New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | May 18, 2021

New Kent public safety officers present information in hopes for pay increases, scale decompression

By Andre Jones | April 1, 2021 9:56 am

Financial decisions to be made by New Kent’s Board of Supervisors for their 2021-2022 budget have been difficult as more and more departments continue to request funding. At the Mar. 31 morning work session, concerns by public safety officials had county leaders on notice.

Representatives of New Kent Sheriff’s Office and New Kent’s Fire and EMS Department approached the board of supervisors in efforts to garner more financial support and pay increases for employees.

Captain Joey McClaughlin of New Kent Sheriff’s Office was the first to address county leaders at the work session. His slide show presentation depicted the difficulties and fears the department is facing now and how it could greatly affect public safety in the future.

McLaughlin’s PowerPoint presentation centered around the salaries of current employees in the sheriff’s office. He focused on the starting salary of a deputy, as well as the compression and lack of advancement in the department.

“If you look at this, our pay scales have been compressed for a very long time,” McLaughlin said. “A person who has been here for 12 years has barely received any type of pay increase over that time.”

In particular, McLaughlin spoke about his fear of officers leaving for nearby jurisdictions.

“If you take our salary and compare it to other salaries of neighboring counties and those of similar size, some could go there and already make $6,000 more,” he added. “In some places, that number can be as high as $15,000 based on experience.”

While the intent is to keep the current deputies and officers in the sheriff’s department, McLaughlin said attracting new recruits has also been difficult because the starting salary is below what other localities can offer.

“We are working with a very limited pool of people,” the captain commented. “In past years, we have had double-digit applications. This year, we have only received three. It’s a very small pool of applicants and most will go to where more money is at.

“This is not a glamourous job,” McLaughlin continued. “I’ve talked to several people who are already applying for other jobs because they can’t be supported financially.”

Similar to McLaughlin and the sheriff’s office dilemma, New Kent County Fire Chief Rick Opett echoed the same sentiments in his presentation.

“Nobody wants to go into public safety anymore,” Opett said. “Instead of looking up to police officers and firefighters, they look up to athletes and social media stars.”

Opett’s information essentially mirrored McLaughlin’s, comparing and contrasting salary of neighboring counties with New Kent’s. But Opett also wanted county leaders to understand what firefighters are dealing with mentally.

“The suicide rate of firefighters has significantly increased,” he told the board. “Even the other day, I had to send one of our firefighters home because he wasn’t mentally prepared to work.

“The personal lives of our employees have also led to divorce rates increasing,” Opett continued, pointing to roughly 20 percent of firefighters separating because of the occupation. “They are never at home with their loved ones and are always away from them.”

Opett said that the starting salary discrepancy between the county’s firefighters and deputies was also unbalanced. Currently, firefighters with no experience start out at $39,000, while New Kent deputies with no experience begin with $43,000.

“We have to work and give these people what they deserve,” Opett said. “We want to be competitive and retain the people that we have.

“Speaking with the president of the firefighters’ union, many of our employees work second jobs just to supplement their income,” Opett continued. “It’s heartbreaking to hear this information.”

Both McLaughlin and Opett presented plans for pay increases for employees and decompression of salary scales. In addition, requests for courses to help public safety officers were also submitted.

After hearing the proposal, County Administrator Rodney Hathaway addressed the board that resulted from his first talks with public safety officials.

“After talking with them, I think I will have some good news to bring to the board,” Hathaway said. “If things go as I believe they will, the county will have some additional revenue that may be able to assist them with their situation.”

District 1 supervisor and board chairman Thomas Evelyn thanked both groups for their presentation.

“This information is very informational and detailed,” he said. “Public safety is one of the top priorities and we will have some discussion on these requests.”