Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News from Greater Falls Church

The second installment of Fairfax County’s Lines of Business (LOBs) review on Monday focused on public safety services, which are maintained around the clock in the county.

Sheriff Stan Barry, Fire Chief Ron Mastin, and Police Chief David Rohrer presented, in sometimes excruciating detail, staffing levels, workload, and proposals to meet County Executive Anthony H. Griffin’s request for a 15 percent reduction in agency budgets for the next fiscal year. The Board of Supervisors also heard from the Office of Emergency Management and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Much of Sheriff Barry’s presentation focused on the Adult Detention Center (ADC), which has experienced an inmate growth of about 36 percent, from an average daily population of 984 in FY 2001, to 1,335 in FY 2008. In addition, sheriff’s deputies were charged with escorting 21,481 prisoners to and from court in FY 2001; that figure rose to 30,354 in FY 2008. Courthouse expansion and additional judges added to the challenge. Most of the Sheriff’s duties are mandated by the Commonwealth of Virginia; however, the Commonwealth pays only a small portion of the overall costs of the ADC and the courts. For example, maintaining a prisoner for one day costs about $135; the state reimbursement is between $11 and $14, leaving the remaining $120 or so for Fairfax County taxpayers to assume. Two of the Sheriff’s identified cuts probably will meet considerable anger: eliminating security checkpoints at the courthouse and in the civil courtrooms, and eliminating the Community Labor Force, which uses inmates to provide bus shelter and bus stop maintenance, roadside clean-ups, and other “dirty” jobs.

Fire Chief Mastin noted that Fire and Rescue responded to 91,936 incidents in FY 2008. Seventy percent were for emergency medical services (EMS) rather than the traditional fire suppression calls. One of the challenges for Fire and Rescue today is meeting the response time for calls. The department exceeds the goal of getting an ambulance unit on scene within nine minutes of a call, but has greater difficulty getting an engine company to a structure fire within five minutes, often due to the area’s traffic congestion. The Chief identified 47 programs for potential reductions, including consoli-dation of Equal Employment Opportunity and Woman’s Programs, public information, and perhaps even closing fire stations. He clearly was not happy making any of the recommendations.

Police Chief Rohrer outlined the organizational structure of the department, and reminded Board members of the mandates in both state law and county code. In deter-mining areas for reduction, the Chief said that maintaining operational capacity for the core mission to protect people and property was tantamount. Among the programs on the chopping block are operating expenses for the Neighborhood Watch programs, reduction of unscheduled overtime, eliminating the Sexual Assault Free and Empowered (SAFE) Program for women, the Traffic Safety Program, Crime Solvers Program, the Marine Unit, the Cadet Program, the Sexual Predator Enforcement and Detection Team, the Crime Prevention Officers program, and the Bike teams. Closing the Fair Oaks Police Station was another option.

Clearly, none of the identified reductions in public safety is very palatable, to the departments, the Board, or the citizenry. No decisions have been made about these identified cuts; the LOBs review allows the Board of Supervisors and county staff to look at all the services provided by the county, using taxpayer dollars, as we face a very difficult budget cycle next year. Next Monday’s LOBs review will focus on human services and the Park Authority. The full-day meetings are open to the public.


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov