Manassas Park is turning money from its red light and speed cameras into stipends for police and fire workers in hopes of convincing more emergency workers to stay in the city.
On Tuesday, the Manassas Park City Council approved $393,000 for a new program that will reward police and fire department employees for having various professional credentials. Ranging from $500 to $4,500, the stipends will be paid for attributes such as educational attainment, specialty positions, professional certifications, military service, bilingualism and longevity.
The funding will come from the city’s traffic cameras – a speeding camera on Euclid Avenue near Manassas Park Middle School and three red-light cameras along Centreville Road – which have together generated about $800,000 in revenue in seven months of operation.
The city’s hope is that the stipends will make police and fire jobs in Manassas Park more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions, many of which already offer similar stipends and all of which pay better on average than Manassas Park’s departments.
According to a staff report on the resolution, which the City Council unanimously approved Tuesday, the Manassas Park Police Department has lost 20 employees – 13 officers and seven communications specialists – over the last two years, a 42% attrition rate.
And although the fire department has lost only four employees – three paramedics and a firefighter – over the same period, “this greatly impacts emergency services provided to the city and will assist us with keeping up with what other fire departments are doing in the region in terms of incentives,” the staff report reads.
Salaries in both departments will rise this year, thanks largely to federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, but City Manager Laszlo Palko told InsideNoVa that the two departments have been battling understaffing for years, with pay still lagging behind nearby localities. Right now, the fire department is nearly at full staffing, but the city still has fewer police officers than budgeted.
“We have lost a lot more officers; we want to be a little bit more competitive with retention. But again, this always changes. Just a couple years ago in the fire department, we were bleeding staff and really struggling with operations,” Palko said. “So we’re trying to be aggressive across the board, with pay raises to try to keep and retain all of our employees.”
On Tuesday, Palko told the council he recommended keeping traffic camera revenues internal to the city’s public safety operations.
“We feel this is a good investment for public safety because it helps us retain our employees so that we have fully staffed police and fire departments to be able to respond to our residents’ public safety needs,” he said.