Your March 11 front-page story describing "lavish" pay raises for Fairfax County police officers and firefighters was misleading, inaccurate and incomplete. Your reporter writes that police and firefighters "would see pay rise more than 7 percent." This is not true. The county executive has budgeted for all police officers and firefighters to receive a 2.56 percent increase in pay in next year's budget. The Board of Supervisors must approve that before it becomes a reality. A 2.56 percent raise, not 7 percent. Many civilian employees of the police and fire departments will see the top end of their pay scale increased by 2.56 percent, but they will not receive any automatic adjustment in their pay.

The police department operates under a merit pay increment system. Police officers who perform at an acceptable level are entitled to a 5 percent merit increase every year for the first eight years of their career. After eight years, the merit increments are staggered and less frequent. Because of this system, police officers are eligible to receive a maximum of 11 merit pay adjustments in their lifetime of employment, generally 25 years. In reality, fewer than half (46.5 percent) of all the police officers will receive a merit increment in fiscal 2004. For the record, a merit increment is part of the performance management process and is not considered a pay raise. You must earn it through your work performance.

For the 46 percent of our employees who are eligible for a merit increment, their compensation may increase more than 7 percent during the course of the year.

But the majority of police employees in Fairfax County can expect an increase in pay of anywhere from zero to 2.56 percent. At a time when the challenges of keeping our community safe have never been greater, this small increase in compensation for public safety employees is shameful. The manner in which it was presented in your article is shameful as well.

-- J. Thomas Manger

The writer is chief of the Fairfax County Police Department.

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The March 11 article on county pay raises states that the Montgomery County budget proposes a pay boost of 7 percent for most workers and more than 8 percent for firefighters.

I am a police officer in Montgomery County. During our Fraternal Order of Police contract negotiations we asked for a reasonable, 31/2 percent pay increase. The county thought this was too much, went to arbitration and finally gave us a 2 percent raise. This is hardly enough to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of housing in the metro area. Meanwhile, Chief Charles Moose got a whopping 8.68 percent raise. I guess all his work in the sniper case necessitated that he receive more pay. But I am still wondering who got the 7 percent raise.

You quoted Montgomery County Council Vice President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) as saying, "We have to make sure we're competitive." The pay of Montgomery County police officers has not been competitive with that of officers in other local jurisdictions in years. If members of the County Council want Montgomery to be competitive, they need to show us the money.

-- Mark C. Miller