By Callie Hietala
The Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion to open talks between county staff and the Henry County Sheriff’s Department about pay hikes for law enforcement staff.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry requested the board increase starting salaries to $42,000, and a 10 percent raise for employees with more than two years of service, with a $5,000 cap. The move would, he hopes, increase staff retention.
Perry said the request does not include raises for himself, the department’s lieutenant colonel, or the major.
The county’s current pay rate affects his ability to retain officers, Perry said, and added the department lost 16 staff members in the past eight to 10 weeks.
“There isn’t a part of our office that isn’t affected” by the loss in staffing. He added that most of the departing staff cited pay as a reason for accepting other jobs. While several went to other county or city agencies, others chose to accept jobs in the private sector.
His officers are actively being sought out by competing agencies, in part because of the department’s high clearance rate in crimes.
Danville, Perry said, is advertising positions at $45,300, while Roanoke offers their law enforcement personnel a starting salary of $48,152. Nearly half of Perry’s office is below the Roanoke salary mark, including those who have been employed for a decade or more.
Additionally, Perry said other agencies are advertising sign-on bonuses, which he indicated are not offered locally. The only pay adjustment has been cost-of-living salary increases.
Iriswood Supervisor David Martin noted that the officers have also received several stipends and bonuses over the last two years.
Perry said that while those one-time payments are good, a raise goes further in terms of retention of officers. He noted that the requested raise would not make the county competitive in hiring, “it’s what we hope will keep people retained. A raise is a statement.”
Henry County law enforcement officers filed into the meeting en masse in a show of support for Perry’s request. They were joined by several Henry County community members and business owners.
Collinsville District Supervisor Joe Bryant said that he “just found out about” the issue last week, and that he thought the board should gather more information rather than taking immediate action. He said that the hard work of Perry and his staff does not go unnoticed, but “our duty as supervisors is for the betterment of the whole county.”
Bryant said that he did not want to make a long-term financial decision without doing due diligence for fear it could ultimately hurt the overall finances of the county. Those same sentiments were echoed by several other supervisors.
“We’re talking about people here, and the people deserve more than just a flippant decision,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Adams. He told Perry and the gathered officers that budgets for this fiscal year are already set, “but I think that you will find a board that’s absolutely in tune with … anything that helps ease the financial picture.”
Ultimately, the board decided that members of the sheriff’s office and county staff would evaluate the issue.
Noting that was a good short-term solution, Martin said that Perry’s request “amplifies that there are some challenges in our compensation and benefit package” that could lead to long-term problems. He made a motion that staff issue a request for proposals to commission a compensation and benefit package study for all county employees to help with the budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year. The county’s school board would also be invited to participate.
“Compensation is never a one-shot deal,” Martin said. “We have to plan on how we’re doing to meet those demands in the future and unless we plan it, it’s not going to happen.”
The motion passed unanimously. On a second motion from Martin, county staff also were instructed to investigate a voluntary web-based program to host exit interviews for outgoing employees.
In other matters, the board:
* Heard from County Treasurer Scott Grindstaff on delinquent tax collection efforts. As of August 31, 94.45 percent of 2020 personal property taxes have been collected. $57,777.39 was collected in August. 95.66 percent of real estate taxes have been collected, including $7,6815.80 in August.
* Approved $203,542 for the purchase of a fire truck for the Patrick-Henry Volunteer Fire Department.
* Appropriated $315,000 from the General Fund to cover overages in the Children’s Service Act (CSA) Program Fund to help cover the escalating cost of providing services to at-risk youth.
* Heard from Roland Kooch of Davenport Financial, a financial advising firm, on the county’s overall financial health. The county’s credit ratings are in the AA range. The county “really has got its finances in order,” Kooch said.
* Approved a request to rezone approximately 21-acres at 94 Bryants Lake Road in the Blackberry District from Rural Residential District R-R to Agricultural District A-1. The applicant wishes to construct additional accessory buildings on the property.
* Approved a request to rezone approximately 12-acres at 3090 Mt. Olivet Road in the Iriswood District from Residential District S-R to Mixed Residential District M-R. The applicant intends to remove the old house from the property and replace it with a double wide manufactured home on a masonry foundation.
* Denied a rezoning request for approximately 0.7-acres at 1285 Bassett Heights Road in the Reed Creek District from Suburban Residential District S-R to Rural Residential District R-R. The applicant had intended to place a single wide mobile home on the property, but following a public hearing, the Planning Commission and staff felt the rezoning would not fit the community.
* Approved a resolution requesting $915,846 from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Revenue Sharing Program for improvements to Reservoir Road.
* Heard from VDOT regarding general highway matters.
* Heard from Todd Norman, chief of the Fieldale Volunteer Fire Company, regarding equipment needs of the county’s eight volunteer fire departments.