Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, on- and off-duty deputies, plain clothes investigators and residents implored the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to increase pay and create step raises to help retention efforts.
Among those addressing the board was Jeff Hatcher, a criminal investigator who has been with the sheriff’s office for eight years. He said he looked at starting pay for new hires and officers with experience in surrounding jurisdictions and found that the county paid less than those other jurisdictions.
“So, then I asked myself, maybe we’re just not worth the extra money, right,” he said, and so he compared the workload of county officers to that of their counterparts in other localities.
He found that Henry County deputies respond to twice as many calls for service as the Martinsville Police Department and answer nearly twice as many violent calls for service, as well as conducting more traffic stops, but are paid less than city law enforcement. Additionally, Henry County was second only to Franklin County in terms of arrests made for serious offenses.
Hatcher then held up a photo of a School Resource Officer (SRO) with blood streaming down her face. He identified her as Deputy Ross, who was injured while trying to get mental health help for a suicidal teenage girl.
“By show of hands, how many of you have had to fight a suspect,” he asked, turning to the officers gathered in the room. Nearly every hand went up.
“How many of you have been hit by a suspect,” he asked, and again, almost every hand was raised.
“How many of you have been in a high-risk chase? Apprehended armed felons,” the hands remained raised.
“You need to address the board,” chairman Jim Adams admonished.
“My point, sir, is that I know what safety in the community is worth to the deputies,” Hatcher said. “I know what it’s worth to me. I know the sacrifices they make. I’d just like to know what it’s worth to the board.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Wayne Davis, who lives in the Horsepasture District, said officers appreciated a raise the board approved in January, “but since then, the General Assembly has proposed an across-the-board salary increase for all sheriffs and deputy sheriffs in this commonwealth. The proposed raises are 5-percent by the Senate and 4-percent by the House, with 1-percent bonuses.
“There are over 8,000 deputy sheriffs across this Commonwealth. It wouldn’t reflect well, and it would be quite a shame, to see the 197 deputies from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office be the only ones who didn’t receive this if it’s granted by the General Assembly.”
Davis listed specific dates on which he sent emails to the board concerning salary issues, the earliest being Sept. 24 of last year and the most recent May 23 of this year. “I have yet to receive any response,” he said.
“I’m not just a deputy sheriff, I’m also a constituent of your district, and a citizen of Henry County and you need to pay these people accordingly,” he said.
Perry underscored the need for pay increases during the meeting, and recalled the issue dated back to Oct. 2021.
Before the board’s Oct. 26 meeting, Perry “brought a letter” which concluded by asking for a raise for officers. “I was told I had nothing further to discuss and I could leave. That’s how I was treated.”
Perry acknowledged that person came to him a short time later to apologize, saying he did not deserve such treatment.
“I called each one of you, other than Mr. Dillard, a week before that meeting and expressed my concerns. Then we had that meeting. Step raises were mentioned in that meeting, and they were also mentioned by Dr. (David) Martin (then the Iriswood supervisor). A pay study was voted on.”
Perry said he was thankful for the $2 per hour raise as well as the new Adult Detention Center “that you supported and built.”
However, with no step system in place, an employee who has been with the department two years (and who is getting ready to leave for a higher-paying position) is only making about $250 more per year than his initial starting pay, Perry said.
“This is what I’m asking for help on. Something structured. Something that, when a person comes here and joins our office to serve our community, there are some points down the road” they can be financially rewarded as they reach certain milestones. “That’s all I’m asking for,” Perry said.
Outside of the meeting, Perry said, “two things have hit the sheriff’s office.”
The first, he said, was a cut in the number of locally-funded positions within the office. When budget talks began, the county wanted to cut 18 positions from his office, but ultimately agreed to reduce that number to six positions—five sworn and one non-sworn.
The loss of staff, he said, impacts the services his office is able to offer residents.
The second issue is pay. In Oct. 2021, the board approved a $2 per hour pay increase for the county’s law enforcement officers and public safety personnel beginning in 2022. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were used for the initial increase, but the cost now is maintained in the FY23 budget.
The county’s proposed 6-percent pay increase for county employees for the upcoming fiscal year does not extend to his deputies, Perry said, and added a proposed raise for deputies is expected to be included in the state budget when it is passed.
When the state hands down the raise intended for deputies, “they (the county) are going to absorb it into the general fund revenue,” Perry said.
In essence, what could have amounted to an 11 percent additional pay increase for the county’s law enforcement (with the state and county combined) is “about a wash” for his deputies who “won’t get anything coming from the state” and will not get an additional 6-percent from the county, Perry said.
Brandon Martin, the county’s Public Information Officer, said “if the perception is that officers would receive 5% from the Commonwealth AND 6% from the county, that is a misperception. That theory was never on the table, never discussed with any sheriff’s office representatives during our budget work, and never intended to be the case.”
Further exacerbating the issue is the ongoing lack of a pay study, which was approved by the supervisors last year. “It’s not being worked on,” Perry said.
During the meeting, both Garrett Dillard, of the Iriswood District, and Debra Buchanan of the Horsepasture District, said questions had been brought to them regarding the raises.
Buchanan said she was reminded that previous conversations had broached the idea of step pay for the sheriff’s office.
“I don’t recall any request to talk about step raises,” County Administrator Tim Hall said. “If there had been, I missed it. We certainly meet with sheriff’s office personnel. We would never refuse to meet with anyone regarding budget numbers. I don’t recall being asked, at least within the last 12- to 24-months. We’ve never said no to anybody that’s asked to meet with us.”
If step raises are the desire of a department, Hall said county staff would “certainly be happy to talk to them. I’m not sure that will impact the next fiscal year because we’re right up against the deadline, but going forward if there’s a desire to have that conversation, absolutely.”
Perry vehemently denied Hall’s assertion.
“I can say that is completely false,” he said after the meeting. “They absolutely refused to listen.” Perry said he asked to be put on the agenda, but “no one would talk to me. I asked to talk.”
The sheriff said he called each supervisor before the meeting to let them know his officers were upset and would like the supervisors to reconsider their position, but “they had their heads down and bulldozed right on through it.”
He said there is currently no mechanism in place, such as a step raise, to monetarily reward deputies and unsworn staff for years of service. “There is nothing.”
Instead, Perry said, his office has been using turnover money to provide some increases itself. Turnover funds, he explained, are funds that are freed up after a longtime employee earning a higher salary leaves or retires.
“Let’s just say a person retires making $60,000. A base position is $43,000, so in essence there’s $17,000 that’s created by their retirement,” Perry explained. His office uses those funds internally to give raises to those who have reached certain benchmarks of services.
“That’s the only reason the deputies have any increase,” he said. “There is no step increase.”
However, it seems that even Perry’s ability to use turnover funds has been stymied.
In the past, Hall said, the sheriff, in conversation with county staff, has been allowed to take turnover funds and move it around within the budget. This past year, Hall said, the county administration asked for that trend to be put on hold due to budgetary concerns.
Hall reminded the board that this year’s budget process began with the county being $13 million in the hole, and the change in the handling of vacancy pay was done “because we didn’t know where $13 million was going to come from.”
“We have always stayed within our budget,” Perry later said of the funds. “We’ve basically had free reign before, we’ve never done anything extravagant, but a good number of the men and women here would not even be anywhere near where they’re at if we were not freely allowed to use the turnover money,” Perry said, and asked that his office continue to have the same freedom with regard to the use of those funds.
Hall speculated that the cost of a salary study would be between $200,000 and $300,000, a figure which was not included in the budget. “We try not to put things in the budget unless we know we’re going to spend them,” he explained.
In total, six people spoke in support of the deputies during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Mary Martin, of Ridgeway, said she would be happy to pay increased taxes to properly fund law enforcement, particularly SROs.
She noted that her comments were made hours after a shooting at a Texas school left teachers and students dead.
“This is not the time to be fudging on paying your school resource officers. In my opinion, their job is more important than any of yours and anybody to my left,” Martin said, referring to county administration.
“I know there were some budget issues so that the School Resource Officers got left out of the county money and the state money,” she said.
Ray Reynolds said his girlfriend’s home was broken into 6-weeks ago and no culprit has been apprehended. Additionally, a friend had his lawnmower stolen recently and filed his report over the phone because an officer was not available to take the report on-site.
“I came here because my taxes increased,” Reynolds said. “If my taxes increase, I want the most for my money, and I don’t think you all have done a good job for the last year,” he told the board.
Eric Phillips said he understood the county only had a limited amount of money in the budget and many entities asking for funding. However, “there has to be a preeminent priority on public safety. It doesn’t matter about all the other stuff if you don’t feel safe leaving your house or you can’t get a response.”
He suggested additional revenues could be realized without raising taxes by “getting (real estate) assessments right” which he said are currently “woefully, ridiculously low” in the county.
Hall said the comments about school resource officers not getting pay raises came as a surprise. “We are completely unaware of that,” he said. “As far as we know, everybody’s getting a raise of at least 6-percent.”
Vice-Chairman Joe Bryant, of the Collinsville District, said the board had a public hearing on the budget recently.
“Why is it that the sheriff’s department waited until the last minute of the next day before a board meeting to come up with this? Why wasn’t it brought up during the public hearing like it should have been?”
According to information provided by Martin, the average salary in the sheriff’s office in FY22 was $44,717 “before the staff were given over 6% raises in March 2022. These individuals were treated as getting their raises in advance.”
The average salary for FY23, as currently budgeted, will be $49,433 according to the document, which also stated the county’s current starting salary of $39,000 will increase to $43,160 effective July 1.
If supervisors wish to give officers a 5 percent raise, a tax increase would be needed. A penny increase in the real estate tax would generate $309,190. An increase of 2.15 cents would be needed to fund the 5-percent raise, which totals $664,420.