Friday, October 7, 2022

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Burlington city council approves $1.3M in pay raises for police dept.

Burlington’s city council has formally approved nearly $1.3 million in pay raises for the city’s police department in order to reverse a deluge of defections that has reportedly afflicted this agency.

The council unanimously signed off on this seven-figure package on Tuesday as part of a so-called consent agenda of presumably routine items that its members adopted en bloc during a regularly-scheduled meeting that evening.

In approving this particular item, the council effectively extended an extra $7,271 a year to each of the city’s 121 sworn police officers and $7,904 to the police department’s 18 dispatchers.

These raises, which are expected to cost the city an additional $1,273,558 a year, may nevertheless be just the first stroke of a complex, combination punch that could ultimately increase the pay of many other members of Burlington’s municipal staff.

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The police force’s newly-approved raises were originally pitched to the council last month on the heels of a labor market analysis made by a consultant hired on the police department’s behalf. This study ultimately examined police compensation at agencies as far afield as Wake County before it proposed the aforementioned salary increases in the hope they will give Burlington a leg up on the competition.

“I have been with the police department long enough now to see that, from where I sit, we have not seen this [before].  We have a great need to invest in the future of the department and onboard staff that are ready to make a career out of law enforcement…The proposal before you is probably unprecedented. It’s not a small ask, and we recognize that out front.” – Burlington police chief Brian Long

These raises are nevertheless just one component in a larger recruitment and retention strategy that the city’s police department has crafted in response to a staffing crunch it has recently experienced. The city’s police chief Brian Long made no bones about the seriousness of this manpower shortage when he addressed the council at a monthly work session Monday night before Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Burlington police chief Brian Long

“I have been with the police department long enough now to see that, from where I sit, we have not seen this [before],” Long said during the work session. “We have a great need to invest in the future of the department and onboard staff that are ready to make a career out of law enforcement…The proposal before you is probably unprecedented. It’s not a small ask, and we recognize that out front.”

Long added that, since the plan was first pitched to the council last month, the police department has updated its recruitment plan and adjusted its internal communications to make the most of the salary increases. He also acknowledged that he hopes these new raises will bring back some of the officers who have left the department for financial reasons and potentially lure away those who’ve cut their teeth at other area agencies.

“We believe that once it’s implemented, this pay strategy will be very attractive to what we call ‘lateral hires,’ and we already have other components of the recruitment process in place that will capitalize on their experience.”  – burlington police chief brian long

“We believe that once it’s implemented, this pay strategy will be very attractive to what we call ‘lateral hires,’” he told the council, “and we already have other components of the recruitment process in place that will capitalize on their experience.”

Long also alluded to a national climate driven by notorious police brutality cases that he believes has discouraged people from entering the law enforcement profession.

“I do think some of that has turned around – that whole attitude of defunding the police – as people realize how stupid an idea that was.” – Burlington city council member Kathy Hykes

Council member Kathy Hykes declared that, in her view, the fallout from these cases has actually dissipated somewhat since the outrage over police brutality reached its peak a year and a half ago.

“I do think some of that has turned around – that whole attitude of defunding the police,” she added – “as people realize how stupid an idea that was.”

Hykes also suggested that the council should consider pay increases for staff members not covered by the police department’s proposal.

Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, went on to ask specifically about water and sewer plant operators – a number of whom he said have recently defected to Orange County.

In response to these inquiries, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler acknowledged that the city’s administrators have been crunching the numbers for staff members not covered by Tuesday’s salary increases.

Meanwhile, city manager Hardin Watkins informed the council that it won’t be long before he’ll have some compensation proposals ready for employees not covered by Tuesday’s hikes.

“That proposal,” he added, “is 80 to 90 percent complete, and it will include everybody who is not in that group [of 139 employees at the police department].”

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