of an Arlington man in Baltimore on St. Patrick’s Day. [WUSA 9]

County Mulling Home Ownership Grants for Employees — Only about 25 percent of Arlington employees live actually in the county. To help make it easier for county employees to live here, the Arlington County Board is considering creating a $114,000 fund that would offer one-time grants to employees buying a house in Arlington. [Patch]

Library Archive Contains Lincoln Letter — Today is Emancipation Day: President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the District of Columbia exactly 150 years ago, on April 16, 1862. Meanwhile, Lincoln was assassinated 147 years ago Saturday, on April 14, 1865. A letter from Arlington Public Library’s Virginia Room archives provides a personal, handwritten account of the assassination. [Arlington Public Library]

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Meet Arlington’s Penny-Farthing Commuter

Ken Matthews actually doesn’t like attention.

You just wouldn’t know it if you saw him riding down the street on his 1891 Columbia Light Roadster “penny-farthing” bicycle, a bike so old that the only replacement tires you can find for it are sold by the Amish.

Matthews, an employee in the Arlington County communications department and self-professed lover of “old stuff,” has been riding a bike to work every day for 10 years now. For a couple of days last week, Matthews caused a bit of a stir when he started commuting from his home in Falls Church to the county government building in Courthouse on the penny-farthing, instead of on his usual, low-key 1972 Peugeot three-speed. Tweets and emails started coming in to ARLnow.com, asking what was up with the guy pedaling through Ballston on the old-school, high-wheel bike.

As it turns out, the Peugeot had been stolen — like two other bikes before it — and the penny-farthing was the only working-order bike in Matthews’ sizable vintage bicycle collection. The married father of two says he doesn’t ordinarily commute on the penny-farthing, largely due to the fact that it takes twice as long to get wherever he’s going since he is constantly stopped by curious strangers who want to take photos and ask questions. That’s not to say, however, that Matthews doesn’t like the occasional ride on the 120-year-old bike, which weighs 35 pounds and requires little maintenance due to the lack of parts like chains or inner-tubes.

“Keeping it well-oiled is pretty much all you have to do,” he said. “It’s bombproof.”

Matthews’ 2- and 4-year-old also enjoy rides on the penny-farthing, made possible by the fact that his Cannondale children’s bike trailer can attach to the penny-farthing’s “backbone” (the pole that holds the smaller wheel).

You won’t be seeing much of the penny-farthing from here on out, since Matthews has fixed up another vintage bike as his every-day commuter. But the penny-farthing will still make occasional appearances. The bike, which could fetch as much as $2,000 at auction, technically belongs to one of Matthews’ friends, who rides it in parades. The friend has let Matthews ride the penny-farthing in exchange for storing it for the past several years — since the nearly 5-foot tall bike won’t fit in the friend’s home.

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Morning Notes

Capital Bikeshare Stations Launch in Rosslyn — Four Capital Bikeshare stations were quietly installed around Rosslyn on Saturday. There were no public notices or proclamations before the installation — unlike earlier in the week when officials announced that four stations were to be installed on Wednesday. The county followed up that announcement with a notice that the installation was delayed indefinitely. Update at 12:05 p.m. — See info on the installations from Bike Arlington. [Patch]

Humpback Bridge Work Nears Completion — The National Park Service expects construction on the Humpback Bridge reconstruction project to wrap up in mid-June. The final construction phase will allow a full merge from I-395 onto the northbound GW Parkway. [WTOP]

Bengali New Year Celebrated on the Pike — The local Bengali community came together for their traditional New Years celebration on Saturday. Despite the wet weather, Bengalis gathered near Columbia Pike for a parade, musical performances, dancing and ethnic food. [Pike Wire]

County Pay Raises in the Works? — On Saturday, Arlington County Board members instructed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to proceed with a study of county workers’ compensation, which some within county government believe is too low. Also on Saturday, the County Board voted to raise their own pay ceiling from $49,000 to $57,337. While board members won’t be getting any more money this year, the move opens up the possibility of a pay raise next year. [Sun Gazette]

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With Employee Salaries, County Aims to be Competitive

You might think that with another looming budget gap and talk of a new worldwide Age of Austerity, Arlington County would be looking at cutting employee compensation as a potential way to trim costs.

After all, every taxpayer in Arlington knows that our famously progressive county probably pays employees more than anyone else in the region, right?

Wrong.

Arlington is, in fact, still playing catchup with Fairfax and Alexandria compensation-wise, County Manager Barbara Donnellan told a group of Arlington County Civic Federation delegates Tuesday night.

Donnellan cited a study released last year which determined that while employee benefits were on par with Fairfax and Alexandria, Arlington’s two biggest competitors in the job market, employee salaries lagged in more than half the job categories examined.

Another such study will be conducted next year.

Donnellan said that Arlington will likely continue to grant merit-based step increases to employees in the upcoming budget. That, she said, should help Arlington compete with Fairfax, which has frozen step increases. Like Arlington, however, Alexandria is still granting pay raises.

“Overall, we’re trying to maintain competitiveness,” Donnellan said. Comparisons to the private sector and to similar jurisdictions in other parts of the country are generally not helpful, Donnellan said, because the county is drawing from a different pool of potential job applicants.

As an example of one area where Arlington is struggling to fill jobs, Donnellan cited a recent recruiting drive by the police department.

Out of some 70 prospective applicants for a significant number of police vacancies (perhaps 20 to 30), only four were ultimately hired after a battery of physical and mental tests.

“Four doesn’t cut it,” Donnellan said, adding that more public safety recruiting classes will be necessary. In other job categories, she said, hiring is a mixed bag.

“We had a hiring freeze for two years, so when we do open up a job, we get a lot of applicants who are applying for it,” she said. “Are they the best and the brightest and fit exactly with the experience that we’re looking for? Not always. But we certainly have been able to capture some people in this downtime that are looking for a more stable environment to work in.”

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