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Public safety hiring on Stafford's radar



Date published: 12/29/2012

BY KATIE THISDELL

Stafford County may develop a plan for its long-term public safety staffing needs as part of its upcoming budget process.

Currently, the county does not have a written guide for how and when to increase employees in law enforcement and fire and rescue operations.

With the county facing another tough budget year in fiscal 2013-14, County Administrator Anthony Romanello recently asked some county supervisors if they wanted to create such a plan, which a few localities have in place.

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 eight to 10 people, Jett said. It's tough to pinpoint a precise number because while it's easy to determine how many deputies are needed for court services, it's harder to figure out the best number for out in the field.

Meanwhile, the county could benefit from approximately 50 firefighters and EMTs, both volunteer and career, said Lockhart.

The county has set a goal of responding to 90 percent of fire and rescue calls within eight minutes. Lately, that level has hovered around 70 percent countywide. Lockhart said he thinks more manpower would help the county meet its response time goal.

Seven firefighters were hired last year through the federal SAFER grant; Stafford will have to pick up the $300,000 annual bill in fiscal 2014 in order to keep them on staff.

Three deputies were hired in the past year, and five 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, which offers 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.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975
Email: kthisdell@freelancestar.com