The Stafford County Board of Supervisors authorized nearly $200,000 to give sheriff's deputies a 10 percent raise last week.
The decision marks a change of policy for the board, which has long resisted giving deputies a raise and declined to approve money for an increase during this year's budget talks.
But, supervisors say, a salary increase is necessary for the county to recruit and retain a qualified staff, as deputies are fleeing to higher-paying jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and the Fredericksburg area.
"I wanted to give the deputies a raise before, in budget time, but the board prevailed over that," said Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy (R-George Washington). "We just didn't feel that we should hold off any longer."
The supervisors approved the money, which will come from county reserves, despite knowing that it will further damage the county's already tenuous fiscal situation.
"I voted with my heart instead of voting with my pocketbook," Bandy said. "I know we're in dire trouble, but the security of the county is too important to dilly-dally with it."
The measure passed 5 to 2, with supervisors David R. Beiler (I-Falmouth) and Ferris M. Belman Sr. (R-At Large) opposing the pay raise.
"I certainly agree that the deputies need more money, there's no question about that," Belman said. "My reason for voting against it is because the budget process time is the time to set priorities for the county. I made the motion to increase the tax rate by three cents so we could give them more dollars," but that motion failed.
Belman also said that he was extremely uncomfortable taking any more money out of the county reserves.
"We need to wake up and realize the mistake we've been making for three years," he said. "We've done nothing but spend out of the fund balance."
Regardless, the sheriff's department is happy to receive the pay increase, which will boost starting salaries to about $27,500, officials said.
"It gives us equal footing in recruiting," said Major Mitchell H. Coffey. "Not to mention it's the right thing to do." The starting salary for deputies in Spotsylvania County is $24,500; in Prince William it's $30,303. Fredericksburg City police officers start at $26,900.
Coffey said that several deputies have left the department recently and that officials were facing the prospect that many more would follow. As Stafford continues to expand rapidly, the department needs more, not fewer, qualified officers, he said.
"We've had several leave," Coffey said. "It's not a great exodus yet, but others are talking or looking. We need new deputies, and it's hard to get them up and running if we lose experienced people. You end up having rookies train rookies, and we don't want that to happen."