Landis Public Safety Department receives grants to upgrade equipment, planning for more

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, January 11, 2022

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — The Landis Public Safety Department says it has received about $30,000 in grant funding to upgrade equipment and is waiting for tens of thousands of additional dollars.

During the Landis Board of Aldermen meeting on Monday, Town Manager Diane Seaford provided an overview of the department’s activity over the previous year. Much of the year was spent organizing the police and fire operations into a joint Public Safety Department after Director Zachary Lechette grabbed the reins in December 2020.

The department has received at least $30,000 from grants and is awaiting approximately $55,000 from two additional grants. The department received $25,000 from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to purchase protective equipment such as gas masks. Additionally, $5,000 from the Norfolk Southern Railroad Corporation will aid the town in purchasing AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, for police vehicles.

The town is also receiving $250 as partial reimbursement from the North Carolina League of Municipalities to replace ballistic vests for police and public safety officers.

Overall, the police department responded to 7,787 calls for service in 2021. The fire department responded to 967. Those include calls for service and self-initiated calls.

When looking at end of the year calls for service, Alderwoman Katie Sells said she was “not bashing anybody,” but that she was disappointed not to see see Lechette or Assistant Public Safety Director Kevin Young’s names, particularly because there are officers working alone during the third shift.

The department has applied for and is awaiting two other grants, including $50,000 from Firehouse Subs for the purchase of station-based cascade SCBA filling stations for the fire department and $5,000 for thermal imaging drones for the fire department. The $5,000 would be granted from the North Carolina League of Municipalities, with a 50% required match.

Sells also said she’s not thrilled with the department’s efforts to purchase thermal imaging drones when other departments in the county have them. Alderman Darrell Overcash said “there’s other places money can be spent.”

Seaford said they can help with worker’s compensation cases as they help assess the risks and hazards for the responding officer, along with missing persons cases and photo and video capability during town events. The estimated cost for such equipment is a little more than $11,000, but Seaford said the department has only applied for the grant at this time.

“It’s an opportunity to add to our arsenal of items that we can use in the field,” Seaford said. “There’s no guarantee we would get the money, and if we do, you have an option to choose not to participate.”

Following discussion, town board members approved a $50,000 amendment to the 2021-2022 budget. Rowan County commissioners in November allocated around $1.2 million of its federal American Rescue Plan funds to each of the county’s 23 non-municipal fire districts as well as the Rowan County Rescue Squad. The funds will be set aside in the general fund’s capital outlay to eventually purchase back-up generators for both Landis and East Landis fire districts.

The town added three new full-time firefighters and is now fully staffed, allowing each engine to be staffed with an officer, engineer and firefighter during calls for service. The department is also welcoming public safety officer Heather Marlin this week along with Officer Melvin Snipes, who will serves as the school resource officer at South Rowan High School. The department has also extended a conditional offer of employment to fill a current vacancy.

Earlier this year, the town approved allocating $14,400 from the general fund to purchase 13 Axon body cameras and 13 tasers from Taser 7 technology, which was partially funded by surplus equipment sales over the last year. Both devices are used by the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the Salisbury Police Department. A total of $8,000 is allocated in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget, with a cost of $22,000 each year after for the remainder of the five-year contract.

Seaford recalled that earlier this year, the town granted pay raises to part-time firefighters, who will now earn at least $12 an hour. Officers working the third shift received a pay raise earlier this year of $1 per hour. Also this year, the fire department improved its ISO rating from a 4 to a 2. The new rating applies to both Landis Fire Department and East Landis fire districts, which serves the rural, unincorporated areas of the county outside of the town’s limits.

In other business:

• The town board also entered into a closed session to discuss a potential legal contract for the acquisition of real property. No action was taken.

• The town approved a letter to the Local Government Commission responding to a few concerns flagged during an audit of the 2020-21 budget. In December, Tonya Thompson of the Martin Starnes and Associates auditing firm told town board members the 2020-21 budget received “a clean opinion” with no significant concerns. However, there were “significant audit adjustments” attributed to a number of corrections needed for the town’s financial records. Additionally, the LGC flagged Landis’ decision in the 2020-21 budget to transfer money into water and sewer funds and out of the electric fund. Seaford said those concerns can be attributed to staff spending the last year focusing on internal controls and operations, including the hiring of Chase Norwood as finance officer for the town, in addition to improvements in how revenues and expenditures are reported and classified in the budget.

• Town aldermen approved amendments and modifications to the Landis Development Ordinance to reflect updated information about properties, street and natural stream alignments and decriminalizing minor violations of the town’s code to comply with a new state law. The amendment also allows the town to make modifications to the LDO to comply with state laws as they’re enacted without seeking recommendations from the Landis Planning Board.

• Public Works Director Joe Halyburton was appointed to represent the town on the North Carolina Municipal Power Agency No. 1 Board of Commissioners, with Mayor Pro Tem Ashley Stewart appointed first alternate and Overcash appointed second alternate. Halyburton and Stewart were also appointed to the NCMPA1’s rate committee participation. The NCMPA1 establishes utility rates charged to residents each year. The NCMPA1 has 75% ownership interest in the Catawba Nuclear Station No. 1, located in York County, South Carolina, and operated by Duke Energy.

• Seaford said the town is working to schedule for February a budget work session along with a session to discuss possible uses for the approximate $1 million in American Rescue Plan funding.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.