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China Grove mulls merit raises during budget talks

CHINA GROVE — One of the biggest issues the town council must decide before it can balance the 2013-2014 budget is whether it will offer employees a cost-of-living increase or implement a merit pool.
The board met Tuesday to discuss the budget but the councilmen realized they had a few items left to consider before the budget could be finalized. One thing the board is sure of is they do not want to increase property taxes this year. The current tax rate is 54 cents per $100 valuation, which was increased last year from 47 cents. One cent on the property tax base equals $26,803 in revenue.
Town employees received a 1 percent cost-of-living increase in last year’s budget. Prior to that increase employees had gone four years without a raise.
One option is to institute a 2.5 percent merit pool. The money from the merit pool would fund employee raises. There was some discussion if the town should have the merit increases for employees who qualified or just have an across the board cost-of-living increase. Councilman Mike Upright suggested the board look at both.
Police Chief Eddie Kluttz again mentioned the career development program he’s asked the board to implement. The program would provide a salary increase to officers who obtain or have a degree. Employees who have certain certifications would also receive an increase in salary. The program would be retroactive for any officer who met the qualifications.
Councilman Lee Withers, who was not in attendance at the meeting, has said he didn’t think the career development program should just be for the police department. Town Manager Ken Deal said at Tuesday’s budget meeting there aren’t many departments that could implement the program if it were determined by employees receiving salary increases based on certifications.
Kluttz also asked the board to return positions it had cut in preliminary budget discussions. He’s lost two offices and a part-time clerk and is likely to lose another officer. He told the board some of the positions he has were through grants. In order to be in compliance with the terms of the grants, they have to maintain the number of employees.
Fire Chief Jeff Gledhill also discussed the need to replace old hoses. Mayor Don Bringle asked if the fire department would survive without new hoses.
“We lose about two sections a year. There is 100 feet in a section,” Gledhill said. He said the department keeps the old hoses, tests them regularly and uses them as back up, if needed.
Councilman Brandon Linn suggested old hoses be donated to South Rowan High since the school is starting a fire academy, which will provide fire services training for students. Gledhill said donating the hoses to the students would be a good idea.
Gledhill said the fire department has 12 more sections of hoses to replace, costing about $500 a section.
The board will have its next budget session, Tuesday, June 4 at 5:30 p.m. before its board meeting at 7 p.m.

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