By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County will be hiring more can hire more sheriff's deputies thanks to state money.
But the county also must cover part of the ongoing costs of paying the officers.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a request by the Sheriff's Office to add three deputies to its roster. Chairman David Ferguson, who hesitated to vote for the measure, warned the board that it is committing the county to spending local money on the new deputies.
The county's share of the cost to pay three deputies is approximately $89,000. This amount does not include the cost for uniforms, vehicles and other equipment.
"So that everybody knows, we just added $100,000 [in] recurring costs, plus expenses of vehicles and everything else, to our budget," Ferguson said.
Supervisor John R. "Dick" Neese said the cost is indirect because the employees are coming out of the jail and entering into law enforcement. Ferguson disagreed and said the closing of the jail was to reduce local law enforcement costs and the savings would go to help the county pay its share of the debt on the regional jail.
Supervisor Cindy Bailey said she didn't see the board's decisions as approving "pet" projects, as Ferguson alluded. Rather, Bailey said the board does what it needs for the safety of the community.
Sheriff Timothy Carter said he plans to include the three additional deputies in his requested budget for fiscal 2015. Carter said he's addressing the staffing issues raised in a study conducted by a consultant and released last year.
The Virginia State Compensation Board last year approved funding for the Sheriff's Office to cover three deputies as a result of the upcoming opening of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail. The jail is expected to open July 1 and the facility is in the process of recruiting corrections officers.
With the closure of the local jails, the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office expects to lose its corrections officers to the regional facility. In turn, the compensation board has authorized the Sheriff's Office to receive funding for the deputies.
Ferguson said that while he doesn't dispute the need for more deputies the county needs to find a way to cover its share of the costs for the officers. Ferguson warned that, without increasing taxes, the county would need to take money from one department to cover spending in another.
"I'm not questioning his need," Ferguson added. "We need to look at the financial perspective as well."
Carter noted that his office faces two issues: The need to add deputies for law enforcement and the increased number of calls for service his agency experiences. The board has not yet addressed the latter issue and Carter said he expects it to come up during the budget-creation process.
As the board chairman noted, the Department of Fire and Rescue faces the same issues of increased calls for service. Ferguson then made comments about the fact that the county needs to work toward giving its current employees pay raises. He said employees have not received salary increases in seven years. A pay raise implemented in the current budget actually covers a state-mandated increase in what employees contribute to the Virginia Retirement System.
Ferguson suggested a possible solution for an apparent disparity in salaries among county workers.
"Well one way to address it is we stay status quo in these departments," Ferguson said. "We don't add a bunch of people. We don't add a bunch of things and the money that we do have we address the pay and steps of the existing employees."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org