Nearly a third of the employees in the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office are making less than the minimum their salary range calls for, a recently conducted study shows.
In general, the salaries for the lower level positions are more likely to fall below that of surrounding localities, while the upper level positions, such as lieutenants, are within the appropriate range, Pittsylvania County Finance Director Kim Vanderhyde said.
After requesting the study last year, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor is mulling whether to accept the implementation of the study during the next three years. Between increased salaries and fringe benefits, that would come with a total annual fiscal impact of $310,000, Vanderhyde said.
For the current fiscal year, $135,000 was allocated for the implementation of the study’s recommendations, Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman said.
In the current county pay scale, employees are classified in 35 different grades, each with a minimum, midpoint and maximum salary depending on the person’s experience.
The study’s results, if approved, would be implemented over the next three fiscal years. First, every sheriff’s employee making less than the minimum salary suggested for their pay grade would be brought up to the minimum, Vanderhyde said.
The second and third phases would include providing to all employees a .25% raise for every year of service.
Conducted by Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP, the sheriff’s compensation study cost $12,000, half of which was paid for by a grant from the nonprofit group Danville Regional Foundation.
Out of 148 employees included in the compensation study, 42 were found to have a salary less than the minimum range for their pay grade. Law enforcement investigators are the most consistently underpaid group, with 16 out of 18 currently being paid less than the minimum recommended salary.
A 2017 salary study found that Pittsylvania County employees, on average, were being paid 12% less than their counterparts, with more than half of the county’s employees making below the minimum proposed salary range. The overall annual fiscal impact of the pay increases is $640,000.
The study was implemented in the same three phases the sheriff’s study will be. First, in January 2018, the county implemented raises so no employees were under the minimum threshold for their pay grade. Of the 152 employees included, 78 were under the minimum, and raising their salaries increased annual salary costs by almost $150,000.
Of the five constitutional offices — which are primarily funded through state funds from the State Compensation Board — only the commissioner of the revenue participated in the 2017 study. The treasurer pay bands closely mirror those of the commissioner of the revenue, so they did not need a study, Vanderhyde said.
Neither the clerk of circuit court nor the commonwealth’s attorney have had salary studies conducted for their departments.
Right now, the compensation board funds 108 positions for the sheriff’s office, with more than $4.1 million budgeted for those salaries. The department has about 15 positions that aren’t funded through the board, Taylor said. Additionally, Pittsylvania County provides an annual supplement of $1,000 for each deputy — an arrangement that has been in place since the early 2000s.
Because of the lagging entry level salaries which Taylor said can fall behind neighboring localities by as much as $5,000, the department sees a high amount of turnover and struggles to recruit new employees.
“It’s sort of a revolving door sometimes,” he said.
That turnover creates significant costs, both in terms of money and time training.
“You’re talking into the thousands of dollars just getting an officer to the point where he can make an arrest and be out on the street by himself,” Taylor said.
To help in the recruitment process, the board of supervisors implemented a $4,500 sign-on bonus a few years ago for new deputies and correctional officers. The money is disbursed over their first three years with the department.
Nonetheless, as is common with sheriff’s departments across the country, the county department is currently operating with about 10% of their positions vacant, which increases the amount of overtime costs and runs employees thin, Taylor said.
Both the sheriff’s study and the 2017 county employees study compared Pittsylvania County to salaries from the following neighboring localities: the counties of Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, Halifax, Henry and Rockingham County, North Carolina, the city of Danville and the city of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.