RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam announced his final two-year budget proposal will include the ‘largest investment in public safety in Virginia’s history.’

The plan, which will be fully presented to lawmakers next week, includes pay increases for Virginia state troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers. It comes as public safety agencies raise concerns over growing staff shortages, increasing mandatory overtime and declining morale.

“I know that the past couple of years have been challenging for our public safety agencies. The public debate over policing has been difficult,” Northam said.

“In order to attract the finest people and also retain them, you have to be able to compensate them. We live in a very competitive world right now,” Northam added in an interview.

The General Assembly and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will have the final say over what stays in the budget during the 2022 legislative session. Youngkin’s spokesperson declined to comment on Northam’s specific proposals but noted that the Governor-elect ran on fully funding law enforcement.

Under Northam’s plan, newly-sworn state troopers would receive a 7.7% pay raise. The starting salary for new correction officers would increase by 25%. The average entry-level salary for deputy sheriffs and regional jail officials would go up by approximately 20%.

The budget will also include significant funding to “address pay compression and provide more raises to a range of targeted officers and sworn personnel.” Northam said this is to ensure higher-ranking staff with more experience can look forward to raises throughout their careers.

Northam said some public safety agencies are seeing higher raises to fix existing salary disparities.

“What we have tried to do is level the playing field so that everybody will be around the same starting salaries and that will help the moving from one department to another that we have experienced over the years,” Northam said.

The announcement follows the completion of a comprehensive study on pay raises and salary compression involving various stakeholders.

“It’s way overdue and well deserved by the men and women who wear a uniform everyday to protect their citizens,” said Alleghany County and the City of Covington Sheriff Kevin Hall, who also serves as the president of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association.

Hall said Northam’s proposal is a welcome step but he fears some localities, especially in rural areas like his, won’t be able to match raises for positions that aren’t state funded.

“I’m always concerned about that,” Hall said.

As of July 2021, roughly a quarter of all correctional officer positions were unfilled, with 1,550 vacancies, according to VADOC Director Harold Clarke.

Meanwhile, the Virginia State Police Association is reporting 330 sworn vacancies with about 200 more troopers eligible to retire and less applications coming in.

“The bonuses and pay raises given to public safety officials every year during the Governor’s term have boosted morale and changed lives. This announcement comes just in time for the holidays and will mean so much to all of the officers and their families,” said Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel Gary T. Settle.

The governor made the announcement at the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial in Richmond.