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Albemarle board approves police, fire bonuses, 6% staff raises

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Albemarle County Sworn and uniformed Sheriff’s Office, police and fire rescue employees will get $3,000 bonuses in hopes that it will help keep current employees and attract new recruits.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved the bonuses on Wednesday, but they will go into effect for those already on the payroll. The bonuses will be funded with American Rescue Plan Act money.

In addition, new sworn and uniformed police and fire rescue recruits who are hired during the next year will also get a $3,000 sign-on bonus.

Mia Coltrane, director of the county government’s human resources department, said there are about 11 vacancies in the county’s police department and currently seven vacancies in the fire rescue department. There are currently about 16 people in recruit school.

“After our current recruit school, we should have about four vacancies if everything plays out correctly,” she said. “But we still need to have individuals in the pipeline, so that’s where that sign on bonus is going to come into play. But we also want to keep and maintain the staff that we have, which goes back to the retention.”

According to a staff report, the state’s distribution earlier this year of federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds provided one-time $3,000 bonus payments to Compensation Board-funded sworn positions in the Sheriff’s Office, but for only 11 of the 26 sworn personnel. Those 11 employees already received bonuses.

“To provide equity across all front line sworn and uniformed County employees,” county staff recommended the remaining 15 sworn personnel in the Sheriff’s Office, as well as all sworn police and fire rescue employees, receive a $3,000 bonus using Albemarle’s ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The county has been allocated $21.2 million in federal ARPA money.

The Albemarle County Police Department was also allocated $98,171 from state ARPA money to promote police officer recruitment and retention.

“A review of upcoming vacancies, coupled with the trends related to receiving a lower number of qualified individuals applying for positions, is leading to the recommendation for a one-time sign-on bonus of $3,000 for new recruits,” the staff report said.

The total cost for the one-time and sign-on bonus programs is estimated at $1,111,000, of which about $977,300 will come from Albemarle’s ARPA allocation.

When asked about other area police salaries, Coltrane pointed out that the University of Virginia Police Department is offering a “substantial” sign on bonus and starting salary. According to a tweet from the university police department, it has a starting salary of $53,000 with a sign-on bonus of $15,000 for certified officers and a $6,000 sign-on bonus for non-certified officers.

With changes made later Wednesday night to give all regular employees 6% raises, Albemarle’s starting pay for police officer recruits is about $42,400, according to the county’s public safety pay scale and a $3,000 sign-on bonus.

“Many organizations are trying to use the same enticements because it’s low across the country and across the state,” she said. “But right here in our own backyard, we do have … competition that is offering a substantial sign on bonus and starting salary.”

Coltrane said nationally resignations are at 18% for police departments.

All supervisors said they were supportive of the bonuses.

During the public hearing, county resident Teresa Hepler said that a “far more in-depth understanding of what policing looks like” in Albemarle needs to be undertaken before the police receive a bonus.

Hepler pointed to data posted by the state through the Community Policing Act.

“If you go to that website and you look at Albemarle you’ll see that although Black people make up about 9% of the population of Albemarle, 19% of stops by the police in Albemarle County are Black drivers,” she said.

“I think we need to know what the police are planning to do about this equity issue and disparate impact issue before giving their department a bonus,” Hepler said. “And we also want to ensure that they’re working to address this problem so that people they recruit are properly trained and supervised for equity.”

In addition to bonuses for police and fire fighters, the country also approved a mid-year budget amendment that will give Albemarle government full- and part-time employees will get immediate 6% raises, after the Board of Supervisors approved a mid-year budget amendment Wednesday.

While the bonuses are paid for with ARPA money, the raises come from additional county revenues from higher-than-projected real estate tax collection rates; higher consumer-driven taxes, such as sales, meals and transient occupancy; and increases in new construction, the county is projecting $20.3 million in additional revenues in the current fiscal year.

“The available data shows that the economy is stabilizing in recovery, and it’s happening stronger and faster than anticipated,” said Andy Bowman, the county’s chief of the budget division.

Raises will go to government full- and part-time employees who report up to the county executive and the Board of Supervisors; employees of the county’s constitutional officers; and the registrar and four county employees that support other agencies.

“We determined through our budget office that there has been a 1.57% gross pay adjustment on average for each of the [last 11 budget years], and then we put that beside a yearly inflation which is at about 1.5,” County Executive Jeff Richardson said. “What we would surmise is that this current pay plan that we have has basically kept pace with inflation over the last 11 years.”

He said the county will invest about $150,000 for a compensation study to review the county’s pay plan structure and how it’s funded.

About 28 full-time equivalent positions will be added or converted from temporary positions to regular with the funds, including in departments where workloads are up, such as Community Development.

Also, about $10.3 million will go to the school division, where the School Board will decide how to spend that money, and $6.6 million will be used for capital projects to be discussed in the upcoming fiscal year 2023 budget process.

Board Chair Ned Gallaway said he was “thrilled to support” the amendment, especially the 6% raises.

“I’m hoping that when the budget comes forward it’s going to build on top of this corrective action in order to keep us ahead of the game,” he said.

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