Spring? Summer? What happened to winter? March’s abnormally warm weather brought out gorgeous blossoms and early garden preparations, but it also brought a handful of residential burglaries to our community. Jewelry and small electronics seem to be favorite items to snatch. Fairfax County police remind residents to take safety precautions throughout the house: lock doors and windows to prevent unauthorized entry; put your lamps on variable timers so that potential burglars cannot tell if someone is home; conceal valuables or electronics so that passersby cannot see them through a window. Also, lock your car, even when it is in the driveway. Don’t be an easy target.
Despite recent break-ins, Fairfax County remains a very safe community. Preliminary 2011 crime statistics reveal that violent crime decreased nearly four percent overall, Property crime was down more than seven percent. Fairfax County continues to have one of the lowest overall crime rates in the nation, a tribute to our engaged citizenry, outstanding police force, and a shared responsibility for developing and maintaining a quality of life we all can celebrate.
Complementing the low crime rate was a similar feat on the Fire and EMS side. 2011 was the first year in many decades that Fairfax County experienced no fire deaths. One has only to read about the tragic loss of life in a Charleston, West Virginia, house fire last weekend to understand and reflect on such a significant achievement for a community with more than one million residents. Fiscal pressures have made it necessary for our public safety agencies to continue to find ways to provide high quality services with reduced budgets. The community rarely sees the budget challenges behind emergency response, but funding is a major issue for this core service of local government.
Our residents support highly trained and skillful employees in public safety: Police, Fire and Rescue, Sheriff, the Office of Emergency Management, and call takers at the 911 Center. Surprisingly, public safety comprises only about 12 percent of the overall county budget. Like all county employees, pay for public safety personnel has been frozen for the past three years. For personnel anticipating merit and longevity steps traditionally built into the compensation program for their years of service, the freeze has been especially aggravating. The proposed budget would increase compensation by 2.18 percent, and employee groups have asked if the Board could add an additional two percent in January. Police also have requested that the police cadet program and the marine patrol be continued. Both programs are zeroed out in the proposed budget. Fire and EMS programs are recommended for cuts, too. The Haz-Mat Support Unit, which assists with hazardous materials emergencies, such as pipeline ruptures and tanker trucks overturning on Beltway ramps, also would be dismantled.
The Board will continue to review the budget recommendations and how they affect our overall county priorities. The investment in public safety to ensure “safe streets and neighborhoods” is a priority, but so is “taxes that are affordable.” Finding the balance between our critical priorities and maintaining strong, responsible, fiscal stewardship is the goal as the Board continues its work on the FY 2013 budget, which must be balanced and adopted not later than May 1.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at email@example.com