By Callie Hietala and Taylor Boyd
The Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to temporarily fund raises of $2 per hour for the county’s law enforcement officers and public safety personnel, from January 1-June 30, 2022.
The pay increase will be in the form of per-hour hazardous duty bonus, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The supplements will increase deputy pay by $4,160 annually.
This solution will allow the county to increase compensation for emergency services and law enforcement without taking money from the fund balance, while giving the board time to consider an ongoing escalation of compensation in the upcoming budget year.
Should they elect to do so, it will come with a price tag of just over $1,170,000 which County Administrator Tim Hall said would be the equivalent of a 3.9 cent real estate tax increase to county residents.
ARPA funds cannot be used for a sustained pay raise.
At a meeting last month, Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry requested a 10 percent raise for sworn officers with two or more years of service, with a $5,000 cap, and an increase in the starting salary for new deputies.
His requests came on the heels of double-digit staff losses suffered by the department which, Perry said, was due in large part to deputies taking higher paying positions either in the private sector or in neighboring localities.
With the approved pay hike, the starting salary for a deputy in Henry County will be $43,160, which is higher than most surrounding localities (Danville-$34,375; Martinsville Police Department-$37,581; Pittsylvania County-$38,040; Patrick County-$38,890; Franklin County-$39,900; Roanoke-$42,000; and Danville Police Department-$45,330).
“Our men and women do a tremendous job,” Perry told the board, adding later that his department was grateful for their action.
The supervisors also heard from County Attorney George Lyle and attorney Jeremy Carroll, who is representing the county on the issue of reversion. The two provided an update on the process, including the findings of the Commission on Local Government (CLG) and its recommendations on the Voluntary Settlement Agreement (VSA) as well as fielding questions about possible paths forward.
Both localities are required to hold another public hearing on the topic and then vote to approve or reject an ordinance to adopt the agreement.
Carroll said if the board did not approve the ordinance, city and county would fall back to litigating the issue and would lose the benefit of their negotiated agreements, including the 10-year annexation moratorium and revenue sharing agreement.
“In the end,” he said, “reversion will still occur.”
Lyle cautioned against refusing to approve the agreement, particularly because, without it, Martinsville could potentially begin annexing territory as soon as two years after it becomes a town rather than the currently-negotiated 10.
“We will be better prepared to fight annexation in 10 years than in 2 years,” he said.
Later, the board approved the county’s legislative agenda for 2022, which includes several measures to mitigate the financial impact of reversion on the county, such as a one-time funding request of $4 million “for capital improvements to the courthouse to accommodate more courtrooms, larger clerk’s offices and additional judge’s chambers.”
The county also will seek an additional $1 million to help with other one-time capital improvements to county facilities, and request that the state funding reimbursement available for the construction of a new jail be made available for capital improvements, double bunking, “and other renovations necessitated by the housing of the former city’s inmates.”
The supervisors voted hold the county’s public hearing on reversion during their 6 p.m. meeting on November 23.
In other matters, the board:
* Heard from County Treasurer Scott Grindstaff who reported that as of September 30, the county has collected 94.6 percent of person property taxes and 95.86 percent of real estate taxes.
*Heard an update from Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
*Designated Reed Creek District Supervisor Tommy Slaughter as voting representative for the 2021 Virginia Association of Counties Annual Meeting. Hall will serve as the alternate.
* Approved an additional appropriation of $235,061 to the Henry County Public Schools’ nutrition budget for the fresh fruit and vegetable program for the elementary schools.
*Voted 2-3 against a motion made by Iriswood District Supervisor David Martin, and seconded by Ryan Zehr, of the Ridgeway District, to provide a $2,000 hazard duty stipend for employees of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and the General District Court.
Later in the meeting, Juvenile Court employee Anita Gravely questioned the decision.
“I wish each of you could spend one day in the Henry County Juvenile Court. It is a tiresome, it is a gruesome and thankless job. We left the meeting earlier today in shock. We felt worthless, we felt dejected, and as if no one cared,” she said.
*Heard from Lisa Price-Hughes, resident engineer of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), about local highway projects.
*Approved a right-of-way transfer to facilitate the addition of DuPont Road into the VDOT secondary road system.
*Approved the rezoning application R-20-07 for JRS Realty Partners, LLC.
*Heard from Eric Phillips, of Iriswood, who thanked the board for its urgency in funding pay raises for law enforcement. Phillips said he did not mean to imply that the board did not support public safety at the last supervisors meeting.
*Heard from Andrew Palmer, of Collinsville, who echoed similar sentiments. Palmer also apologized to the board if any of his comments during the last supervisors meeting were offensive.