Raises, bonuses approved for first responders in Va. county
Paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, deputies and dispatchers will receive a pay raise of up to 5% and bonuses of up to $4,000 as the county seeks to retain personnel
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
KING GEORGE COUNTY, Va. — King George County officials know they can’t compete with what larger localities pay first responders, so they’re considering unusual measures to sweeten the pot, such as free health insurance, more retirement pay and a $20,000 bonus after 20 years with the county.
After considerable discussion on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors decided to hold off on the out-of-the-box measures until it has a better handle on the next fiscal budget—and financial impacts caused by COVID-19. However, board members did adopt two increases that will put more money into workers’ paychecks, effective April 1.
All paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, deputies and dispatchers will get a pay raise of 3 percent to 5 percent, depending on experience. They’ll also get a bonus for being certified in various specialties, ranging from being a tactical team member to advanced paramedic. The certification pay ranges from $1,000 to $4,000 per person, depending on the specialty.
The raises and bonuses go only to those on the front lines, not support staff and administration.
The measures are meant to stem the flow of resignations, especially in the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, where 17 full-time workers have left since 2018, said Chief David Moody.
King George’s current pay is considerably less than what Spotsylvania and Stafford offer after both localities implemented raises, according to a presentation by County Administrator Neiman Young.
For a firefighter recruit, the base pay in King George is $36,650, compared with $47,632 in Spotsylvania and $49,068 in Stafford. Rates are more comparable for starting deputies; the pay is $44,886 in King George, $47,638 in Spotsylvania and $47,622 in Stafford.
What’s even more bothersome to King George officials is when workers they train take their new skills to other places.
“Turnover costs money, and for public safety, turnover costs are exponential,” Young said, citing costs of $20,000 to $40,000 per first responder for training and equipment.
Moody mentioned a fall recruitment effort that attracted 14 applicants. Five showed up to take the written and physical agility tests, four passed and three had the right qualifications and were offered jobs. One of the two who accepted later rescinded to take a better deal in Westmoreland County, Moody said.
Out of the 14 applicants, King George hired one full-time firefighter and paramedic.
Supervisor Jeff Bueche wanted the county to implement the entire compensation package presented by Young, which would cost more than $1 million, instead of the two measures, which total $426,000.
“It’s a public safety need, and I know it’s gonna hurt. Nothing’s free,” he said. “Our hospitals, our urgent cares are being taxed, and it may be regular illnesses, it may be associated with COVID-19. But those ambulances are our hospitals right now, and I don’t think we can take a chance of losing any of those shifts.”
Moody said it takes 15 people to operate a shift in King George’s three fire and rescue stations. Because the county currently has four vacancies in fire and rescue, Bueche feared the department would lack the necessary manpower to cover each shift in each station.
“We can’t go dollar for dollar, that’s been made clear,” Bueche said, adding the “entire package is what’s gonna make us attractive, to bring in talent and keep the talent.”
Other supervisors agreed that it would be great to “go ahead with the Full Monty,” as Supervisor Jeff Stonehill put it. But he stressed that the board is committed to the other measures, just not at the moment.
Supervisor Annie Cupka agreed. “Let’s slow down, have a more in-depth conversation at our next budget work session to make sure we’re making an informed decision. We just don’t know financially what’s headed our way, and we need to be responsible for all our citizens in the county.”
©2020 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)