Henry County Department of Public Safety could expand for first time in five years

County's proposed budget calls for four additional members

HENRY COUNTY, Va. – Now more than ever, Henry County Department of Public Safety members have to be prepared for anything.

"Call volumes continue to go up and our volunteerism continues to decline," Henry County Department of Public Safety Director Matt Tatum said.

Tatum said the department responded to almost 13 percent more calls in 2018 compared to 2017.

The department responded to 5,826 calls in 2017 and 6,572 calls in 2018.

Tatum tells 10 News historically, calls increase for a couple of years, then level off for a year or two before increasing again.

"In one or two years, hopefully we'll see a plateau," Tatum said.

Having four additional members will help improve call coverage for county residents but will also help reduce the likelihood that members will feel overworked and quit.

"Right now, with the resources that we have, quite often they are leaving one emergency and responding directly to another emergency," Tatum said.

Tatum was hoping for enough funding for 16 new members, but Henry County deputy administrator Dale Wagoner said the county doesn't have the money, at least not without a tax increase, and he does not believe now is the right time for a tax increase.

The last time members were added to the Department of Public Safety was in 2014.

Thirteen members were hired thanks to a grant.

"We've had a lot of momentum lately," Wagoner said. "We've had a lot of successes with economic development announcements. We've had some growth in our tax base in sales tax, lodging tax, meals tax. Those are all good signs for our economy here, but right now is not the time to put that burden back on our citizens in the form of a tax increase."

He emphasized that county supervisors remain focused on public safety along with education and economic growth.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for April 15 at 7 p.m. at the county administration building.

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