Resolution gives Salisbury firefighters path forward in Social Security effort

Published 6:56 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution that starts the process for a vote among Salisbury firefighters on opting back into the Social Security program.

Firefighters in Salisbury do not pay into the Social Security program because of a decision made decades ago. They are the only employees in city government not subject to Social Security withholding despite being covered by the retirement plan through the Local Government Employees’ Retirement System.

The newly approved resolution gives Salisbury firefighters the ability to take a vote, but City Attorney Graham Corriher said it’s just the first step. The resolution also authorizes Corriher to work with the regional office of the Social Security Administration and the North Carolina Social Security administrator to begin the process, which is expected to include a notice before the vote is taken in addition to other procedural matters.

“It’s ultimately going to be their decision but this just provides city council support for giving them that choice,” Corriher said. “Because it is a multi-step process, I want to get it started as quickly as possible.”

Since July, members of the Salisbury Fire Department have called for increased pay and benefits for fire personnel to remain competitive with surrounding markets and retain its members who helped secure a Class No. 1 ISO rating earlier this year. Out of concern for increased vacancies in the Salisbury Fire Department, the city in November used preliminary data from an ongoing citywide salary study to grant interim increases for firefighters that average 5% across the department. The study will likely indicate a need for further raises once complete, which is anticipated for the spring of next year.

Funding for raises was pulled from the $258,000 set aside in the current budget to study recruitment and retention issues, and $40,000 was granted to The MAPS Group in August to conduct a full study of all departments.

Another option for firefighters the city is exploring is the implementation of a 457 plan, an IRS-sanctioned employee retirement plan offered by state and local government agencies along with some nonprofit employers. That plan offers a greater return on investment, but it doesn’t include the spousal death benefits provided to Social Security recipients.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

• Council members agreed to host future bi-monthly council meetings in a hybrid format, allowing virtual and in-person participation. They requested city staff continue to carefully monitor the status of COVID-19 infections for a return to virtual-only meetings if needed. Masks will be required for in-person meetings, though council member David Post pointed out no council members were wearing their masks throughout the meeting. Council member Harry McLaughlin suggested additional safety precautions such as temperature checks.

• The council approved land development map amendment CD-06-2021 to rezone one parcel measuring about 12.84 acres at 1040 Julian Road from Rural Residential to Residential Mixed-Use. The request includes a conditional district overlay to allow for a 212-unit multi-family apartment complex known as phase two of The Grand on Julian Road, which was completed and opened in 2009. The Salisbury Planning Board on Nov. 10 approved the request to construct eight three-story apartment buildings comprising 42 one-bedroom units, 110 two-bedroom units and 60 three-bedroom units.

• The council issued a demolition permit for the R. B. Miller building located at 317 East Liberty St. and within the Downtown Local Historic District. The demolition was approved by the Historic Preservation Commission during the Nov. 10 meeting. The request is from Gray Stout, an architect in Charlotte who is working with Rowan Helping Ministries to provide 12 additional housing units. Stout’s request is to demolish one of two buildings located at 317 E. Liberty St. and construct a new one that will provide transitional housing with a current address of 0 Depot St. Stout plans to demolish the historic R. B. Miller building, but preserve the facade, awnings and wooden deck that faces the Salisbury Depot railroad tracks.

• The council approved an amendment to the 2021-22 budget in the amount of $15,000 to appropriate a donation for demolition of dilapidated structures in the West End.

• The council granted a variance to Section 22-73(a) of the city code for a third driveway connection with fewer than 25 feet of curb between the driveway entrances for 511 Riviera Drive.

• Members authorized City Manager Lane Bailey to execute a municipal agreement for 30% participation in the construction of pedestrian facilities along Julian Road as part of Project U-5738, a widening project recommended by the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization.

• Council approved a resolution to transfer Market Station Drive, located between Innes Street and Bendix Drive, from the state secondary road system to the city of Salisbury road system.

• Council approved a right-of-way use permit for the use of two parking spaces adjacent to 115 East Innes Street through Jan. 31, 2022, for interior renovations.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.