WEBER CITY, Va. (WJHL) – Weber City’s four-man police department is hoping the town can provide them with hazardous duty retirement pay in their upcoming budget. If not, it could mean officers leaving Weber City’s force.
At Tuesday night’s Weber City Town Council meeting, multiple members of local first responder agencies and concerned citizens spoke on behalf of the Weber City Police Department’s request.
Although the hazardous duty pay was not on the agenda, Chief of Police Matt Bishop spoke to News Channel 11, and said the pay could be key to keeping his officers in Weber City.
“We have to do what we need to do financially, so would some of those decisions be made to probably go to another department that does have these benefits? Most likely,” Bishop said. “You can’t blame the officer. It’s a financial decision, not an emotional decision.”
Bishop said the department’s pay at $18 an hour for certified officers past 90 days of service is competitive with neighboring departments.
Gate City Police Department pays $16 an hour for certified officers with less than two years experience, but the pay increases with more experience. Kingsport Police Department offers a $17.84 an hour starting pay.
Hazardous duty pay would ensure officers the ability to retire at 50 and provide monthly payments so they can afford health insurance.
The payments continue from age 50 until the officer is old enough to receive Social Security payments.
Bishop said hazardous duty pay allows officers to attain a better quality of life as they age, despite the physical and mental stresses of the job.
“There does come a point where you’re just not physically able to do the job, so the enhanced retirement allows you to retire at a respectable age where you’re still in halfway decent health and you can enjoy yourself,” Bishop said.
Donald Harding III is one of the four employees currently at the department. He said he had no intention of leaving, but the lack of retirement benefits may force his hand.
“I wanted to stay here until I made it until retirement. So that’s not my goal, was not to leave,” Harding said. “The big picture, you look at what’s going to make it through, and where you’re going to be at in 15 years, and ultimately you have to do what’s best for you and your family.”
Harding said most of the departments in Southwest Virginia offer the hazardous duty pay except Weber City, Gate City, Coeburn, St. Paul and Pennington Gap.
Gate City Chief of Police Justin Miller said his department is looking at adding hazardous duty pay in the near future.
But Harding said a department in Tennessee is not an option.
“Tennessee has a horrible retirement as well,” Harding said. “That was actually one of the recruiting tools when I came back to Weber City was because of the retirement.”
For Weber City officers to receive the retirement pay, Weber City officials would have to elect for the coverage with the Virginia Retirement System.
Weber City Mayor Christopher Powers said that would cost about $30,000 a year. With a tight budget already coming together, he said they’ll have to move some money around to make it happen.
“Money’s always an issue but if we can work a way around it, come up with another plan, there’s a good possibility we can do it,” Powers said.
Concerned Weber City citizens made public comment urging the town to install the retirement benefit so the town can retain its police force.
“They seek to do this and seek to serve this community, and being able to retain and attract qualified people to do this is possible when you offer them good retirement benefits,” Suzanne Kerney-Quillen said to the town council.
If Weber City is to put the hazardous pay into the budget, they’ll have to do it by the end of June.
A public hearing on the budget is set for June 16, with approval on June 28.