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Vanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for fredericksburg.com and The Free Lance-Star.

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Public safety staffing needs to be examined for long-term budgeting

Public safety staffing was among the first items up for discussion for the fiscal 2014 budget process.

The public safety committee talked about what staffing is needed in the sheriff’s office and fire and rescue departments in the upcoming years. But the three supervisors realized Tuesday that there is no ultimate guide for what levels staffing should be at and when.

With the county facing another tough budget year, County Administrator Anthony Romanello asked the committee if they wanted to create such a plan, like what Prince William County has adopted. Members asked Sheriff Charles Jett and Fire Chief Mark Lockhart to come back with more detailed information at the next meeting.

The sheriff’s staff is short 8-10 people, Jett said, while Lockhart said approximately 50 firefighters and EMTs (possibly a mix of volunteer and career) are needed to better meet the goal of responding within 8 minutes, 90 percent of the time. That level has recently hovered around 70 percent. Seven firefighters were hired last year through the SAFER grant; Stafford will have to pick up the $300,000 annual bill in fiscal 2014 in order to keep them on staff. Jett said three personnel were hired last year, and four the year before for the gang task force.

“It’s going to boil down, as it always does, to dollars,” supervisor Jack Cavalier said.

Supervisor Gary Snellings said he worried about soon being in the same position as Spotsylvania County, which has been hiring dozens of firefighters to fill a gap in coverage. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we need to keep pace with staffing,” Snellings said.

Turnover rates in public safety are the highest of all county departments. Competition with federal departments such as the FBI (and much higher salaries) hurts Stafford’s staff, Romanello said. The finance committee is looking at countywide classification and compensation and will likely recommend having a study done, with public safety  departments to be looked at separately.

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