VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate told the city council earlier this month there are still more than 90 vacancies in the department. Could changing the way police officers get paid help address that?
"We have to get competitive. We have to remain competitive," said Brian Luciano, the president of the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association.
Luciano wants to see the city move to a step plan where officer raises are tied to their years in the department, instead of the current system where employees find out how much of a raise they could get when the city manager proposes a budget each year.
"You get predictability, and that's one of the things we hear consistently from officers," said Luciano.
On Tuesday afternoon, the city's director of Human Resources presented some options to city council members to change to a step system, and some of the options would move other city employees into the system as well, but there are still lots of questions on the specifics and how it would all work.
"I'm not in a hurry to make a decision. I think this needs a lot more discussion," said City Councilman John Moss.
While retention issues haven't been as drastic in the fire department, the number of people applying to be recruits has fallen in recent years. Max Gonano, the president of the Virginia Beach Professional Firefighters Association, thinks a step plan would help attract recruits.
"It gives you some good ideas of what progression in your career is going to look like. If you promote up to another rank and go that route, it shows you what it's going to look like instead of it being a big open question," said Gonano.
Some other local governments also follow this model. Chesapeake recently moved to it. In Norfolk, there continues to be a debate over how much a step increase to give some public safety employees, which has led to a back-and-forth between city leaders and police officers.
In Virginia Beach, Luciano says moving to a step model doesn't correct every pay issue, but says it would help.
"There's always going to be issues that pop up. If we improve the model on how we pay, then that's a start and starting with a step plan is the way to go," he said.
Police and firefighters are planning to speak at a budget public hearing on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.