By Isidro Camacho

Members of both the Lexington Police Department and the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office could receive raises next year, if their requests are approved.

After a hearing with the Lexington Police Department, Lexington City Manager Noah Simon decided officers were due for a bump in their salaries. This comes despite a proposal to decrease the department’s overall budget by about $16,000. The amount of the proposed raise is unclear.

Sheriff Chris Blalock said that his office’s salaries have been almost stagnant for the past seven years. From 2011 to 2016, Sheriff’s Office salaries have only risen twice.

Departments in Rockbridge County, including law enforcement, were recently offered the opportunity to work with Springsted, a public sector advising firm.

Springsted compared the salaries of the sheriff’s office to those of law enforcement departments in Lexington, VMI, Bath County and Augusta County. It found Rockbridge County deputies were being underpaid, according to the county’s financial director, Steven Bolster.

Blalock said the increases would help deputies adjust to a rising cost of living.

“We’re trying to catch up with other police enforcement agencies. Rockbridge County is going to bite the bullet and try to do it all at one time,” he said.

Blalock is asking for his salary to increase by 9 percent, and a 5 percent increase in deputies’ salaries, which together would add $63,000 to the office’s expenses.

In the current budget, sheriff and deputies’ salaries totaled $1.1 million, about half of the department’s total budget. The proposed budget of the Sheriff’s Office for 2017 would increase by about $130,000.

The proposed salary increase would benefit the more veteran members of the agency, Blalock said. A deputy with three years’ experience could potentially receive a nine percent increase in his salary.

Both the Lexington Police Department and the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office have also requested new equipment in their budgets.

Simon said he supports the purchase of two new squad cars as well as a new special enforcement vehicle to replace older cars, which together cost a total of $70,000.

The Lexington Police Department is also asking the city to pay for a new type of online surveillance software. Geofeedia, a location-based program that monitors social media interactions, allows users to detect trends from online activity.

The software is already in use at the Virginia Military Institute. Col. Stewart MacInnis, the institute’s spokesman, said that the post’s police department uses the service to comb through social media for certain keywords. MacInnis said that they are alerted whenever these keywords pop up.

Bolster, the county finance director, hopes the proposed county budget is ready for an April 14 public hearing session. The full proposed budget will be available to the public online in the coming weeks.

Lexington’s proposed budget was recently uploaded on to the city’s website, and will be presented to city council May 5.

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