Proposed police raises would cost $394,515

By Tom Joyce -

Hiking the pay of Mount Airy police officers in the next fiscal year would increase the municipal budget by nearly $400,000, according to figures released by city officials.

The majority of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners recently expressed support for raising the salaries in response to ongoing manpower shortages faced by the police department.

Their main focus was on the starting pay for city police of $29,140 a year, a figure labeled “terrible” by Commissioner Shirley Brinkley since it lags behind other law enforcement agencies against which Mount Airy must compete for personnel. There was a consensus reached by board members that this should be raised to the $35,000 range.

They also want higher pay for all sworn members of the department, which number 41 out of its total staff of 55.

That represents a total $2.8 million price tag, including salary and benefits, based on a breakdown prepared by the city human resources office. Under the pay rates for the present, 2016-2017 fiscal year, the cost is $2.4 million.

Implementing the increase for the 41 sworn officers for the next fiscal year as the commissioners have pledged to do would require $394,515 more than what is now spent on the salaries and benefits. The total benefit package is affected by the salary levels of various employees.

A chart that lists the proposed pay hikes on a position-by-position basis shows that raising the starting pay of new officers from $29,140 to $35,420 would represent a percentage increase of 21.55 percent.

Other sworn officers in the department, who are listed by position and according to years of service, would receive higher pay at lesser increments of 7.78 percent or lower.

Raising the pay for those other than new officers is seen as a way to improve the retention and morale rate among veteran officers, and also would avoid “compression issues,” City Manager Barbara Jones pointed out during the commissioners’ last meeting on March 16.

Salary compression can occur when new employees receive pay similar to or higher than their more experienced colleagues in the same position, which suggests that those farther up the scale should receive some increase to compensate.

Brinkley, along with commissioners Jon Cawley and Jim Armbrister, a retired police lieutenant, have argued that salaries of the city’s sworn police officers should be considered separately from other municipal personnel because of the extra dangers they face.

The city manager also has been advocating raises for other city workers next year under a Phase II plan to bring salaries more in line with employees of similarly sized municipalities.

That effort included a 3-percent raise being granted to all municipal employees for 2016-2017, a “blanket” approach Armbrister has criticized for not significantly aiding those on the lower end of the spectrum, including newly hired police officers.

At last report, the city had six vacancies among its sworn-officer force, but conditional employment offers have been made to three students now enrolled in Basic Law Enforcement Training to cut that deficit in half.

$12 million budget

The commissioners reached a consensus during a recent planning retreat that the city manager prepare a general fund budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year that is capped at $12 million.

That balanced-budget directive also includes figuring in the cost of the police raises, with the commissioners additionally agreeing that no money from the city’s fund balance, or reserves be used.

Last June, the commissioners adopted a $13.6 million general fund budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year that ends on June 30, which earmarked about $2.4 million from the fund balance.

However, in recent years Mount Airy has experienced a trend of final budget expenditures being much less than projected, sometimes due to costly projects being delayed, while actually adding money to the fund balance.

The $12 million figure is believed to represent a more accurate budget total, based on the performance of the past five fiscal years.

That could require some tightening of city purse strings since total projected revenues for this fiscal year were put at $11.2 million, not counting any fund balance appropriation.

City resident Paul Madren said during a public forum of the March 16 meeting that he for one is willing to pay higher property taxes to support increased police pay.

Mount Airy’s property tax rate is now 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.