ACCOMAC, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- The Accomack County Sheriff's Office has lost 19 deputies since the start of 2016, and higher pay is needed to compete with other agencies, including the Virginia State Police and local police departments, according to officials.
Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin asked the Board of Supervisors to approve targeted pay increases ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 starting Dec. 1.
Godwin showed the board a photograph of dozens of smiling, uniformed officers posing on a local dock.
"Our goal is for next year for that picture of our 60-plus deputies not to change," Godwin said.
The item would cost around $197,000 in next year's budget, according to Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason.
Godwin said he has come before the Board of Supervisors asking for funds only twice — the first time was more than five years ago, when working to solve a string of arsons in the county was wreaking havoc with the law enforcement agency's budget.
"This time I'm coming because I need your help, because we've got to ... keep these deputies," he said, adding, "We need to give our brothers and sisters a pay raise — they definitely deserve it."
Captain Todd Wessells gave the board an overview of the problem, including an initiative by the Virginia State Police to recruit deputies with at least three years' experience from sheriff's offices — offering abbreviated training, a substantial pay increase and the offer to place the new troopers in their home region.
Of 24 law enforcement deputies in Accomack, 20 qualify for the program, he said, noting, "It's going to have a huge impact."
The program began in September 2017 and the Accelerated Lateral Entry Program Academy starts in April. Starting salary for troopers after completing the program will be nearly $49,000, compared to the current starting salary for Accomack deputies of $31,629. That increases to $35,471 after a year and certification.
It costs around $18,500 to train a new law enforcement deputy, Wessells told the board, adding it has cost the sheriff's office $309,500 to train deputies who have since left.
Of 12 law enforcement deputies who left since 2016, seven went to other agencies that offered higher pay.
Seven corrections officers also left, and five of the total of 19 who left retired, Wessells said.
Additionally, in the next four years, 16 experienced deputies in the agency will be eligible to retire.
"The turnover for first-year deputy sheriffs for all the counties (in Virginia) is 21.3 percent, according to the Compensation Board," Wessells said, adding, "This leaves many sheriff's offices as the de facto training agency for law enforcement ... We're training these deputies and they're leaving us within a year — and they're going for better-paying jobs."
Local pay supplements given to sheriff's deputies in other, similar Virginia locations range from $6,705 in Mecklenburg County to $15,925 in Louisa County, Wessells said.
Additionally, the sheriff's office competes for officers with towns that offer competitive salaries — a starting, certified officer in the Chincoteague Police Department is paid $35,131 a year; Onley Police Department pays officers $38,022 a year; Onancock Police Department pays $36,000; and Exmore Police Department pays $37,500 — and Chincoteague, Onancock and Onley also pay for 100 percent of health insurance, Wessells told the board.
The Accomack Sheriff's Office recently had a deputy with 13 years of experience leave for another local agency where he was offered a salary of $43,000, he said.
"Since then, we have had another deputy leave us and went to the Salisbury Police Department for $46,000," Wessell said.
In nearby Maryland counties, Worcester County Sheriff's Office starts deputies at a salary of $43,659, and Wicomico County Sheriff's Office starting pay is $42,520.
"We must be able to recruit and retain qualified deputies," Wessells said.
Robert Crockett, Board of Supervisors chairman and a former Accomack County sheriff, spoke in favor of approving the pay hike, saying when he was sheriff "it was rare for a town department to pull away experienced deputies ... When you're losing a deputy with 10 or 12 years of experience, that's a major, major loss."
"We have to do something here — they are our first responders," he said.