Police officers in Cornelius make about $10,000 less than the local average, Police Chief Bence Hoyle told the town Board of Commissioners Monday night, Oct. 18.
But the salary issue is more than just a police department problem, Hoyle said.
“Seventy percent of our employees that are not police officers make less than (they would in) Huntersville and Davidson,” he said.
The chief gave his presentation during a board discussion of Town Manager Anthony Roberts’ use of the town’s bonus pool. Two weeks ago, Roberts reported he had used about 90 percent of the bonus pool in the first quarter of the budget year.
“The board authorized me $100,000 to use for retention, performance and market adjustments – a one-time shot in the arm to try to address as many things as possible,” Roberts said. “I had to be creative to try to address all those issues.”
But commissioners should investigate a long-term solution, Roberts said.
Hoyle’s presentation showed that officers in Charlotte, Davidson and Huntersville are paid about $10,000 more than Cornelius’ police officers.
“We understand that we’re not going to make as much as everybody else,” Hoyle said, “but this is ridiculous. We have to do much more to deal with this issue.”
The bonus pool caused some discontent during budget planning in April and May. Commissioner David Gilroy said he did not support the budget, partly because of the size of the pool, which he thought should have been $75,000 or less. Gilroy also said he was surprised Roberts used the money to encourage employees to stay, not just recognize special performance.
“It sounds like things got kind of blurry and it became less about special, extra effort and more about retention,” Gilroy said.
But Commissioner Lynette Rinker said she remembers the discussion almost always included retention, along with performance awards. The pool has been used for its specified purpose to help the town’s employees, she said.
“I find this whole discussion extremely embarrassing, ” Rinker said.
Cornelius needs to have pay scales that are at least close to the surrounding jurisdictions if the town expects to keep officers for more than a year or two, Hoyle said. He also asked the board create a consistent pay plan and maintain that plan over time for all town employees.
In Cornelius, 67 percent of the town’s 107 employees make less than $40,000 and 82 percent make less than $50,000.
Following Hoyle’s presentation, Mayor Jeff Tarte extended a thank-you to the town’s employees. “Know that you are completely and totally appreciated from this board and this community for what you do and what you sacrifice and for how excruciatingly well run this community is,” Tarte said.
Roberts said the bonus pool achieved performance and market adjustments, but it’s not getting at the heart of the retention problem. He expects to come back to the board in November or December with a complete picture of the problem – and possible solutions.
Commissioners Jim Bensman and Chuck Travis said the pay issue is important, but the board wouldn’t solve the problem overnight. They said they want to see more analysis and planning before the board can adopt any real solutions.
In other action, the board:
• Approved an exchange agreement with Mecklenburg County that completes a bargain struck to keep the Cornelius branch library open. In exchange for an extra $175,000 Cornelius is giving the county library system this year, the county is deeding the town ownership of the Westmoreland Athletic Complex.
The county also has given the town first option to buy the branch library building if the library system ever closes that branch.
• Heard American Tower Co.’s plan for installing a distributed antenna system to strengthen cell-phone coverage to parts of Cornelius west of Interstate 77. The board encouraged the company to continue working with town staff to develop the system, which the company hopes to have completed by the end of the year.
• Endorsed the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to add a left-turn lane going into the Habitat for Humanity neighborhood on Bailey Road.
The town has sent out e-mail alerts to the public that road work crews have closed Bailey Road until Monday, Oct. 25. After Monday, the road will be open to local traffic only, and state officials expect construction to take about two weeks.