SALISBURY – Salisbury police officers will get their salary increases, and the City Council is looking to sustain the salary structure and give pay increases to all employees by Christmas if not sooner.
Salisbury Police Department (SPD) officers have not had a raise in five years and their pay scale is one of the lowest in the area. On top of the comparatively low salary structure is a wide disparity in the case load for the SPD compared to other agencies in the area.
At first Police Chief Barbara Duncan said $650,000 would be ideal and would “fix” instead of treat the problem, at least for the time being. An annual budget increase of $650,000, which would bring the SPD budget up to about $10 million a year, would allow better pay scaling for all sworn officers, including supervisors.
In the following weeks, Duncan returned to the council saying that the $650,000 figure could be lowered by subtracting the pay periods that have already passed in this fiscal year, which is July-September. There are 15 pay periods remaining and close to $448,000 would increase the pay scale for 60 officers.
With the council already behind approving the pay raise ordinance in second reading, the discussion turned to concerns regarding sustaining the police salary structure into the future, as well as giving salary increases to all city employees.
“This is about public safety but as a council person and as a citizen of Salisbury I think we need to value all of our employees as just as important,” Councilwoman Shanie Shields said. “What I am seeing with the money that is returned to surplus is all departments of the city return that money, and they should have some reward for not spending all of the money in last year’s budget, and I thought that could be part of a raise.”
Shields recommended that the council find a way to give 2 percent pay increases to all city employees by Christmas.”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell was happy to see that the money returned to surplus this year from last year’s budget could fix the issues within SPD and most likely could give a 2 percent salary increase for all other employees, which is about $233,000 for the rest of this year and $292,000 in years to come.
However, Mitchell is concerned over sustaining that cost along with the increase in SPD salaries.
“Last budget session this council majority was not even willing to discuss without any real merit the possibility of increasing the tax rate to the constant yield,” she said. “If we are not willing to look at that…than we shouldn’t do this. I have to ask the majority of the council if their willing to honestly say…this may require a tax increase to sustain these changes.”
Council Vice President Deborah Campbell wanted to quickly calm and concerns over “tax increase.”
“I feel confident in assuring you that you have a thoughtful council here when it comes to how your money is handled …” she said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance and in a special press conference on Wednesday, Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton officially added his signature to the City Council budget amendment.
Ireton defended his initial reluctance to sign the increase and underlined the need for new ideas and better cooperation in the future if the city plans on sustaining the adjustment.
“These are costs that have to be met every year,” he said explaining that the total number to sustain the new police salary structure is $698,706.
Granting a raise to all city employees combined with the pay adjustment for police would equal $980,313 that would need to be found in the budget every year, according to Ireton.