With winter on the horizon, Fairfax County is still racing to suck up the last leafy vestiges of autumn.
Specifically, the county’s crews have yet to pick up leaves in McLean and Idylwood, as a combination of staffing shortages, equipment issues and an early leaf fall have delayed collections, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services acknowledged yesterday.
The county will deploy multiple trucks and has hired an additional contractor to collect leaves in both areas on Monday (Dec. 19), a deviation from its typical approach of serving each of its nine collection areas separately.
“By dividing resources, it will take additional time to complete each area,” DPWES said. “Service in both remaining areas will begin concurrently. Vacuum collection staff have been working 10-hour shifts and most Saturdays and will continue to do so.”
About 25,000 residents receive leaf collection services from the county, all of them concentrated on the east side, especially the Mason District. Pickups have been completed in areas three through nine.
Public works services nationwide have been affected by a depletion of truck drivers and other essential employees. Fairfax County had to make some tweaks to its yard waste collections last fall due to a shortage of haulers, and trash pickups continue to be a struggle.
DPWES says it doesn’t have “a mechanism in place” allowing residents to get their leaf collection taxes refunded, but they can opt out of county services by petitioning the Board of Supervisors to “de-create” their vacuum leaf district.
According to the county website, the petition process to create or expand sanitary districts reopened on Dec. 1, but with DPWES apparently at full staff and equipment capacity, the department plans to use private contractors for any additional service areas.
Firefighters, medics and other Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department employees will have a union represent them in the county’s first collective bargaining negotiations for public workers in over 40 years.
Over 800 FCFRD workers participated in a 13-day election last month to determine whether to have union representation for contract talks with the county government, which will establish pay, benefits and other working conditions.
The only union in contention, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2068 won with a decisive 797 votes, or 95.2%. The only other option on the ballot was to have no representation, which received 40 votes, the union announced Friday (Nov. 18).
With 1,533 members, Local 2068 represents firefighters, fire marshals, mechanics, medics and emergency dispatchers employed by Fairfax County. 837 eligible voters — 54.6% — cast a ballot in the election from Oct. 12-31.
“This is a monumental day for the members of our department,” IAFF 2068 President Robert Young said in a news release. “But it’s also a monumental day for all Fairfax County employees, and all of the residents of our community. We’ve shown that when Fairfax County workers come together…we have the power to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives and the lives of the communities we serve.”
Last week our Election for Bargaining Representation was officially certified – Local 2068 won with over 95% of the vote (!!!)
— Fairfax Firefighters (@IAFF2068) November 20, 2022
After Virginia ended a 44-year ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers in May 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance on Oct. 19, 2021 granting employees the right to organize, elect union representatives and participate in union activities.
Under the ordinance, the county will recognize separate bargaining units for the fire department, police and other county workers. Elections haven’t been held yet for the police and general government units.
With negotiations expected to begin in early 2023, Local 2068 says one priority will be addressing the staffing shortages that have affected the fire department and other county agencies, from police to the park authority and public library system.
Local 2068 says first responders have been forced to work mandatory overtime, adding 12 to 24 hours on top of their standard 24-hour shift “sometimes with little to no notice.” The union says its members have performed over 80,000 hours of “holdovers” — equal to 3,333 24-hour days.
“Having members work such excessive mandatory overtime isn’t just bad for their health, but it’s a potential hazard for the community members we serve,” Young said. “We look forward to addressing this issue at the bargaining table.”
Collective bargaining negotiations will last up to November 2023. A resulting agreement won’t take effect until July 1, 2024, when the county’s fiscal year 2025 begins.
Some issues could be addressed earlier as part of the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget process, which will begin in earnest when County Executive Bryan Hill presents his proposed plan on Feb. 21.
Young said Local 2068 will advocate for merit and cost of living pay increases as well as funding for automated ambulance loaders — stretchers where the legs automatically fold up as the device is rolled into a vehicle.
“We’re the only jurisdiction in the region that doesn’t have access to these tools, tools that not only help prevent members from being injured, but also help us deliver faster and safer service to the community,” Young said.
The Town of Herndon hasn’t missed a single trash day during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite grappling with the same labor and supply issues as other jurisdictions.
Town Manager Bill Ashton admitted to the town council on Sept. 27 that he typically wouldn’t highlight uninterrupted trash service “as a badge of honor” in the town’s annual report for fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year.
However, with both larger localities and private collectors struggling with pickups over the past couple of years, Herndon sees its seamless trash and recycling service to 5,200 households and over 150 public sites as a genuine accomplishment.
“Our ability to get [commercially licensed drivers] behind the wheels of our trash trucks was a very difficult task this year,” Ashton said. “I will applaud [Director of Public Works] Scott Robinson and [Deputy Director] Tammy Chastain and the team for really taking a look at our organization and moving resources where they needed to be…to make sure this happened, and we didn’t miss a single day of trash throughout the pandemic and even through to today.”
From similarly uninterrupted water and sewer services to the police department closing 207 of 263 new criminal investigations, everything that the town did over the past year was accomplished with staffing levels around 85%, according to Ashton.
That figure doesn’t account for employees taking leave, including the “four to five people we had out on Covid almost every week,” he told the council.
Reflecting national labor challenges, Herndon saw record employee turnover due to both resignations and retirements in FY 2022, according to the annual report.
“Eleven employees retired in FY 2022, a higher pace than recent years and — due largely to pandemic-caused pressures — consistent with national measures,” the report says. “Total turnover of regular status employees increased by 53 percent in FY 2022.”
The town did manage to hire 141 employees, a 59% increase from the previous fiscal year and a number consistent with pre-pandemic levels. But it now takes three to six months to hire for a new position that once would’ve taken half that time, even with the addition of a human resources staffer dedicated to recruiting, Ashton said.
In some cases, staff compensated for the shortage of personnel by adapting services and programming, as was the case with the annual Herndon Festival’s downsizing into a carnival. A shortage of volunteer support and difficulties booking entertainers also contributed to the decision to modify the festival.
“Attendance was not as robust as in previous years, when a full festival was held, but it affirmed the community was willing to support a modified and, in this case, a lesser event,” Ashton said.
Council members praised staff for their work and willingness to reevaluate and improve how the town operates. The parks and recreation department, for instance, changed its quarterly events guide to one produced in-house every two months, allowing staff more flexibility while giving the community more up-to-date information.
“Staff had a difficult time providing this community with the quality levels of services they expect, but through resilience, agility, and creativity, we met our missions,” Ashton said.
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
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
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
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]
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]
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
(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.”
#Fairfax: As of Aug. 14, FCPL branches will have modified hours due to staff recruitment challenges. Adjusted hours: Regional branches: Mon & Tues: 1-9 pm. Wed thru Sun: 10 am-6 pm. Community branches: Mon: 1-9 pm. Tues thru Sat: 10 am-6 pm. More info: https://t.co/k8YmKDgOPz pic.twitter.com/G14Pe6jkHm
— Fairfax Library (@fairfaxlibrary) July 18, 2022
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.