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Spencer Police Department asks for pay increase to halt turnover

SPENCER — A routine departmental report turned into a plea for help Tuesday when Spencer Police Chief Mike James announced that another police officer has resigned.

“I don’t know how much more strength I’ve got to hire people and keep them here,” James told the town board.

Spencer’s Police Department has been plagued with turnover in recent years as officers leave for higher pay or better advancement opportunities.

“I hope that this board … can make (retention) a priority,” James said.

Town ordinances recommend $26,000 a year for entry-level police officers, but James said the department tries to offer $30,000. Nearby law enforcement agencies such as the Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office offer starting salaries as much as $6,000 more.

While Spencer’s officers are dedicated, James said, many feel they have no choice but to leave in order to feed their families. It’s a fate many small-town police departments are facing — particularly those bordering larger municipalities, like Spencer.

“We’re in a dilemma,” James said.

Members of the Board of Aldermen asked questions about salary rates and how much it costs to hire and train a new officer.

“It’s very, very time-consuming,” James said. “It’s different from hiring a guy to cut the grass.”

Putting a new officer through drug tests, psychiatric evaluations and polygraph tests and outfitting him with uniforms, body armor and other equipment could cost a total of several thousand dollars. That’s not taking into account training time with a seasoned officer.

Alderman David Smith tallied the numbers and said that hiring and training a new officer in his first year probably costs the town about $40,000.

“So we lose a big investment every time we lose a person,” Mayor Jim Gobbel said.

Town board members were sympathetic to James’ plea, and Gobbel suggested that the board look at investment verses salary cost during the next budget cycle.

Interim Town Manager Erskin Smith said it might be possible to come up with creative funding solutions before the next budget cycle to provide the town’s officers with some relief. Gobbel asked him to look into it further.

“I appreciate you listening — I feel better, anyways,” James told the board.

In other business:

• The board approved a financing resolution authorizing the filing of an application for approval of the agreement to purchase Park Plaza. The resolution lists the total project cost as $2.6 million. A public hearing will be held on the financing agreement in October.

• Spencer’s fall mulch giveaway will be from 7 a.m. to noon Sept. 15. Delivery is free to town residents. Those living outside town limits can have mulch delivered for $10 per load for up to three loads.

• Signs have been put up marking Spencer’s extraterritorial jurisdiction — areas the town is responsible for that are not within the town limits. The signs are to let local residents know they should contact the town about permits and not the county.

• The board voted to close Jefferson Street and Salisbury Avenue to Eighth Street on Nov. 21 for a Christmas parade. The parade — shared with Salisbury — will take the place of the Holiday Caravan.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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