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Proposed Salisbury city budget raises taxes to boost police pay

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A proposal to boost minimum pay for police officers by 15 percent will require a 3.76-cent tax increase, according to City Manager Lane Bailey’s proposed budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Bailey, who presented the budget during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, said most of the tax increase will directly pay for police salaries. The remaining third of the tax hike will pay for public safety equipment. He included the officer pay increases in the budget after the council approved the idea during a planning retreat earlier this year.

Under Bailey’s proposal, an average homeowner in Salisbury — someone with a $135,500 house — would see a $51 increase in yearly property taxes as a result of the proposed tax hikes.

In a separate increase, water and sewer bills would go up 2.6 percent under Bailey’s budget. An average water bill would be $1.71 more expensive per month. Bailey attributed the increase to inflation.

Council members didn’t extensively discuss Bailey’s budget plan. Instead, they set a budget work session for May 24 at 1 p.m. The meeting will be held in the City Council chambers at City Hall and will be open to the public.

Bailey’s budget estimates $40.37 million in revenue for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which starts in July. It estimates expenditures to be $42.61 million. To balance revenue and expenditures, he appropriates about $2.25 million from the fund balance, which partially functions as a savings account.

When asked about the budget after Tuesday’s meeting, Police Chief Jerry Stokes said he’s aware of several experienced officers working for other agencies who are closely watching to see whether pay increases are approved by the City Council. During the recent planning retreat, Stokes said raising police officer pay would make the Salisbury Police Department “the place to come work.”

Specifically, Bailey’s budget would boost minimum pay by 15 percent for all but the most experienced officers. New officers would see minimum pay rise from $34,224 to nearly $40,000 per year. Other ranks that would receive a 15 percent increase include Police Officer 2, master police officer and sergeant.

Lieutenants and captains would see minimum pay rise by 10 percent.

Bailey said the pay increases would go into effect July 1. His budget estimated $624,250 per year as the total amount needed to enact the police pay proposal.

The plan would not be the only increase officers would see next year. Bailey also proposes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and 1 percent merit increases for all city employees. Both would go into effect at the start of December.

After speaking about police officer raises, Bailey described other significant expenditures in the 2017-18 budget.

He called the city’s Fibrant fund “one of the most challenging aspects for our organization budget.” Fibrant is the city’s internet, TV and phone service. City officials and business leaders are currently discussing whether to sell, lease or hire someone to manage Fibrant.

Bailey’s budget would repay a portion of an inter-fund loan owed to the water and sewer fund. To balance the Fibrant fund, Bailey would transfer $3.26 million from the city’s general fund.

In his budget plan, Bailey says he expects a decision about the future of Fibrant to be made during the next fiscal year.

Other major expenditures in the budget include: $1.3 million for a new pumper firetruck; $865,920 for a new platform firetruck; and $675,000 for design services and land acquisition for the relocation of Fire Station No. 6 and building Fire Station No. 6.

The largest portion of the proposed expenditures — 38 percent — is dedicated to public safety.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:

• The City Council voted to start a 30-day public input period for naming the Brenner Avenue Greenway in honor of William Peoples.

Council members expressed uniform support for the idea. Residents speaking during the public-comment period also offered support.

If approved after the 30-day period, the greenway would be known as the William C. Peoples Jr. Walkway.

Councilman Kenny Hardin spoke briefly about Peoples’ character and his work advocating for all residents of the city. Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said the name change would be appropriate because the title could be shorted to “the Peoples greenway.”

DeeDee Wright, a close friend of Peoples, said Peoples, before his death, was aware of the idea to rename the greenway in his honor. Wright said he was pleased with the idea.

Among his various other efforts, Peoples successfully lobbied the City Council to install streetlights on Brenner Avenue.

When it’s time to install signs honoring Peoples, Councilman Brian Miller suggested the city place one under one of the streetlights for which Peoples advocated.

• The City Council approved a rezoning requested by Catawba College that would allow the school to expand north of campus.

At its first meeting in May, the council delayed a decision on the rezoning request because two council members were absent. The council held a required public hearing then.

On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved the rezoning request.

The rezoning changes several residential tracts to the institutional campus designation, which allows for future campus expansion. It would also change several dozen acres to the open space preserve designation.

Miller advocated for the city to give Catawba College the opportunity to grow and meet its enrollment plans. He said the proposal does not pose the potential to cause any future harm.

Mayor Karen Alexander said she was pleased the college chose to protect Grants Creek by asking the city to declare surrounding areas “open space preserve.”

• The council voted to narrow to three lanes the section of North Main Street from railroad tracks near downtown to the city limits.

North Main Street, currently four lanes, would get a bike lane after a re-striping project approved Tuesday. The re-striping will be done in conjunction with a state Department of Transportation resurfacing project planned this summer.

• The council awarded a contract to Waste Management in the amount of $365,640 for curbside recycling. The contract will last three years and provide 96-gallon carts to be picked up every other week.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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