(Updated at 3 p.m.) A half-dozen Arlington fire stations will be upgraded to accommodate more firefighters.
The renovations will give firefighters and EMTs at Fire Stations 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 more space and amenities to use while they’re at the station.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved the $1.4 million project, which responds to a recent change to the Arlington County Fire Department’s schedule that required the department to hire more staff.
Last month, the county officially implemented the “Kelly Day,” an extra 24-hour shift off every 28 days, which reduces a firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours per week. The day helps reduce absenteeism, exposure to hazardous and stressful conditions, and overtime, while improving work-life balance, recruitment and retention, according to the county.
“[The] implementation of the Kelly Day [is] the result of committed funding across multiple years and dedicated advocacy on behalf of our firefighters to modernize the schedule of the Arlington fire service to improve their balance and quality of life to make ACFD more competitive across the region,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said on Saturday. “We’re really excited to see the Kelly Day implemented as a way of thanking and respecting our firefighters as the professionals they’ve been, especially our firefighter EMTs, who’ve worked so hard during the pandemic.”
The Kelly Day provides our members with a reduction in overall hours worked, from a 56 hour work week to a 50 hour week. The ACFD is extremely grateful to the Arlington County Board and County Manager for their continued support.
— Arlington Fire & EMS (@ArlingtonVaFD) January 19, 2022
Kelly Day planning began in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and the county began funding additional firefighter positions in the 2019 fiscal year, ACFD spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner tells ARLnow. Between then and the official implementation on Jan. 16 of this year, the department hired 39 firefighter EMTs.
Those 39 firefighters will need additional personnel lockers for their gear, uniforms and street clothing, he said. Other upgrades include expanded refrigeration and storage spaces in the kitchen, additional bathrooms and showers, stackable washer-dryer units to increase laundry capacity and expanded and improved gym areas.
Only Fire Station 4 will require additional locker space after these renovations are complete, says Hiner.
Fire Station 10 in Rosslyn, which was finished last summer, has the additional amenities, as will the new Fire Station 8 in the Halls Hill neighborhood once it’s complete about two years from now, he said. The old Fire Station 8 is currently being torn down and crews are operating from a temporary station.
Also related to firefighters, the County Board approved a deadline extension in its civic code giving new labor unions — authorized last year — more time to get through the necessary procedures to officially form as collective bargaining units. Firefighters were concerned that the delayed hire of a labor relations administrator would put off compensation negotiations another year.
(Updated at 11 a.m.) Virginia localities are set to start receiving the new Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine next week, thus helping to boost supply in the Commonwealth.
But one group that had been poised to start being vaccinated soon has been bumped further down the priority list: Arlington County employees.
The entire county workforce is being considered to be within the “Continuity of Government” category, and thus is still part of the Virginia “1b” priority group and ahead of the general public. But county employees have now been bumped down below those with pre-existing medical conditions.
“Since my last note to you on this, the Governor has made changes to the prioritization which has moved certain categories of 1B essential workers, including those in Continuity of Government, further down the list for vaccines,” County Manager Mark Schwartz wrote in a recent memo (below) to county workers. “Individuals 16 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions are now ahead of Continuity of Government workers. This means that there are now about 20,000 Arlington residents ahead of County employees in the queue.”
“The County’s Public Health Division continues only to receive approximately 3,000 first doses per week,” Schwartz continues. “We simply do not have enough vaccine to meet the demand yet. Based on current guidance on prioritization and vaccine supply, it is unlikely that we will begin any employee vaccinations until early April.”
On average, just over 1,100 COVID-19 vaccination doses per day have been administered in Arlington over the past week, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. VDH says the new J&J vaccine should help increase supply across the state.
“On Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a new vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson. The EUA allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for those 18 and older,” the health department said in a press release. “Virginia is expected to receive 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, which will be prioritized for mass vaccination clinics across the state.”
Those who are eligible can pre-register for vaccinations at the state’s new Vaccinate Virginia web portal.
Despite the lack of supply right now, Arlington is working to make sure as many eligible people as possible register to be vaccinated. To that end, the county is trying to recruit local organizations to partner with the health department and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.
“We’re trying to get more organizations to become Complete Vaccination Committee (CVC) partners,” county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith tells ARLnow. “Over the weekend, CVC members were out in the community at five different locations, getting people pre-registered for the vaccine.”
Organizations can sign up to become partners via this form.
Among the list of current partners is the Arlington County Democratic Committee, which is using its organizational infrastructure for getting residents registered to vote and driving them to the polls to do the same for seniors and vaccinations.
“In election cycles, we are the [Arlington Democrats] ‘Rides to the Polls’ team, but now we’ve put our operation to work to help seniors in a different way,” said Mary Byrne, a co-leader of the volunteer effort. “We are grateful that [Arlington Democrats] allowed us to use their database to access a list of both Dems and Republican seniors. Our volunteer list of more than 50 callers and drivers is growing and we’ve already called hundreds and helped dozens of seniors in the one week we’ve been in operation.”
Their list includes more than 6,000 Arlington seniors 75 years and older, Byrne said. The volunteers help with vaccination registration, scheduling and transportation.
More information on the “Ride to Vaccines” vaccine program can be found online or by calling (703) 528-8588 ext 5.
Image via Arlington County/YouTube
(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Amazon is moving in at a quickening clip and Arlington County’s budget-makers are breathing a sigh of relief.
After a few years of tight budgets, involving tax rate hikes and a handful of county staff layoffs, “this is a good budget year,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said today, ahead of presenting his proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget to the Arlington County Board.
That means a lack of hard choices: under the proposal, the $1.013 per $100 property tax rate remains steady, county staff — particularly public safety personnel — are getting raises, and library fines are being eliminated.
“We’ve gone through some lean years where we’ve been challenged on the revenue side,” Schwartz told reporters. “This is a good news budget, based on the fact that… we have a revenue infusion that has allowed us to do some things we just weren’t able to do before.”
In all, the $1.4 billion budget increases spending by 2.9% and anticipates a 4.6% increase in tax revenue, thanks in part to rising property assessments and a boost in business taxes paid to the county.
The average homeowner can expect to pay an extra $376 in property taxes, even with the rate holding steady. Arlington’s tax rate is lower than that of Alexandria ($1.130), Fairfax ($1.150) and Loudoun ($1.045).
After years of budget pressures caused by increases in health costs and Metro funding, among other rising expenses amid slowly-growing revenue, Schwartz struck a decidedly upbeat tone this year. He predicted future revenue growth as Amazon continues to grow its presence and other businesses flock to the county.
“The past few years we have seen the effects of a record-high commercial vacancy rate,” Schwartz said in a statement. “Now we are beginning to see the results of our commitment to economic development and spending realignments. This budget represents an investment in the cornerstones of County government with an eye toward an innovative future in Arlington.”
“We’re coming out of the trough,” Schwartz added.
Perhaps the biggest source of budget friction this year will be with Arlington Public Schools.
Schwartz is taking pains in his presentation to emphasize that Arlington County has been increasing the percentage of tax revenue it sends to the school system, a separate governmental entity. This year, under Schwartz’s budget, APS is slated to receive $550 million, up from $500 million two years ago.
Schwartz says he expects APS, with its ever-rising student enrollment, to ask for more. But the extra $17.7 million the schools are receiving this year should be more than adequate to account for the increase in students, he said.
The budget presentation notes that APS spends $19,921 per student, according to the Washington Area Board of Education formula — the highest per-pupil cost in the region.
Other highlights from the budget include:
- An additional $9.1 million for affordable housing, including more for housing grants, rent assistance and affordable housing development.
- A 3.25-3.5% increase in pay for general county employees and an approximately 6.5% increase in pay for public safety employees (to help, in part, with police and fire department recruitment.)
- $49.3 million for Metro, a 4 percent increase from last year.
- Creating a new “traffic enforcement and control” position inside the police department, with six new full-time staffers charged with enforcing things like scooters on sidewalks and cars parked in bike lanes.
- Nine new positions in the fire department and funding for a second recruit class.
- Eliminating library fines, as part of the county’s new focus on equity. The fines disproportionally are imposed on people of color who live on the western end of Columbia Pike, Schwartz said.
- “Funding to phase in [County] Board member salary increases over a three-year period.”
- Additional funding for sidewalk, street, and streetlight maintenance.
The budget focuses “on foundational area of County government” and “shores up investments in County infrastructure and core services,” Schwartz says in his presentation.
Though the opening of the ever-controversial Long Bridge Park aquatics and fitness center is still a ways off, county officials are gearing up to hire two new staffers set to work at the facility.
County Manager Mark Schwartz set aside $110,000 for the newly created positions as part of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. He forwarded along his first draft of the new spending plan to the County Board late last week.
Schwartz is recommending that the Board act now to start the recruitment and hiring process for a general manager and a maintenance technician for the facility, currently expected to open sometime in “early 2021.”
“Hiring these two positions prior to the facility opening will allow the Department of Parks and Recreation to develop standard operating procedures; ensure mastery of all building systems, including specialized aquatics equipment; procure inventory; and develop staff training plans,” Schwartz wrote in a message attached to the budget proposal.
The manager expects that the county will be able to afford the new hires largely through some staff reductions elsewhere across the department. In all, Schwartz is recommending $5.2 million in cuts in his budget, affecting 29 full-time positions and one-part time position across the county government. He’s also proposing a tax hike to meet some of the county’s growing expenses, though the Board opted to explore an even larger tax increase than he originally recommended.
Construction has continued apace on the $60 million Long Bridge project ever since it finally broke ground last summer, following years of debate over its scope and cost. Schwartz added in his budget proposal that he “remains committed” to somehow striking a naming rights deal for the facility to defray some of its costs — the Board decided last year to hire a marketing firm to help the county search for potential sponsors.
“As the project moves closer to completion, we remain optimistic that our efforts will be successful,” Schwartz wrote.
County officials also expect to finalize a fee structure for anyone hoping to use the facility’s pools and gym as part of the upcoming budget process. A working group on the subject recently wrapped up its deliberations and will deliver a proposal with potential fees to the Board in the coming weeks.
According to a Jan. 31 presentation from the group, daily passes for county residents would range from $9 for adults to $5 for children. An annual pass for adults would cost $630 and $350 for kids.
Non-residents would pay a 25 percent premium on daily passes and a 30 percent premium on all other passes, under the working group’s proposal.
Street Smart Campaign to Start Up Next Week — “As part of the Arlington County Police Department’s overall traffic safety program, the Special Operations Section is again participating in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Fall Street Smart campaign. This region-wide public safety campaign, which runs from November 5 – December 2, 2018, aims to educate drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and scooter operators about existing traffic laws and how to safely share our roadways.” [Arlington County]
County Board Lauds County Staff — In a video posted on YouTube, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said “thank you” to Arlington County staff for the hard work that helped propel the county to high resident satisfaction ratings. “We are really proud of you… of your commitment to excellence and the role you play in making Arlington a terrific community.” [YouTube]
Bicycling Meetups This Fall — “Fall has arrived in Arlington, leaves have started to change colors, and temperatures are dipping overnight… If you’re looking for a good excuse to ride bikes and drink coffee this fall, like I do, there are plenty of local opportunities to make that happen.” [BikeArlington]
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
Almost 24 years after she answered a radio ad seeking to recruit new firefighters, Tiffanye Wesley has been selected as Arlington’s southern battalion chief.
The county’s fire department tapped her for the post Sunday (Sept. 2), making her both Arlington and Northern Virginia’s first African-American female battalion chief.
There are two battalions in the Arlington Fire Department, divided between north and south, with each encompassing five stations. Wesley is chief of the southern battalion, coordinating operations not only between the five stations but with partner agencies across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.
“If there is a fire call, I’m in charge of that call,” said Wesley. “My job is to ensure everyone goes home safely.”
When Wesley first joined the Arlington Fire Department, she said she walked in the door with no expectations. She’d never known any firefighters or been into a fire house, and said she failed the physical ability tests twice, but she kept training and going back to try again.
Before being selected as battalion chief, Wesley was commander of the Crystal City station, Arlington’s largest and one of its busiest stations. Wesley stepped into the battalion chief role temporarily in 2016, which she said gave her an opportunity to get to know the other stations in the battalion.
“Every station is different,” said Wesley. “My goal is to go sit down with the officers and let them know up front what [my] expectations are and to give me theirs. I believe, as long as you set up right up front what you expect, it makes it easier. The problem comes in when you don’t know what your leader expects, then you tend to fall back and do whatever you want to do.”
Currently, Wesley says the department is also awaiting news of who will replace Fire Chief James Bonzano.
“Right now, the department is looking for a new fire chief,” said Wesley. “Everyone is in a holding pattern, we’re not sure who that person will be, whether they’re from inside the department or someone totally new, we will have to learn that person; their ideals and expectations.”
As Wesley settles into her new role as battalion chief, she says the outpouring of support from friends and followers of her active social media accounts has been overwhelming. Among the most interesting was a call from a fire chief in Nigeria congratulating her on the promotion.
“My promotion was not just for me, it’s for everyone who has watched me, who has been sitting back and passed over and doubted their own self, whose doubted it would ever happen,” said Wesley. “It’s all for those people. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.”
Photo courtesy Arlington Fire Department
Arlington’s fire chief has officially stepped away from his post, leaving the department under interim leadership as a search for a permanent replacement continues.
Chief James Bonzano’s last day on the job was this past Friday (Aug. 24), fire department spokesman Ben O’Bryant told ARLnow. The county’s been searching for a new chief since early May, when Bonzano decided to bring his 34-year career to a close. He served as county fire chief for about three years in all.
O’Bryant said that Assistant Chief Joseph Reshetar will step in as acting chief while the county’s search continues. Reshetar has served in that same role before, back in 2015 when then-Fire Chief James Schwartz was appointed deputy county manager, so O’Bryant expects that “it will be a smooth transition between now and when the new chief starts.”
He added that the county’s human resources team is still interviewing candidates for the permanent post, with the ultimate goal of having a new chief leading the department “before November.”
A job listing on the county’s careers website remains active, though it notes the county will give preference to candidates who applied by June 4. It lists the annual salary range for the post as between $117,145.60 and $224,806.40.
Arlington Fire Chief James Bonzano is retiring in a few months, ARLnow.com has confirmed.
The county will formally announce Bonzano’s retirement this afternoon. A job posting, seeking his replacement, was recently published on the county careers website.
Bonzano will have served as chief for about three years when he retires, capping a 34-year career with the Arlington County Fire Department that included service as EMS branch director at the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. He was appointed acting chief following Chief James Schwartz’s ascension to deputy county manager in 2015 and was subsequently named the permanent fire chief in 2016.
In a statement, County Manager Mark Schwartz lauded Bonzano’s commitment to the Arlington community.
“Jimmy has dedicated his career and his life to Arlington County and the people who live and work here, and I thank him for all he has done in his more than three decades of service,” said Schwartz. “His commitment to strong and progressive leadership has ensured the safety of our community.”
Bonzano, who was born in Arlington, said that “it has been my privilege to serve the community I love for 34 years.”
“The time has come to slow down and spend time with my family,” he said in a statement. “I am honored to have led the dedicated men and women of the Arlington County Fire Department, and I am proud of what we have achieved together.”
“I offer my sincere thanks to Mark Schwartz, the executive leadership team, the men and women of the fire department, and the citizens of Arlington County for providing me the opportunity to be their Fire Chief,” he continued. “It has been a remarkable experience I will always cherish.”
The fire department has been facing staffing challenges amid retirements, though the new county budget seeks to address that via increases in first responder pay. A new recruit class of 28 firefighter/EMTs, just sworn in last week, will also help “make the department’s staffing numbers whole.”
An exact retirement date has not been confirmed, but a fire department spokesman said that Bonzano will retire at the end of the summer.
The county is currently in the process of looking for a new chief. The full text of the job posting for the position is below, after the jump.
Hat tip to Tom N.
(Updated: 4:05 p.m.) The Arlington County Board needs a new clerk “to serve as its principal staff officer,” according to a government job posting.
The current clerk, Hope Halleck, has been with the county since 1987. She has served as clerk to the County Board since 2008, according to her LinkedIn page, having served from 2006-2008 as a constituent services manager.
Her last day with the county will be April 27. Halleck told ARLnow that she’s getting married in June, and, along with other pleasant life events, both she and her partner are retiring and “ready for new adventures.”
The listed salary is between $88,025.60-$145,184, in line with the county’s 2018 county employee pay scale.
According to the job listing, the clerk will be expected to provide “leadership and supervision to a team of experienced and service oriented staff including the Deputy Clerk, Senior Management Analyst, and Receptionist and, in coordination with the County Board, the Board Members’ Aides.”
Key responsibilities will include “serving as the official record-keeper for the Board,” “providing management, staff supervision and administration of the County Board Office,” and “acting as the Board’s liaison to the public.”
Is Yelp Coming to Rosslyn? — Rosslyn’s 1812 N. Moore Street tower, the future corporate headquarters of Nestlé USA, could also be a destination for review website Yelp. The San Francisco-based company is reportedly considering opening an office in the D.C. area and 1812 N. Moore is on the short list. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman grew up in Arlington. [Washington Business Journal]
Democratic Committee Recommends Primaries — In a move that could be seen as a rebuke of the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s decision to hold a caucus to select a County Board nominee this year, the 8th District Democratic Committee has approved “a resolution saying primaries, not caucuses, should be the main form of nomination of Democratic candidates.” [InsideNova]
County Employee Is ‘Roadeo’ Star — Alexis Zambrano, a long-time county equipment operator, has scored a silver award in a regional “equipment roadeo” competition, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic American Public Works Association. [Arlington County]
La Tagliatella Expansion Plans on Hold — La Tagliatella, the Europe-based Italian restaurant chain that opened in Clarendon only to receive a scathing review from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, is putting its U.S. expansion plans on hold. That includes the chain’s planned Shirlington location, in the former Extra Virgin space. The Clarendon location will remain open for the time being. [Washington Business Journal]
Remembering Arlington’s ‘Little Saigon’ — The timing of two separate events helped to transform the Clarendon neighborhood into a cluster of Vietnamese stores and restaurants known as “Little Saigon” in the 1970s and 80s. One event was the Vietnam War and the Communist takeover of Vietnam, which drove tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to the United States. The other was the construction of Metro, which drove away mom and pop businesses from Clarendon and forced landlords to lower their rents and seek new tenants. [Falls Church News-Press]
Raises for Top County Officials — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday quietly approved raises between 3.2 and 3.5 percent for top officials like County Manager Barbara Donnellan and County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac. The raises are retroactive to Jan. 1. Rank-and-file county employees are receiving a 3.5 percent raise this year. [Washington Post]