Salisbury officials hope to stem tide of police officers leaving department

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

By Amanda Raymond

City officials say they want to increase pay for Salisbury police officers, in part to stem the tide of those leaving for more lucrative jobs in other law enforcement agencies.

The discussion happened at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon — before the Salisbury City Council’s regular meeting — to review notes from the board’s annual goal-setting retreat earlier this year.

At the meeting Tuesday, the council looked over a list of bulleted items gathered at the Jan. 27-28 retreat and consolidated a list of more than 20 priorities to a list of 10.

Two of the priorities on the list were supporting the Salisbury Police Department and finding a new police chief.

Of the search to replace Rory Collins, the former police chief who retired last year, City Manager Lane Bailey said it was a “realistic expectation that we’ll have a new chief before the beginning of the next fiscal year, if not soon thereafter.”

But there are also immediate needs at the Police Department. Bailey said there are about a dozen vacancies in the department, and that is “by far … the largest area of vacancies within the city.”

Bailey said that since there are vacancies and other challenges, the city will use some of the money that would have been used for police officers’ salaries to increase pay within the department, including the starting pay for incoming officers.

Those changes would happen during this fiscal year, Bailey said.

“Now, I realize that that will put challenges on FY 16-17 if we have the same number of positions in the police department because we’ve increased the pay, but I think this is just something we’ve got to do,” Bailey said.

Mayor Karen Alexander said she let Bailey know about granting opportunities, and Bailey said the city has looked into COPS grants that would help with salaries.

Later in the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said the salaries and benefits for Salisbury police have to be competitive.

“Our salaries and benefits have got to come on par with the nearby communities so that we stop being the local police academy,” she said.

The meeting Tuesday was planned for the council to talk about its visions and priorities for the next fiscal year. Tom Westall returned to facilitate.

During the retreat in January, the council talked about the current state of the city and the vision going forward. They also heard presentations from different city departments and community partners. After a brainstorming session about a vision for Salisbury’s future, the council decided to let the city employees organize and edit the notes and come back with their results at a later date.

“We were at the big picture level, and now we’re going to get really tactical,” Westall said.

In addition to the Police Department, the council also talked about education.

Councilman David Post asked about the city possibly playing a role in creating magnet schools at the elementary level to help make city schools more enticing.

“For example, to have a magnet school that might concentrate on literacy … a magnet school that could concentrate in a foreign language. These things have proven to be reasonably successful in other cities,” he said.

Councilman Brian Miller said the council may not be able to be a funding agent, but it can still bring attention to the issues and get involved in local organizations geared toward improving education. He said there could be competitions or prizes given to increase accountability and encourage the city departments to get involved.

Other priorities included:

  • Community greenscape
  • Encouraging sustainable practices
  • Increasing diversity, inclusion and transparency
  • Developing the Empire Hotel
  • Creating a comprehensive business plan for Fibrant
  • Economic development
  • Job creation

Bailey said the city staff would look over the new list of priorities and bring it back to the council by the first meeting in April, if not earlier.

The council held it’s first meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The council changed its meeting times and the time of public comment in order to accommodate more of the public. The public comment period was moved to 6 p.m. or the end of the meeting, whichever came first.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved the consent agenda, including approval of a sidewalk encroachment at 132 N. Main St., subject to approval from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
  • Heard a Highlights and Goals presentation from the Tourism and Cultural Development Commission.
  • Approved the renaming of the Lincoln Pool to the Fred M. Evans Pool at Lincoln Park.
  • Heard a budget request presentation from Downtown Salisbury, Inc. and the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission.
  • Adopted a Resolution of Intent to update the Salisbury Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan and establish a steering committee.
  • Made appointments to various boards and commissions.
  • Heard an update from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities in light of concerns about water safety after the crisis in Flint, Mich. SRU Director Jim Behmer said “the Salisbury water supply is safe to drink and for all uses.”

During public comment:

  • Al Harkins and Bill Earnhardt talked about upgrading a billboard on Earnhardt’s property to an electronic one. Mayor Alexander said the they should bring their request to the Planning Board and Community Appearance Commission.
  • Linda Cureton Dillard and her brother Benjamin Cureton asked for restitution from the city for their family’s upkeep of Burton Street. Alexander said Bailey, the city manager, would get in touch with the family.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.