Deputies get a ‘stay-here’ raise

The Rappahannock County’s supervisors voted unanimously last Wednesday (Sept. 5) to increase the salaries of patrol deputies at the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO). The additional $2,000-a-year raise is meant to help stem the tide of RCSO employees leaving the county to work in neighboring counties.

Sheriff Connie C. Smith appealed to the board for the raise after presenting them with a study she and her chief deputy, John Arstino, conducted earlier this year. According to the study, RCSO has lost 14 employees since December, 10 of them leaving for similar jobs in neighboring counties.

And of those 10 who work elsewhere, Smith said, “everyone who left got a pay raise.”

Smith said she has also added a promissory clause to the deputies’ contracts, ensuring that any deputy Smith’s department puts through the police academy must continue work in Rappahannock County for at least two years. This was necessitated by the departure of a deputy Smith recently hired. Smith said she agreed to put the deputy, whom she wouldn’t name, through police-academy training – at a cost of about $40,000 – only to have him hand in his resignation and transfer after graduating.

“I don’t want to be a training ground for other counties’ deputies,” said Smith. “We basically paid him $42,000 for half a day’s work.”

Smith petitioned the board members to increase the salary of the 12 patrol deputies RCSO currently employs, a $24,000 expenditure. Smith said she believes the pay increase was perfectly fair, considering the many responsibilities RCSO patrol officers have.

“In other departments, officers responding to a crime scene will simply report [to the scene], rope the area off and wait for detectives to come through and do all the CSI work,” Smith said. “That doesn’t happen in Rappahannock – the deputies have to do everything.”

Hampton district supervisor S. Bryant Lee pointed that the routine of acquiring deputies from other departments isn’t a new tactic; it’s just new to Rappahannock County. Lee pointed out that it makes financial sense to save on education costs by hiring deputies who have already been through the academy.

“They [other departments] know the quality of deputy they’re getting from here,” Smith said.

County administrator John McCarthy pointed out that the proposed pay increase would likely be beneficial to the county. “Either way we’re paying money for them, so either we pay $40,000 and lose an employee, or pay $24,000 and keep them around.”

In support of the raise, Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor Chris Parrish said the hazardous nature of patrol deputies’ jobs was also a reason to approve the additional compensation.

The salary changes will go into effect immediately. 

Bank Road property sold

The board voted at its evening session to sell its 1.6-acre property on Bank Road, off U.S. 211 near Union First Market Bank, which they had originally purchased from the bank in 2006. The county acquired the property for $111,000 and had planned to build on the site. Shortly after completing the sale, however, the county purchased property beside Avon Hall from the town of Washington, which meant any new county buildings could be built beside the existing ones along Gay Street in Washington.

According to McCarthy, despite acquiring more real estate, the county elected to hold onto the Bank Road property until they could make a profit. McCarthy said Jimmy DeBergh made the county an offer at 3-percent interest (compounded yearly for each year since the property was purchased, and totalling $128,000); the board voted 4-0 to take his offer. (Jackson district supervisor Ronald Frazier could not attend the evening session.)

Rethinking trash

The board also heard a presentation from Brad Schneider of Washington about possible reforms on the way the county disposes of its trash. Schneider, who designs waste-to-energy conversion facilities, offered the board several suggestions for decreasing the costs of trash disposal.

Schneider suggested installing compactors at the county’s Flatwood refuse and recycling facility so that transport trucks could carry more volume per load. All the trash in the dumps at the Flatwood and Amissville facilities is delivered to Culpeper for about $100 per truckload, Schneider said; installing compactors would enable the trucks to deliver a higher volume of trash per truck, thereby potentially saving the county money.

There problem with installing compactors is two-fold. As Lee pointed out, compactors are not cheap, and the initial monetary investment is likely to be quite expensive. Secondly, as McCarthy said, maintaining them could be a problem.

“We can’t afford to install one and then have it break down and be unable to get someone down here to repair it for two weeks,” said McCarthy. McCarthy suggested that repair time and turn-around be looked into before making a decision.

Schneider also suggested that the county start selling its recyclable materials to the Wise Company in Culpeper, owned by Jesse Wise –  who, according to Schneider, offers the best price on recyclables (particularly scrap metal). The county doesn’t make any money on its recyclables at present, and though nothing definite was decided at the meeting, McCarthy declared the idea “a no-brainer.”

Tax break for the elderly

The board voted Wednesday night to finalize an amendment to the county’s current tax code to give elderly residents a break on property taxes. The amendment states that any resident 65 or older whose assets do not exceed $250,000 (not including their house and up to five acres of land) may receive an exemption on his or her taxes. Residents with assets between $250,000 and $350,000 may receive a deferment (and thus can postpone paying assessed taxes until the property is either sold or inherited), rather than an exemption.

“I think it’s a good decision we’re making by doing this,” said Lee. “There’s a lot of people in this county in dire need.” Piedmont district supervisor Michael J. Biniek agreed with Lee, and the decision to add the amendment to the tax code passed unanimously.