Fairfax and Arlington counties currently are in the process of preparing budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. This week, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors tentatively approved a $442.1 million budget and is expected to take final action on Monday. Arlington County is considering a much smaller budget proposal, $173.5 million, and is expected to adopt a final budget next Tuesday.

In this issue, staff writers Kerry Dougherty and Denis Collins look at a department in each of the two counties -- the women's shelter in Fairfax and the fire department in Arlington -- to see what effect the two budget plans will have on their services.

The most publicized products of a troubled economy are soaring interest rates and unemployment. But workers at the Fairfax County Women's Shelter measure economic changes in more human terms.

As the economy continues its downswing, they say, the evidence of the stress it is causing for the average Virginia family can be seen in the increasing number of battered women and abused children.

Last October, when interest rates climbed nearly 4 percentage points in as many weeks, the shelter -- which provides asylum for abused women and their children -- was filled to capacity and forced to turn away clients at record rate.

As interest rates began soaring again last month, shelter employes noticed a parallel increase in the number of women asking the shelter to help them escape the violence at home.

"At any time, economics will play a part in the stress which leads to domestic violence," says Barbara Maniha, of the Northwest Mental Health Center in Reston. "But when there is widespread unemployment and things get really bad it seems to play a bigger role."

Not only is the shelter continually filled, as it was again this week, but workers say the type of violence women face is getting worse.

"We're seeing an increase in the severity of the violence," says Wendy Reges, director of the shelter. "Every single person we have now came out of an extremely violent situation. One man climbed three fire escapes to get at his wife."

In a incident last week, a county employe had to threaten the husband with a can of mace to escort a woman from her home, workers said.

Meanwhile, workers at the shelter say they face another painful side effect of a depressed economy -- cuts in the county budget, especially "frills" like social service programs.

While shelter employes say they cannot prove the economy was responsible for the increase in beatings, they fear the loss of funds at this time might be catastrophic.

"We tried to think about anything that was going on last October to account for such an increase, and the only thing we could come up with was the economy," says Reges.

In the proposed county budget for fiscal 1981 which begins July 1, the shelter would receive $69,758, or $4,538 less than the current budget of $74,296, and $36,156 less than the original budget request of $105,914.

According to Reges, the proposed figure of $69,758 would not be enough to keep the program alive through the end of next year.

The county is the shelter's primary source of funding, although last year the Fairfax County-Falls Church Community Services Board, which oversees several programs including the women's shelter, was able to move some funds from other areas to keep the shelter going. Service board officials say this transfer will not be possible in 1981 because of fiscal constraints.

The shelter also receives small donations from a local Episcopal Church.

"The (county) funding is essential," Reges says. "If we don't get the additional (money) we need, we can't carry the program through the fourth quarter."

Bob Wakefield, budget director for the Community Services Board, says an additional $23,383 has been requested for the shelter.

(At a meeting earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors tentatively approved a county budget of $442.1 million. That tentative document, which the board is to consider for final adoption Monday, includes $93,141 for the women's shelter -- the proposed $69,758 and the addition $23,383 request).

Located at an undisclosed address in Fairfax County, the shelter is made up of two apartments, which can accommodate 10 people at a time. The refuge is open to any woman in the county who believes she is in danger and has no safe place to go.

Women are sent to the shelter after they call a special hotline and ask for asylum or after referral by police officers who have been called to the scene of domestic violence.

Women and their children are allowed to stay at the shelter for two weeks, although hardship cases often stay longer. During that time the women talk to counselors, receive medical attention and "have a chance to be alone and think things through."

Reges said the original budget request still would have left the shelter without enough money for expansion of the program next year.

Salaries, for the five full-time and one part-time employe range from under $12,000 to about $17,000 -- not much for mental health workers, according to Maniha.