PHOTO: Replacing water lines

In this 2016 photo, construction workers replace water lines on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg as part of a $2.4 million infrastructure upgrade.

As Fredericksburg has grown in population, it has increased its recreational and entertainment opportunities. It was recently recognized as having the best quality of life for a city of its size in Virginia.

However, providing such a high quality of life goes beyond the amenities themselves. Just as important are the services that allow residents to enjoy them, such as maintaining parks and trails, producing clean water, picking up trash, and providing for public health and safety.

Maintaining the level of service to match the city’s growth has its challenges. The Fire Department is just one example.

As recently reported in The Free Lance–Star, maintaining competitive salaries to ensure public safety is becoming more of a challenge. And the small size of the department limits the chances for staff advancement. The salary issue and compensation for advanced training are currently being reviewed by city staff.

The current budget gives teachers a 5 percent raise while other city employees received a 2.5 per cent cost-of-living adjustment. Competitive salaries are necessary to attract and maintain a quality workforce. At one time, the city had to ask the adjoining localities to stop hiring away our city Fire Department personnel, as it was beginning to negatively impact our level of fire service.

The downtown fire station was not built to handle the number of personnel currently stationed there and needs to be upgraded. Meanwhile, Station No. 2, which is located along State Route 3, has had structural issues since it was built.

Plans are now being discussed to deal with some of these deficiencies. Also, to keep up with the current level of growth, the city is planning to either build a third station or possibly combine two stations at a more centralized location.

The city has mutual aid agreements with the surrounding counties. These agreements are in place to ensure that any eventuality can be dealt with in the city. More direct communications between dispatch centers would reduce response times. But this will involve not only possible procedural changes, but also upgrades in equipment.

The city’s Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating is becoming a concern because of the impact of growth. The ISO rating indicates how well-protected your community is by the Fire Department. It is used by insurance carriers to determine coverage rates. A reduction in the rating would result in increased insurance costs for residents and businesses.

City residents can expect a high level of service and professionalism from the Fire Department as well as other city departments. But issues like these will have to be dealt with as the city continues to grow.

As it relates to the Fire Department, planning is already underway and will involve additional investment in capital and personnel. Similar investments will be needed in other areas, such as water/sewer and waste management, as well.

The city is working on a master plan for future recreational improvements. It is also beginning a process to address school capacity needs and partnering with the School Board to enhance employment opportunities for all students through a comprehensive workforce development program.

These are all worthwhile goals. But as we embark on these efforts, we must also consider those services we sometimes take for granted, but are essential to the health and safety of all city residents.

Growth will continue to impact city services and has reached a point where additional investment in capital and personnel are needed. As we set priorities, city services need to be part of that discussion.

City services do not come with constituencies or have ribbon-cutting moments. But they are just as important as the amenities we enjoy. City employees in all departments deserve our thanks and support to insure that our level of service continues to keep pace with our level of growth.

Matt Kelly is an at-large member of the Fredericksburg City Council.

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