WEBER CITY, Va. (WJHL) – The Town of Weber City could lose its four-man police department unless the Town Council agrees to do two things: provide hazardous duty supplemental pay and better health insurance.
However, it’s not that simple.
Any employer who opts for the hazard pay must do an actuarial study that shows what the estimated future benefits will cost, and the impact on the plan’s individual funded status.
“They’ve done the study five previous times over the years and you have to spend money every time you do that,” said Donald Harding III, a Weber City police officer. “After you have that study done you have a period of time that you have to either say ‘yes, we’re gonna go for it.’ If you let that time pass by you have to pay again to have the study done.”
The hazardous duty pay would allow officers to retire at age 50 and provide monthly payments to afford health insurance. The payments would continue until the officer is old enough to receive Social Security payments.
The hazardous duty supplement is $14,244 a year.
“I’ve been in this for 10 years, and always jokingly tell everybody in the last 10 years I feel like I’ve aged about 40 years,” said Harding. “To not have the supplement retirement you have to work close to Social Security age, and in order to do that would put me at work in another 30 plus years in this line of work.”
Officers cited a recent multijurisdictional pursuit in which Weber City Police Chief Matt Bishop was injured and briefly hospitalized.
“Physically, I don’t know that I can do that, you know, 30 years down the road,” Harding said.
Since talks arose in Weber City regarding hazard pay, neighboring Gate City has taken notice.
“They are looking at getting the study done to see if we can’t put it in our budget for Gate City so we can get it as well,” said Derek Pearcy, a Gate City police officer.
According to a Virginia State Police annual report, firearms were used in over 35% of aggravated assaults in 2020.
“You’re on call all the time, you don’t really know what’s going to happen day-to-day,” Pearcy said.
While Pearcy works as a Gate City police officer, he is a resident of Weber City, where he plans to run for a seat on the Town Council to help address issues regarding police.
He said the two departments regularly respond to the same calls.
“The stress, the mental stress, the emotional stress, all that comes with it. It just, it ages you, it tolls on you, no sleeping at night, none of that. And so the chance to be able to make it to retirement at a halfway decent age, which is what the hazardous duty brings is a huge bonus, it’s a huge plus,” Harding said.
The officers are asking their respective towns to take better care of them.
Weber City spent nearly $70,000 on insurance for the police department in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
“The insurance that we have at this point in time right now, it just doesn’t cover anything in this area. I was talking to an insurance broker a little bit back and she kind of laughed when she found out the insurance that we had and she said ‘you have nothing down there that it covers’ and I said ‘oh, we’re aware,'” Harding said.
Local residents spoke up in defense of the police officers at the previous Town Council meeting, and are still doing so.
“There’s no denying that these guys have a very dangerous job and they certainly deserve the benefit,” said Hunter Hensley, a local resident. “Last week, you guys had to do a story because the chief was injured and in pursuit, I mean, and two cars were wrecked. It’s not a light job.”
Hensley is a Farmer’s Insurance agent who is also a member of the town’s volunteer fire department.
“I was approached and I provided the quote for health insurance and because I had the budget in hand, I was actually able to sit down and look, go line by line, and I looked and I actually determined that my quote was saving them thousands of dollars before any officer assumes cost, a number that they had tossed around about them paying for part of it was 25%,” he explained.
Weber City currently covers 100% of officers’ health insurance. Officers said they are willing to pay for a portion of the coverage, but only if the insurance plan is better.
“If it’s good insurance, you’re okay with doing that,” Harding said. “I’ve got kids and we know that you have kids you are going to be using the insurance – they’re going to be going to the doctor, they’re going to be getting hurt, going to be getting sick, so you feel like it’s worth it in the long run.”
But it’s all about the money. So the officers asked for help.
“They’ve seen my quote, they’ve seen the coverage, it was acceptable to them,” Hensley explained. “If they were to assume 25% of it, the minimum amount that I could save with my quote was $25,000. The minimum amount and that’s after they picked the most expensive dental, vision, and health plans that were quoted.”
Hensley said he plans to run for the county’s board of supervisors to fight for the town.
If the town does not provide hazard pay and better insurance, Weber City officers may have to look for employment elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, that is an option that we have to look at,” Harding said. “If it’s less stress, more family time, and you’re making more money, that’s where a lot of people are going. I’ve stayed in it for 10 years because it’s been my enjoyment. I mean I know this is one thing that God has called me to do.”
The proposed police budget to be discussed at a special called meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. is $320,000, up from just over $316,000 last year.
The regular June council meeting will take place after the special called budget meeting at 7 p.m.
The budget will then be formally adopted on June 28.