During their recent annual retreat, Elon’s aldermen received pitches for three new employees and hundreds of thousands in capital purchases and projects.
Department heads proposed purchases for vehicles that had been deferred from last year’s budget; sidewalk projects downtown; and, in the case of the recreations and parks department, a number of studies and site plans ranging from more parking to a $700,000 recreation facility.
Police chief Kelly Blackwelder didn’t request additional staff, but did float the idea of a new, separate facility from town hall, which both she and town manager Richard Roedner described as having little to no space to accommodate police or administrative staff.
“There is growth coming, there are spots to be filled, and we simply don’t have the capacity to do that,” she said.
Referring to her current officers’ workplace set-ups, the chief said, “Their cars are their offices. But inevitably there needs to be a place for them to come in and package evidence, for them to come in and work on those in-depth criminal investigations, those felony case files, and things like that. We’re at the peak. We have no place to put them.”
Counting that as one of her 5-to-10-year needs, Blackwelder didn’t give an estimate on what a new facility might cost. Additional needs put forward by the chief were obtaining more advanced technology — like a new records management system and adding public safety and traffic cameras — and offering incentives for recruiting and retaining staff.
Bringing in good quality officers, the chief said, has become “highly competitive,” with Blackwelder citing statistics showing that 75 percent of departments nationwide have reported difficulty recruiting what she termed “qualified candidates.”
“I can tell you 10 years ago — 15 years ago — for one position we’d have 60 applicants, and out of those maybe 20 really strong, qualified applicants,” she said. “This past hiring process, I think we had 14 applicants. So far, of those, one person was qualified.”
Of the pool of applicants over recent years, she said, several had been fired from other departments for misconduct, criminal activity, or subpar performance.
“These are not folks that I want to bring into our agency,” she said.
Proposing that the town follow the example of other departments, Blackwelder said that she plans to present ideas for recruitment incentives within the next two years.
In her proposed line-item budget to town manager Richard Roedner following the retreat, Blackwelder requested two replacement patrol cars for a total of $108,700 and $15,000 to continue placing public safety cameras around town.
Recreation and Parks
Department head Phyllis Chambers laid out a handful of tangible requests and pitches for several studies for larger, longer-term projects when she came before the board.
At the top of her list, as it was last year, was the request for a full-time maintenance technician, though the employee’s salary, like that of all town employees, wouldn’t be decided until later by the town’s finance department. The technician would be on hand to do carpentry, light construction, maintenance, repairs, landscaping, and more. The department currently employs a contractor, Chambers explained, though that employee’s work is landscaping-oriented.
Also carried over from the year prior was Chambers’ request for a $30,000 electronic marketing sign at the corner of Westbrook Avenue and University Drive. The director also presented pitches for smaller items, like $25,000 for a bicycle/tricycle “playground” at Lawrence Slade Park and $15,000 for internal sidewalks at Beth Schmidt Park. For both parks, she asked for sunshades over the playgrounds, which would total $82,000 and be paid for largely by grants.
Chambers reintroduced her request for a $700,000 indoor facility, which she told the aldermen, both this year and last, would contribute revenue back to the town in time through renting it out for events and holding fitness classes and summer camps. Still, the director described the facility as a long-term endeavor, asking that the town free up funds for her to conduct a feasibility study for the building with the help of town engineer Josh Johnson.
Other site plans that the director requested funds to draw up were for a permeable parking area at Lawrence Slade Park, which currently has eight spaces, and the expansion of the current community center at Beth Schmidt Park, which was built in 2003 and seats 60.
Department head Kathleen Patterson’s only request presented with a price tag was $163,000 to start phase three of an ongoing parking project on West Lebanon Avenue. Apart from that, she gave the board an overview of her hopes for downtown, which includes the addition of murals, small parks, and public art.
An even larger endeavor, she explained, would be widening sidewalks on North Williamson Avenue and adding bike lanes and on-street parking by 2026.
Patterson also laid out her plans for West College Avenue, which has been closed off to through traffic for several months since it was converted into a dining area for patrons visiting downtown restaurants. Ultimately, she said, that first block of the street would become a “gathering space” for events, outdoor dining, and public art.
Under the department head’s plans, the town would also acquire property or agreements to build a parking deck in downtown and build a gravel lot for permitted parking.
Patterson also requested that the town create a “municipal service district” downtown, which, the town manager explained would act as a “focused tax increase” for the businesses that are put into the district by the town. There would be limitations to how the revenue could be used, he said, with the funds only being allowed to be spent for downtown projects.
Finance and Planning departments
Finance department head Misty Hagood requested $50,000 to change the town’s finance software to a different — Hagood said more efficient — company and that the town hire a part-time front office employee for her department, which is situated at the front of town hall.
Planning director Pam DeSoto likewise requested an employee, asking for a full-time planner to assist her with what she described as an increasing workload. DeSoto is currently the only planning department member and doubles as the assistant town manager.
The planning director also asked that the budget work in annual financing each year for incremental sidewalk projects, though she didn’t specify an amount. For the upcoming budget, she requested $125,000 to construct a sidewalk along West Lebanon Avenue and $55,000 for design and acquisition of right-of-way for a sidewalk along West Trollinger Avenue.
Though fire chief Alva Sizemore put in a future request for 10 firefighters — one would also serve as a fire inspector — none are being proposed for the upcoming budget.
The combination firefighter-inspector, along with three firefighters, would be hired in the 2022-23 budget year. Six more firefighters would be requested through the 2024-25, the chief noted, with three in 2023 and the remaining three in 2024.
Apart from staff, Sizemore asked that funding continue to be put toward replacing all of the department’s current communication equipment, which will fall out of compliance in January 2025.
The chief also asked for $82,000 to put in cement around the department’s fire tower, which he said regularly becomes thick with mud.
Carrying over a request that was deferred last year, public works director Donnie Wood asked that the town’s manager work into the budget an incentive program that would reward public works employees for earning certifications and achievements that develop their skills and knowledge in the industry. Doing so, he said, would maintain the department’s level of service and minimize turnover.
Additionally, Wood asked for the $80,000 purchase of two trucks that had also been deferred, a Gator and walker mower for a total of $40,000, and a $60,000 generator for town hall.
Other recent Elon news coverage from The Alamance News/alamancenews.com:
Elon aldermen asked by town manager to consider property tax hike that they rejected last year (March 4 edition): https://alamancenews.com/elon-board-asked-again-to-consider-raising-towns-property-tax-rate/
Elon neighbor voices concern over littering by partying students in residential areas of town (February 25 edition): https://alamancenews.com/littering-by-university-student-neighbors-prompts-elon-homeowner-to-demand-tougher-ordinance-and-or-enforcement/
Elon University names new campus police chief (February 25 edition): https://alamancenews.com/elon-university-names-new-police-chief-for-campus/