VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — First responders in the resort city could see a pay raise well over the typical cost of living increase if City Council approves its amended budget proposal next week.
On Tuesday, Virginia Beach Vice Mayor Jim Wood revealed a majority of council members are backing a plan to spend an additional $7.4 million to give all sworn and uniformed police, fire, EMS and sheriff’s office employees an 8.5% raise over what they currently make.
City Manager Patrick Duhaney’s original proposed fiscal year 2022 budget recommend a 3% raise for all city employees.
Wood said this was done in order to try to curb the staffing issues seen specifically in law enforcement agencies across the country.
“We’ve had an incredible turnover in public safety, primarily police and sheriff,” Wood said. “It’s a very difficult job in public safety, it’s very dangerous.”
Recently, Police Chief Paul Neudigate said the department was about 100 officers short. Sheriff Ken Stolle said he was down 38 deputies.
The head of the local police benevolent association said some officers are choosing to leave because they feel they don’t “have support” from leadership. Stolle said he noticed concerns with the social unrest within the country stemming from incidents of alleged police brutality.
“It’s very important that we make this as attractive to people as possible to stay. We want a safe community. We’ve got to provide our public safety leaders with all the tools,” Wood said.
Proposed changes to the budget also include $1.1 million in additional spending for police technology which includes the purchasing of automatic license plate readers and ongoing payments related to a gunshot detection system the council recently approved.
“This whole ‘defund the police‘ thing, they talk about improving the quality,” Wood said. “We only want the best people.”
The adjustments will allow the Virginia Beach Police Department to compete with Norfolk’s proposed plans to provide an average 8% increase to all officers.
A tax rate decrease and other funding initiatives
City Council’s plan is to provide the extra money to public safety employees, as well as a 4.5% pay increase for all city employees, while still cutting the real estate tax rate by more than the city manager originally proposed.
The proposed rate would now be $1.00 for each $100 of assessed property value — a 1.75-cent decrease from its current level.
City Council members are also proposing spending an additional $500,000 to help bring salaries of public defenders more in line with lawyers in the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
An additional $100,000 is also being set aside to support a potential Citizens Review Panel that would act as a law enforcement civilian oversight body. A task force was recently established to look at changes that may need to be made to the city’s existing panel following a change in state law.
To pay for it all, Wood said the $3 million the city manager wanted to set aside to implement results of market salary survey would be eliminated and Virginia Beach City Public Schools would see $5.1 million decrease in funds from the city. An additional $6 million will be saved from employee vacancies.
While several council members expressed that they didn’t get “everything they wanted,” Councilman Guy Tower said “there were good compromises.”
Councilman John Moss criticized the plan saying there is “no tax reduction in this budget for citizens.”
He said while the 8.5% raise was merited for police and sheriff’s deputies, “fire and EMS departments are not experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties.”
The budget will be voted on May 11.