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Cost of Living Hinders Deputy Recruitment

The SheriffÕs Office is having trouble filling deputy positions.

Sgt. Lee Ann Gable has been with the Loudoun County SheriffÕs Office for 20 years. A decade ago she moved to Frederick County so she could buy a house. With her salary, she could not afford to buy a house where she worked.

The distance has its disadvantages, particularly the commute. It was not so bad when she worked the night shift, but in April she switched to days.

"ItÕs very stressful driving into work and driving home," she said Monday. "IÕve been driving in rush hour traffic."

She also lamented having to spend so many hours each week in traffic. "Obviously, our costs are higher with gas, more motor vehicle maintenance, and I donÕt have the ability to live in the community in which I patrol."

Gable said she would like to live closer to her family, who lives in Loudoun. The community would benefit from her being there around-the-clock, she added. "There is an advantage to having a greater police presence in the county," she said. "They lose out a bit by not having a cruiser parked overnight in the community."

Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the SheriffÕs Office, estimated half of the 348 deputy sheriffs live outside Loudoun County because of the high cost of living. Despite the long commute, which takes at least at an hour and sometimes much longer depending on distance, traffic, and weather, the deputies live where houses are more affordable. These locations include Virginia counties west of Loudoun, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Sheriff Steve Simpson cited LoudounÕs high cost of living as one reason for his difficulty in filling all of the deputy positions. The average price of a house in the county is $454,517. "There are a lot of our people who live over the mountain," he said. "Young couples or young single people, they canÕt buy a place here."

Troxell said human resources is currently working to fill 41 positions, and nearly half of them are for the new Adult Detention Center slated to open in the spring of 2006. The SheriffÕs Office is seeking 69 new deputies in the FY06 budget, which is under review by the Board of Supervisors. The current FY05 budget provides for 38 new positions, with 24 of them slated for the Adult Detention Center. The Board of Supervisors approved 19 deputy slots in the FY04 budget and eight in FY03.

IN JULY, Simpson said he needed 155 to 165 more positions over the next three to five years at an estimated cost of $22 million. The Board of Supervisors decision to finance a ratio of 0.8 deputies per 1,000 residents was insufficient, he said. He recommended 55 new positions annually; they would include support personnel.

Simpson said more sheriffs are needed because Loudoun is the fastest growing county in the country. "The more people who move into the county, the more calls for service we get," he said. "And itÕs not just the growth in the county, but the growth in the area that affects us as well."

The population increase in areas outside Loudoun generates more commuter traffic throughout the county, he said. "All those people drive through the county every day," he said.

LoudounÕs rapid growth also breeds an increase in crime, he said. "Unfortunately, everyone who drives through the county is not on the up and up."

Simpson said filling the correctional officer jobs is the most difficult. He said he needed to get deputies hired and trained in time for the Detention CenterÕs opening. "It is harder to attract people for the corrections job, as opposed to law enforcement, because you are basically in jail," he said.

He also attributed the problem of hiring deputies to Loudoun CountyÕs outstanding job market. "There are not as many people out there seeking law enforcement jobs," he said. "They are looking for high tech jobs where they can make more money."

LoudounÕs unemployment is 1.9 percent compared to 5.1 percent nationally.

COMPETITION WITH Arlington and Fairfax law enforcement agencies used to be a hindrance. The starting salary for Loudoun deputies is $38,303 compared to $38,126 in Arlington and $38,619 in Fairfax. "ThatÕs one of the reasons I have been so aggressive to get the salaries higher," he said. "We have to compete with those jurisdictions."

Simpson said he also is working to retain deputies. He initiated a new program to reward long-term deputies with higher pay when they enroll in classes that enhance their skills. They can now advance without becoming supervisors. Based on their experience and course work, they can qualify for deputy first class, senior deputy and master deputy. The program takes effect Jan. 1, 2005.

The sheriff said he has recruited men and women in Pennsylvania, but has only hired one deputy from that region. "We have people who are interested in coming down here, but they look at the cost of living and say, ÔForget it.Õ"

Simpson said he would rather have deputies living in the county. "Those that do live here are more tied to the communities. TheyÕre involved in the schools and sporting events."

Another plus is that those deputies are more familiar with the county, he said.

Troxell said the deputies who live outside the county drive their cruisers home if they are always on call, such as members of the crime scene investigation, the civil disturbance, the accident reconstruction, and the sheriffÕs emergency response team units. The county pays for the gas. The other commuters park their cruisers at SheriffÕs Office substations or they make arrangements to leave their cruisers at other locations.

INVESTIGATOR Vince DiBenedetto, who has been with the SheriffÕs Office for 18 years, lives in Winchester. "ItÕs one long stream of cars in the morning," he said, referring to traffic on Route 9.

The boost in traffic in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in traffic lights. There are five near his house and three more in Berryville. "The Greenway dumps a lot of cars in Leesburg," he added. "You are practically standing still."

He uses the back roads to avoid backups resulting from motor vehicle crashes. "Unfortunately, other people have the same idea."

DiBenedetto said the solution is to build more traffic lanes. Married couples can afford to buy homes in Loudoun County, he said. "But you have to pour a lot more money into housing. I couldnÕt afford to rent here unless I had a roommate.

"ItÕs kind of a shame. It takes something away from the community when civil servants canÕt afford to