Budget targets pay state police, deputies and correctional officers | Government and politics

RICHMOND — Col. Wayne Huggins smiled as he waited on Capitol Hill for the General Assembly to pass a budget on Wednesday.

For Huggins, the two-year, $165 billion budget culminates years of work on a new compensation plan to boost starting salaries for sworn Virginia State Police officers while rewarding veterans whose salary lags behind new hires.

The budget includes $46.5 million to fund the new plan, which will also align with general increases of 10% over two years for all state employees as Virginia attempts to bolster its government workforce as she hopes to get out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve finally solved the problem,” said Huggins, a former state police superintendent and sheriff of Fairfax County, who is retiring as executive director of the Virginia State Police Association after 18 years. “We are very satisfied.”

The new budget would increase annual starting salaries for state troopers from $47,843 to $51,500 ($64,383 in Northern Virginia due to the higher cost of living).

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He would also fund a pay plan that ensures a 10% pay separation based on rank, so that senior officers do not earn less than those they supervise, while increasing pay by 1.4% per year of service. .

The state police weren’t the only group of law enforcement and public safety officers to receive targeted pay relief in the budget, which also boosted officers’ starting salaries. corrections and local sheriff’s deputies, while providing $47 million to local governments that run police departments that have often been overlooked for state aid.

“The public safety budget was one of the best budgets in a long time,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who chairs the public safety subcommittee of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.

The budget includes nearly $58.6 million for corrections officers to stem the exodus of frontline staff from state prisons, as well as $7 million for probation and parole officers. Deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers will receive $85.7 million. It also includes $1.9 million for a compensation plan at the Capitol Police Division.

The budget includes a 5% increase for state employees that will take effect July 10 for August 1 pay. Law enforcement, public safety and other employee groups who receive targeted salary increases of 7.5% or more will receive a general increase of 2.5% in the first year.

The money will increase the starting salary of correctional officers and assistants to $42,000, an increase of about $7,000 per year, and help them deal with the salary squeeze, which occurs when the compensation of former employees is below market rates for new hires.

“It’s a big step, it’s a lot of money and we appreciate it,” said John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, whose members don’t see the same level of support from local governments. throughout the state.

Money helps, but will not completely solve the problems facing correctional officers. A legislative study last year found that over a quarter of all correctional officer jobs were vacant and one facility had a staff turnover rate of over 50%.

Don Baylor, lobbyist for the National Coalition of Public Safety Officers, said the state lost more than 2,600 corrections officers last year, more than double the number in 2010, when the problem began to emerge during the Great Recession.

“It’s going to help to some extent, but it still won’t be enough to hold people back,” Baylor said.

The budget compromise before Gov. Glenn Youngkin includes about $29 million less for compensation for corrections officers than the then-governor did. Ralph Northam offered in the spending plan he presented in December, while adding money for probation and parole officers.

The challenge goes beyond pay to working conditions, Baylor said, with mandatory overtime compensating for the lack of adequate staffing in “one of the toughest environments” for employees.

“Money is not the only answer to this,” he said.

Lucas said she recognizes the ongoing challenge of recruiting and retaining officers.

“I couldn’t get it all done in one budget cycle,” she said, “but I’m not going to stop working on it, that’s for sure.”

Huggins can attest to the time it takes to resolve the issue of employee compensation, particularly the squeeze on the salaries of veteran officers whose pay has staggered between increases that require General Assembly approval.

The Legislature has addressed the issue of salary compression for state police and law enforcement and public safety agencies in the budget six times, starting in 2014. But the salary compression has remained a a challenge that Huggins has often described as a crisis for the state police, which has more than 300 vacancies in its more than 2,000 sworn officer jobs.

A compensation study last year found that the current pay structure made it harder to recruit new officers, retain veterans or promote them to higher positions who earned enough to make up for lost overtime.

Huggins and former Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, a retired former state trooper from southwest Virginia, tried unsuccessfully for several years to persuade the assembly to raise the registration fee Virginia vehicles to generate a revenue stream dedicated to state police pay.

Now, Carrico takes over from Huggins as the association’s executive director, with the battle seemingly won. “Wayne had worked so hard on it, he wanted it to happen,” the former senator and delegate said.

Said Huggins: “It’s just a way of paying people for their years of service to the Commonwealth.”

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