VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle said he's close to fulfilling a promise he made 10 years ago - to eliminate the pay disparity between Virginia Beach Sheriff's Office employees and Virginia Beach Police Department employees.
A newly released city study showed a significant gap in pay at the supervisory ranks of Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain within the two organizations. Average base salaries for these positions are 13 percent lower within the sheriff's office than the police department.
More than 300 sheriff's deputies make an average salary of $46,989, according to the study. Although not directly comparable, average salaries of police officers and master police officers range between $46,374 and $64,803.
Stolle said Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen and City Council are ready to close gaps in pay parity, starting with this upcoming budget.
"I think this puts us on an equal footing with the other public safety organizations," Stolle said. "I think we'll be viewed as the same and we are the same as far as I'm concerned."
VBSO Chief Deputy Rocky Holcomb said this change has been a long time coming, and pay parity has been a frequent conversation among VBSO employees.
"The number one conversation around the department for many years has been pay parity, and I think the rank and file will see that we fought the good fight to get them this parity," Holcomb said.
Tuesday, city council will be briefed on the study and the City Manager Dave Hansen will recommend options to provide additional funding for VBSO and close the pay gap. Stolle said he believes it will be addressed before July 1 and the money will be included in the upcoming city budget. He said he'd like to see the disparity resolved within the next 2 years.
"I think this is going to improve morale around here, improve our retention and I think [deputies] will be paid what they deserve to be paid," Stolle said.
Stolle added that he plans to reorganize his department and change titles to match the VBPD structure. He said he will separate the 'sheriff's deputy position' into: Deputy recruit, Deputy 1, Deputy 2 and Master Deputy. This corresponds with similar titles within the police department.
Stolle said it will take three years of experience, among other things, to move from Deputy 1 to Deputy 2, and then from Deputy 2 to Master Deputy. Within the police department, this elevation of rank results in a higher average salary. Stolle said he will pursue a similar structure.
The pay disparity issue has been a concern for many years in Virginia Beach.
In 2003, Virginia Beach City Council recognized the existing pay disparity, voting to keep Sheriff's Office salaries to at least 90 percent of the salaries of police department counterparts.
A 2018 council resolution stated Sheriff’s Office employees should have the same hiring pay, pay ranges, and pay increases as Police Department employees.
Vice Mayor Jim Wood said the disparity starts at the state level, where funding for sheriff's deputies falls well below what cities pay for police officers.
“The state sets the wages for the Sheriff’s Office and it's abysmally low," Wood said. "You can’t hire people to do it for what the state wants to pay."
So, for years Virginia Beach supplemented VBSO pay to try and keep pace with raises for VBPD employees.
Eliminating the disparity will take millions of dollars and additional money for VBSO salaries in the years to come, according to the report.
Tuesday's presentation says city council direction on funding is needed and the council's decision will affect the FY20 budget.