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Local agencies debate budget proposals
Roads, health plans supported
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said Monday that some portions of the proposed Virginia House and Senate budgets look promising, but the potential impact of others are not yet known.
For instance, the county may not have to return part of the “so-called state aid to localities” to the state as in years past, Hall said. “It looks like that will have a positive impact on us going forward, so I like that.”
The House and Senate committees, both ruled by Republicans, both included in budgets issued Sunday a shift of a 0.05 percent share of existing state sales tax collections — or an additional $49 million — to the Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund.
Increased funds for transportation “also are a good idea,” but Hall said he wonders if those funds will “trickle down to us for” work on Interstate 73 and U.S. 58. “Nobody seems to know that for sure.”
Other good signs are increased funds for the school division, Hall said. Both budgets provide about $13.5 billion for kindergarten through high school, including $53.5 million for the 2 percent teacher pay raise. There’s another $9 million for support staff such as librarians and teachers’ aides.
However, to qualify for the money, localities would have to match the state’s funding and provide another 2 percent pay boost of their own.
There also are potential conflicts, according to Hall, who said that he and County Finance Director Darrell Jones were monitoring the budgets to determine potential “far reaching impacts” of the “fairly significant pay raises for state employees, constitutional officers and school teachers.”
That is because the cost of pay and benefits for some positions is shared between the county and state, or “worse, paid entirely by the county,” Hall said. The potential for conflict “puts us in a quandary” because “we don’t know whether we can provide” the additional funds needed.
“If a person who is paid entirely by the state is getting a raise and the person sitting beside them is not” because local funds are not available, Hall said the end result likely will be “animosity across the desk.”
Overall, Hall said he thinks legislators believe the budget may not be as bad as in years past. “I know it’s a cliché, but the devil is in the details, and getting the details in time to have something to say about them is sometimes difficult,” he said.
The House budget would increase the number of waivers that fund community-based care for Virginians with mental and developmental disabilities instead of confining them in state institutions.
Jim Tobin, executive director of Piedmont Community Services (PCS) views that as “a good thing” and a good start on an agreement to close all of the state training centers for those with intellectual disabilities in Virginia and eliminate “a laundry list of other things that go along with it.”
At the time, the U.S. Department of Justice and Virginia agreed that those with intellectual disabilities would be housed in smaller, community group homes rather than the state training centers, Tobin said, and Virginia is required to meet a number of stipulations as part of the move.
That includes adding a minimum of 275 new Medicaid waiver spots per year, Tobin said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget amendments complied with that requirement, but “on the other hand, there are many more people with intellectual disabilities who are living in communities (and) are on waiting lists” for services, Tobin said.
Amendments proposed by the House and Senate “add to what’s in the governor’s budget already and reduce marginally” that waiting list, he said.
However, Tobin said “we may not know until July” the number of waivers that will be allocated to PCS. He explained that legislators do not make allocations to individual agencies. That is an administrative process that occurs in April or May.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said his office is “continuing to watch the General Assembly as they debate the issues. Our deputies need as much help as they can get, and we appreciate anything” legislators can do.
The Virginia Sheriffs Association asked legislators to submit a bill asking for a 5 percent pay raise for constitutional officers and their employees, including deputy sheriffs, Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper said.
Deputy sheriffs are not considered state employees, and are paid by the State Compensation Board, which gets state funds, Draper said. Deputies do not receive pay raises for state employees.
Because deputies are not considered state or local employees, they do not get pay raises for state employees or from individual localities. Currently, many deputies have not had a raise in six years, Draper said.
In amendments, both the House and Senate proposed a total 3 percent pay hike for state and Constitutional Officer’s employees, and Draper said that would include a 2 percent raise deputies already are slated to receive in August to offset the additional employee contribution to the state pension plan approved last year.
If the 3 percent is approved, deputies essentially would receive a 1 percent pay raise, Draper said. “The cost of living is more than that.”
Combine that with the low starting pay — especially in rural areas — which makes many deputies who are married with children eligible for state benefits such as Food Stamps, Draper said.
The base or starting salary provided by the State Compensation Board is $29,234, Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said. After a year, salary increases to $30,800, and “it stays there forever” unless the locality provides a supplement.
About three years ago, Patrick County approved a 3 percent supplement for deputies to bring the starting pay to $30,900 per year, Smith said.
“We appreciate the supplement, and we know the locality is doing all it can,” Smith said, but “we cannot compete. Even with the supplement, we are several thousand dollars behind” other agencies in pay.
“To compound the problem, we have deputies with 14 or 16 years experience who are making the same amount of money to the dime as starting deputies are making,” Smith said. “I have lost deputies that have been here for years to other law enforcement agencies” that offer “large pay increases,” sometimes of $6,000 annually.
“You can’t blame any deputy that wants to leave for thousands of dollars a year more in pay,” Smith said. “I just can’t offer it to them,” but in the current system “we’re spinning our wheels.”
That’s because it’s about eight months from the time a deputy is recruited and trained until they are competent to patrol by themselves, Smith said. “Because there is so much invested in them, hopefully you can retain them, but the state sets the minimum salary for deputy sheriffs at $7,000 a year less than other state agencies, and you can’t expect them to stay” if given the opportunity to earn more in another agency.
“It’s a counterproductive cycle,” Smith said. “Everyone wants to hire the most qualified candidate, and rural sheriff’s offices are having a hard time competing because of such a large pay disparity.”
Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said that at this early stage of the process, “we have no idea what may be in the making for us. My biggest concern from the standpoint of recruitment and retention is that the city would be able to match what the state is doing, but that call will have to be made” by members of Martinsville City Council.
Martinsville Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki and Mayor Kim Adkins said they have not yet studied the budget proposals in-depth.
However, Towarnicki said that when the state has provided pay raises for certain local government workers, such as constitutional office employees, the city generally has tried to provide the same raise to its employees so as not to hurt morale.