While many focused this week on efforts to persuade the Floyd County Board of Supervisors to increase funding and — if necessary — hike taxes to support budget requests of the the county school system, another drama played out among the 35 speakers who voiced their opinions in a public comment period.

Sheriff Shannon Zeman opened the issue during his regular “county officials report” section of the meeting by expressing surprise that his department’s employee retention fund was removed from the budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, noting that supervisors had, in the past, told him the fund would be protected.

Zeman also displayed concern that the cut came from one of his former employees — retired deputy Joe Turman, who now serves as the Supervisor from Burk’s Fork District.

That concern was echoed by Chief Investigator Jeff Dalton, who took the floor with several deputies from the department watching, and stated emphatically that the fund’s removal from the budget violated a promise of the board and sent the wrong message in a county where “a handshake” used to be as strong and trustworthy as a contract.

In a budget work session later in the day, the supervisors — without comment on any reasons for the fund’s earlier removal — restored the funding as part of an action that drained the county’s reserve fund and also provided an additional  $173,000 to the school system and a part-time assistant prosecutor for the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Zeman’s employee retention fund was established to provide bonuses and other financial incentives to deputies who are often tempted to leave the department for other police agencies that provide higher salaries and better benefits.

Floyd County’s sheriff’s department has lost deputies over the years to Christiansburg, Montgomery County, the Virginia State Police and other agencies. County employee attrition is not limited to the Sheriff’s Department.  A popular building inspector left for better pay and benefits in Carroll County and the school system argues that their pay scales, which rank among the lowest in the state, causes valuable and experienced teachers to seek positions elsewhere.

Salaries and benefits paid to county employees rank in the bottom tier of Virginia rankings.

As someone who lived and worked out of the Washington, DC, area for 23 years and traveled the world in a career that now totals a half-century, I can say without hesitation that the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department is one of the better law enforcement agencies that I have dealt with on a professional basis over the years.

The department’s leadership is solid and the officers are professional, dedicated and committed to their jobs as public servants. It’s a shame they had to appear at a public meeting and beg to keep an employee fund that is both necessary and needed.

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