Huntersville board prepares to loosen purse strings
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – The town of Huntersville managed better than many municipalities during the recession, making it through the economic crisis without having to lay off any employees or implement wage cuts.
That’s not to say there was no sacrifice required: there was an informal hiring freeze (a few positions were added, but others were left empty after employees left), salaries were frozen for three years and the town put off whatever costs it could, nursing old vehicles and equipment through another year or two of service rather than replacing them.
After several years of belt-tightening, Huntersville seems poised to let its belt out a notch with the budget for the coming fiscal year. The new budget includes $93,000 for the Huntersville Police Department to reinstate an incentive program that it suspended two years ago as a way to avoid layoffs. The program grants automatic raises for sworn officers who achieve certain education or certification levels.
While town manager Greg Ferguson is in favor of resuming a version of the program, he thinks that the program as it used to exist was too much.
“It was not sustainable to have a system where someone could hit a 12 to 15 percent salary increase in 12 to 18 months on top of any merit or cost of living increase,” Ferguson said.
He added that salary incentive programs are common in law enforcement agencies and are therefore important for officer retention, but said that he and Police Chief Phil Potter would be looking at ways to restructure the program so that raises would be spread out over time.
Commissioner Charlie Jeter also brought up the mayor’s salary, which has been flat for decades. He noted that the responsibilities of the job far exceed the compensation and suggested that in the future it might prove difficult to attract quality candidates to run for the office if that disparity remains.
Mayor Jill Swain suggested as a first step that the town utilize the N.C. League of Municipalities to determine what the compensation is for the full governing bodies (mayor and commissioners) of similar-sized towns in the state, which was met with general agreement.