The Caroline Sheriff’s Office is facing a staffing crisis and needs additional funding now for salary increases, Sheriff Tony Lippa told county supervisors at their meeting Tuesday night.
“I don’t ask for frivolous needs,” Lippa said. “We don’t ask for more than what we need, but we feel like we have an obligation to the citizens to provide them with great service. We can’t retain people because they take jobs in other locales that pay more and we cannot successfully recruit applicants that meet our high standards.”
During public comment at the meeting, 23 people spoke in favor of increased pay for the Sheriff’s Office. Speakers included a mix of county residents and Sheriff’s Office staff. Most spoke about a shortage of road deputies on long shifts and their concerns about public safety and the lack of backup when an emergency arises.
Lippa started asking supervisors for money for raises last year, after the board approved the county’s budget. He requested his certified staff members receive an immediate $4,000 raise, plus an additional $10,000 raise in the next fiscal year. He said Caroline’s salaries are $6,000 behind surrounding counties.
The increase would impact new hires and bring salaries in line with similar jurisdictions. The starting salary is $39,472 for certified deputies. An increase would start a new hire at $43,472.
Lippa said there are four vacancies in the 54-person department. He is concerned about a shortage of deputies to patrol the county.
“Our office is in a crisis; we cannot fill the vacancies that we have,” said Lippa, who added that his office needs $200,000 to provide raises immediately. “We have patrol deputy and animal patrol positions available, but since Caroline is one of the lowest-paid in the area, we can’t get qualified applicants.”
In a prepared statement, supervisors said Lippa’s proposed increase would cost approximately $238,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and nearly $600,000 more in the 2021 budget.
“The sheriff’s proposed pay increases alone total approximately $838,000,” the statement reads. “The board would either have to raise the real estate tax rate by 3 cents or cut an equivalent amount from somewhere else in the budget to make this happen.”
The Sheriff’s Office 2020 budget is $4.6 million. In June, all county employees received a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and were eligible for an additional 3 percent merit increase. That pay raise cost $650,000.
Lippa said he first wrote a letter to the board in June and has spoken at the past three meetings requesting an increase in salaries. He has also posted related letters on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
The board said there are other factors contributing to the staffing difficulties, such as publicizing openings and a change in the sheriff’s pay practices.
In the statement, supervisors suggested publicizing openings on online job sites. Lippa posts jobs on the office’s Facebook page and with the Virginia Employment Commission.
Supervisors also suggested the sheriff change the policy in which all new deputies start at the minimum salary regardless of experience.
“This naturally limits the pool of experienced candidates who are willing to come to Caroline,” the board’s statement said.
“We have a problem and need to fix it,” Lippa said. “I feel the board will not be able to answer or justify anything, so they decide to divert, deflect or re-direct the pay issue with political nonsense.”
Supervisors said they are willing to consider reasonable measures to help recruit and retain deputies at the appropriate time during the upcoming 2021 budget process. A work session with Lippa is scheduled for February.