Olson police vacancies becoming ‘crisis’ – daily advance gas vs electric oven

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“Statewide, we’re having a hard time finding law enforcement officers,” he said. “I was talking to someone in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area; they’re 300 to 400 officers short. They’re contemplating raising their base salary, entry salary, to $51,000 because of the shortage.”

Third Ward Councilor Rickey King, a retired police officer, and First Ward Councilor Jeannie Young, mother of a police officer currently on the force, raised concerns about officer salaries. King said he often sees the city invest in officers’ training, only for them to leave for better pay in neighboring Currituck County.

Responding to their concerns, Olson said that, to qualify for some training, the city does require officers to stay with the department for a few years or reimburse the city for the cost of their coursework. He also noted that, once officers have been with the city for about 10 years, they tend to finish their careers with the city, due in part to longevity pay and a desire to build up their retirement benefits.

Monday’s discussion about police officer pay follows concerns expressed recently by the city’s former fire chief over staffing levels in the Elizabeth City Fire Department. Speaking at meetings as a private citizen, retired Fire Chief Larry Mackey has warned councilors that the fire department is dangerously understaffed.

While not endorsing the staffing levels Mackey favors, Olson told council he believes the city should add firefighters gradually. He noted the annual cost of two firefighters is about equal to the revenue generated by 1 penny of the city’s property tax rate.

Though the city’s annual fire calls have changed little over the years, Olson did note the fire department is increasingly providing aid to volunteer fire departments in both Pasquotank and Camden counties. Volunteer fire departments often can’t get to fires during their working hours, he noted.

Though acknowledging the personnel challenges in the city’s police and fire departments, Olson stopped short of calling for increased salaries or additional positions in next year’s city budget. Much of the city’s budget already goes to public safety, and the city needs to invest more in other departments, he said.

Olson’s proposed 2018-19 budget proposes spending $10.4 million on police and fire services, which is just over half of his proposed $19.6 million general fund budget. He also noted the city has spent more than $4 million on capital projects for the police and fire departments since 2013, including purchasing a new public safety building.

* Olson’s report that the city’s three police dogs, Colt, Duke and Karma, will hit retirement age in fall 2019. He suggested the city could operate effectively with only two K-9 units, noting that each K-9 costs $7,800, which includes the cost of the dog and training.

* Olson’s proposal to spend about $67,000 on new equipment for the fire department, including $30,000 for air bottles, $24,000 for air packs and $8,500 for a thermal imaging camera. The camera helps firefighters locate the hottest parts of a structure fire.