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A lifeguard at The Water Mine in Reston (via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube)

While school doesn’t officially start until Aug. 22, The Water Mine at Lake Fairfax will wind its summer operations down a week early this year, beginning Monday (Aug. 18).

The Fairfax County Park Authority is temporarily closing the popular Water Mine Family Swimming’ Hole due to lifeguard and other operational staff shortages at the location. The closure will last from Aug. 15-20.

After that, for the last three weeks of summer, tthe park will only be open on weekends, with Sunday on Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4) as its final day of the year.

The issue is part an industry-wide labor shortage faced by FCPA and other county agencies. The park authority typically recruits more than 600 summertime hires to staff summer camps, pools, and other park sites.

The decision was made due to safety concerns.

“We understand this decision is disappointing. However, it’s safety, safety, safety first,” FCPA Park Services Division Director Cindy Walsh said.

Walsh said many lifeguards are going back to school earlier or going on vacation, leaving the Water Mine with fewer guards than it has had in previous years.

The Water Mine is located at 1400 Lake Fairfax Drive in Reston. It typically operates from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Earlier this summer, the American Lifeguard Association estimated that staffing shortages would affect a third of the pools in the country. Reston Association closed two pools for multiple days last month.

Screenshot via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube

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Fairfax County Police Department officers are sworn in (via Office of Chairman Jeff McKay)

The Fairfax County Police Department is under a personnel emergency amid a staffing shortage that has continued for several months. 

In a temporary shift, police officers are transitioning to two 12.5-hour shifts and working mandatory overtime, according to the FCPD. That departs from the standard staffing model of three 11.5-hour shifts.

Additionally, patrol officers “may be required” to help other squads to maintain safe staffing levels, FCPD told FFXnow.

So far, the police department has 194 operational vacancies, but that does not account for 50 recruits currently in the police academy. That leaves 144 total vacancies.

“We have launched a multi-media recruiting campaign this summer with updates videos on our new JoinFCPD.org website,” a spokesperson said.

Some say the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has failed to provide adequate salary increases and other incentives to attract and retain the county’s police force.

While officers saw an average pay increase of nearly 8% in this fiscal year, beginning July 1, pay scale steps were frozen between fiscal years 2019 and 2021.

The salary increases that some officers received this fiscal year doesn’t make up for what was previously promised to them,” Steve Manohan, president of the county’s chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association said. “Keep in mind, there were hundreds of officers who only received a 4% cost of living increase in fiscal year 2022.”

Board Chairman Jeff McKay says the board is working with FCPD to recruit and retain officers, noting that Chief Kevin Davis has a plan to reach out across the county, region and nationwide — including non-traditional means like advertisements at movie theaters. The department has also reduced the length of its application and background information requirements in an effort to streamline the process.

All of this is done to position FCPD as an exciting and meaningful career choice for those who may have a calling for public service,” McKay wrote in a statement.

McKay says the county is looking at different ways to support officers as staffing adjustments continue.

“The Fairfax County Police Department is a top destination for anyone who wants to serve their community, and we will continue to get that message out while also exploring ways to maintain our regional competitiveness in compensation and job satisfaction,” he said. “Like with all municipalities during this pandemic era there is much work to be done, but our team–and especially our officers–are up to the task, and we are here to support them 100%.” Read More

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A lifeguard at The Water Mine in Reston (via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube)

A shortage of seasonal workers has the Fairfax County Park Authority straining to stay afloat at the time of year when many of its facilities — from swimming pools to the Scotts Run Nature Preserve — tend to be busiest.

The agency announced last week that the visitor center at Huntley Meadows Park in Hybla Valley will have reduced hours throughout August, citing difficulties in recruiting staff. While the park itself will remain open from dawn to dusk, the visitor center’s indoor exhibits and public restrooms are currently only available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Though that has been the most long-lasting impact, the capacity limitations have also forced facilities to close early or not open at all some days, and some programs have been curtailed “on occasion,” FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen said in a statement to FFXnow:

It has been a very difficult season for the Park Authority in terms of hiring seasonal employees. In large measure, a shortage of applicants and COVID-19 illnesses have made it hard to staff our facilities and programs. On occasion we have had to close facilities or curtail programs or classes due to staff shortages. Conversely, our staff has stepped up to fill those gaps, work extra shifts or manage the situation to avoid closures and cancellations. We continue to be challenged with a shortage of lifeguards both for indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities.

According to Pedersen, the park authority can have as many as 1,600 to 1,700 non-merit employees, meaning part-time, seasonal or temporary workers. The agency hires 600 to 700 workers for each summer season, which runs from May through September.

Though the park authority didn’t provide the specific number of vacancies it has, its webpage for summer hires lists 15 different kinds of available positions, from lifeguards and camp leaders to a Sully Historic Site maintenance assistant.

The park authority has offered $100 sign-up and retention bonuses to summer workers, along with free access to all of the county’s recreation centers throughout the season.

Pedersen says FCPA has also increased its salaries and made a concerted recruiting push through social media, virtual hiring fairs, and drive-up interviews.

Fairfax County isn’t alone in struggling to staff pools and other recreational facilities this summer. Reston Association closed two pools for multiple days last month, and looking nationally, more than half of the pools in Pennsylvania’s state parks are closed or have shortened hours.

The American Lifeguard Association estimated in June that insufficient staff would affect a third of pools in the country, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said a slowdown in temporary international workers has contributed to the labor shortage.

In Fairfax County, the park authority continues to adapt to the changing circumstances, seeking to provide the facilities and programming that residents expect without compromising safety or the quality of its services.

“It is a balancing act between the absolute need for safety to be paramount, and our desire to meet the recreational needs and desires of the public,” Pedersen said.

Screenshot via Fairfax County Park Authority/YouTube

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Morning Notes

I-66 construction in the Oakton area (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Two Face Drug Charges After Seven Corners Police Shooting — “Two men have been charged after an officer-involved shooting that occurred last night at approximately 10:45 p.m. in the 6100 block of Arlington Boulevard in Seven Corners…The officer involved in the shooting has been identified as an 11-year veteran assigned to the Street Crimes Unit.” [FCPD]

Local LGBTQ+ Student Group Speaks Out — Fairfax County’s Pride Liberation Project released a statement backed by more than 600 students criticizing a proposal from the state Department of Education that they fear will classify any references to LGBTQIA+ people and events as sexually explicit. The guidelines address a new law that requires parents to be notified when school materials include sexually explicit content. [The Washington Post]

Meet Reston Association’s New CEO — “On Thursday, July 28, the Reston Association board of directors voted unanimously to confirm Mac Cummins, AICP* as the next chief executive officer of the non-profit organization…Cummins sat for a Q&A with the Connection Newspapers on Friday, July 29.” [Connection Newspapers]

Police Chief Addresses Staffing Emergency — The Fairfax County Police Department declared a personnel emergency last week, requiring officers to work mandatory overtime to compensate for staff shortages. Chief Kevin Davis says the department’s 189 operational vacancies are exceptionally high, though 51 recruits currently in the academy will eventually join the force. [ABC7]

Back in Nature, Snake Found in Fairfax Is Healing — “K2C Wildlife Encounters, LLC, received a call on June 5 from a Fairfax resident who had a snake in their backyard that they wanted removed…The female, eastern ratsnake had a torn jugular vein, a hole in her trachea, a protruding eye, numerous lacerations, and broken ribs.” [Patch]

New FCPS Teachers Prepare for School Year — “Minutello and Edinborough are among the newest teachers in Virginia’s largest school system, and are starting at a time when staffing challenges are making headlines. The county had hundreds of vacancies at the end of the last school year, but 97% of staffing positions have been filled as of last week, Superintendent Michelle Reid said.” [WTOP]

Centreville’s Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Lot to Temporarily Close — “The parking lot and entrance for Cabell’s Mill will be closed from Aug. 8 through Oct. 7, 2022, for construction. Work related to the new Stewardship Education Center will include a larger parking lot that will include features and a design that will better control and filter water from rain and runoff from the adjacent neighborhood.” [FCPA]

State Sales Tax Holiday Starts Tomorrow — “The 3-day sales tax holiday starts the first Friday in August at 12:01 am and ends the following Sunday at 11:59 pm…During the sales tax holiday, you can buy qualifying school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, and Energy Star™ and WaterSense™ products without paying sales tax.” [Virginia Department of Taxation]

It’s Thursday — Humid throughout the day. High of 95 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:14 am and sunset at 8:18 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Why did the geese cross the park trail? (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Person Hospitalized After Vienna Shooting — “Officers are in the 8400 blk of Wesleyan St in Vienna for a shooting. Prelim info, a man shot a roommate inside the home. Victim taken to hospital w/non-life-threatening inj. Suspect is in custody.” [FCPD/Twitter]

Report: Police Declare Personnel Emergency — “Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and senior staff declared a personnel emergency Thursday, according to a police source, which means mandatory overtime for police officers as FCPD grapples with an ongoing police officer shortage.” [ABC7]

Affordable Housing Projects Get State Funds — Virginia has awarded more than $27 million in state loans for affordable and special needs housing projects, including two in Fairfax County, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced last week. The county’s recipients were the Autumn Willow project near Centreville and the One University project by George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. [Patch]

Argument Leads to Stabbing in Centreville — A 32-year-old woman from Falls Church stabbed another woman in the 5700 block of Ottawa Road last Tuesday (July 26) after they got into a dispute, Fairfax County police say. The woman was arrested and charged with malicious wounding. The victim received treatment for injuries not considered life threatening. [FCPD]

Herndon Education Company Plans Reston Move — “Stride Inc. will start the school year in drastically smaller space in a new building. The Herndon educational-technology company is slashing its local office space by more than 80% — moving out of approximately 129,000 feet of office space in Herndon and into 22,000 square feet in a new office it will officially open this fall in Reston’s Plaza America.” [Washington Business Journal]

Instagram Account Shows Maintenance Issues at McLean HS — “The bio for the account @mclean.rot on Instagram reads, ‘The best single word to define this school is ‘gross.” With 71 posts, the anonymous student owner of @mclean.rot has been posting an unvarnished look at McLean High School since February, detailing for all a need for serious maintenance.” [Fairfax County Times]

Chantilly Park Gets Grant to Monitor Water — “Fairfax Water recently awarded Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Friends a Water Supply and Protection Grant in the amount of $1,437 in support of ECLP’s water quality monitoring program…This grant will provide funding for on-site water quality monitoring to address potential pollution threats from nearby construction projects.” [FCPA]

Kings Park Neighborhood Gets Spotlight — “Aside from the people and neighborhood celebrations, the amenities and surrounding businesses have also compelled residents to stay in the area. Charlotte Hannagan, a resident since 2014 and Kings Park Civic Association vice president of social outreach, noted that there’s so much within walking distance of the neighborhood.” [The Washington Post]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 84 and low of 71. Sunrise at 6:11 am and sunset at 8:22 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office vehicle (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A program that enlists Fairfax County Adult Detention Center inmates for litter pick-up, landscaping and other maintenance services will be put on hold.

The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office told county leaders on June 16 that it will temporarily suspend its Community Labor Force (CLF) effective Sept. 12 “due to critically low staffing levels,” according to the sheriff’s office.

“By doing this, the agency will be able to redirect staff to the core functions,” Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Andrea Ceisler said.

The office is currently down 72 sworn positions, or 14.5% of its staff, according to Ceisler.

The agency reported in April that it had a vacancy rate of nearly 15%, despite additional recruiting efforts. The fiscal year 2023 budget that the Board of Supervisors approved in May included salary increases for sheriff’s office staff and other public safety workers, starting on July 1.

According to the sheriff’s office, the CLF provides public services that would otherwise require county staff or contractors:

The CLF services over 300 county bus stops, shelters and park-and-rides by collecting the trash, doing light landscaping, removing graffiti and performing general maintenance when needed. The crews service many of the county’s stormwater management facilities, including over 1,300 dry ponds that temporarily hold and filter water in neighborhoods and at businesses. They also do landscaping, litter pick-up and emergency snow removal on public lands.

The force consists of work crews of up to five “well-screened” incarcerated individuals, each overseen by a deputy. Participants can reduce their jail time by volunteering for the program, which currently has 11 inmates.

Alternatives Needed for Sign Removals

Due to the CLF’s impending halt, the county board directed staff yesterday (Tuesday) to review potential options for handling the affected services — specifically an effort to remove signs from street curbs, medians and other areas in the public right of way.

The county has relied on the CLF to remove thousands of signs from 100 designated roads under a July 1, 2013 agreement between the sheriff’s office, Board of Supervisors, the Department of Code Compliance and the Virginia Department of Transportation. In 2016 alone, the group collected 23,264 signs, according to the sheriff’s office.

“The number of signs in our right of way today compared to what we used to deal with has made a significant difference not only in visibility, but in public safety, certainly for the environment and litter clean-ups,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We cannot afford to have a gap, not even for one day in this service.” Read More

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Fairfax County Public Library will soon modify its hours due to staffing issues (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 1:50 p.m. on 7/20/2022) Fairfax County Public Library will trim back its hours, starting next month, due to challenges in hiring staff.

Starting on Aug. 14, the county library system’s eight regional branches will be open from 1-9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays.

The 14 community branches will operate from 1-9 p.m. on Monday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. Those branches don’t open on Sundays.

The Access Services branch at the Fairfax County Government Center will maintain its standard hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The adjustments will allow all branches to stay open seven days a week, since the new schedules require only one shift of workers, FCPL said in its announcement yesterday (Monday).

“The schedule modification is effective Aug. 14 because that gives staff time to adjust any staffing and programming schedules necessitated by the change,” FCPL spokesperson Erin Julius told FFXnow by email. “We also wanted to ensure we maintained higher service levels during summer hours when children are out of school.”

This is the second time so far this year that FCPL has adjusted operations in response to staffing issues. During the height of this past winter’s COVID-19 surge, the library system closed its branches for two days per week from January through March.

However, while that change had a clear end date of April 1, the latest adjustments will stay in effect indefinitely, according to the news release.

The staffing limitations have presented an obstacle to FCPL’s efforts to establish a new sense of normalcy in response to the pandemic. With its return to full in-person services in June 2021, the library system introduced newly expanded, more consistent hours — a longtime goal of advocates.

Fairfax County isn’t alone in struggling to attract and retain library workers. Libraries across the country have seen employees step away over the past two years, citing issues from burnout and inadequate compensation to public safety concerns and low morale partly related to an uptick in increasingly hostile book ban campaigns.

“Like many industries, public libraries are facing recruitment challenges that stem from some employees choosing to leave the workforce early, some reassessing their interest in direct public service work and competition in the DMV region,” Julius said.

According to Julius, staffing levels have varied on a daily basis, but FCPL has been averaging a vacancy rate of 18 to 20%.

The county’s budget for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, funds 390 positions, including about 374 full-time staff.

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Signs on Maple Avenue advertising Vienna’s 2021 Fourth of July celebration (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna’s Independence Day celebration will arrive a little early this year.

A staff shortage at the company that provides fireworks for the annual Fourth of July festivities led Vienna to reschedule the event for July 1 to avoid having to cancel it altogether, the town announced late Friday (June 3).

“As much as we were looking forward to celebrating on the 4th of July, the company that provides the fireworks show explained that a shortage of licensed pyrotechnic staff made it impossible to meet the demand for that day, and the company had to cancel multiple contracts, including ours,” Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman said in the news release. “Rather than cancel the event altogether, we worked with the company to find an alternate date, and fortunately the U.S. Navy Concert Band was able to reschedule, too.”

The celebration will take place at Yeonas Park (1319 Ross Drive) as usual, with live music starting at 8 p.m. and a 20-minute fireworks display kicking off at 9:30 p.m. from Southside Park (1317 Ross Drive SW).

The Vienna Little League will open its concession stand, and the town encourages attendees to bring blankets and lawn chairs, though the latter won’t be allowed on the baseball fields. Alcohol, glass containers, sparklers, and dogs will be prohibited.

Parking will be available at Thoreau Middle School and Cedar Park Shopping Center, with spaces for people with disabilities on Patrick Street and Patrick Circle, according to the town’s website.

There will be closures on Patrick and George streets as well as Ross Drive from 7 to 11 p.m.

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Fairfax County’s work release program has been shuttered since March 2020 due to the pandemic. But when the transitional program restarts, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office is unsure how it will be able to manage it.

Faced with an uncharacteristically high vacancy rate of 11.4%, the sheriff’s office says it’s changing how it operates to make basic functions possible. The office is tasked with operating the detention center, providing security for the courthouse and courtrooms, and serving the civil law process.

“Whenever the health department recommends that we can safely restart work release, we need to evaluate if we have sufficient staff to actually restart it,” said Andrea Ceisler, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

To manage, the office has redeployed staff from other areas to the Adult Detention Center and eliminated assignments to specialized units like the fugitive task force and gang unit. Hiring is ongoing, but the number of applications has dipped.

“Even with mandatory overtime, our squads are short-staffed,” Ceisler said. She says the office is also turning down new requests to take part in programs by community groups and schools.

The order to shut down the work release program — which allows some inmates to work and take part in community programs as they transition out of incarceration — came from the Fairfax County Health Department. It’s unclear when it will restart, but the decision will be guided by when community transmission levels are reduced from substantial to moderate or low.

Over the last three years, the number of inmates enrolled in the county’s work-release program has decreased significantly.

In 2017, 112 inmates were enrolled and 44 successfully completed the remainder of their sentence while in the program. In 2019, just 48 inmates were enrolled, though 32 completed the remainder of their sentence.

Over the last 10 years, the need for more staff has also grown — particularly at the detention center.

Cell blocks that can house 20 inmates typically hold 10 inmates, a configuration that dramatically reduces the number of fights and encourages more compliance with rules. An increase in training — including crisis intervention and mental health first aid — also takes off staff from their line of work.

“Should the pandemic end, we will have to evaluate staffing in the Alternative Incarceration Branch where the staff-to-inmate ratio is much smaller for programs such as Work Release, the Community Labor Force and STAR, our addiction treatment and recovery program,” Ceisler said. “For the safety and security of our staff, inmates and the people who live and work in the county, sufficient staffing in the Adult Detention Center must remain a top priority.”

Public safety and law enforcement departments have reported high vacancy rates nationally. Staffing has declined for the past eight years, with 86% of departments across the country reporting a shortage last year.

Major Tamara Gold, the sheriff’s office assistant chief, told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last month that the problem is expected to intensify in the coming months.

The office’s staff are paid between 2.5 and 7.5% less than equivalent positions in the Fairfax County Police Department. Many staff has left the office for employment with FCPD, which is grappling with its own staff shortage.

The sheriff’s office did resume its community labor force program earlier this year, where inmates work outdoors in crews of five under the supervision of an armed deputy sheriff. Crews complete landscaping, emergency snow removal, litter pick up, and other tasks.

Photo via Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

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