City passes budget focusing on pay and crime

Police Chief Barry Rountree

City passes budget focusing on pay and crime
June 23
06:47 2016

A budget with an emphasis on city worker wages and police recruitment passed the Winston-Salem City Council with a 6-2 vote.

The  $422.2 million budget increases pay across the board to help with city worker retention. Originally, it was also going to create a fourth police district in and around downtown to help with police coordination in that area. That plan was nixed in favor of more robust police recruiting.

This comes at a time when the city has seen 14 homicides in 2016, compared to six at this time last year.  Police Chief Barry Rountree told City Council the department is concerned with the rise in homicides. He said cities across the country have seen a spike in violent crime. The local homicide suspects and victims usually knew each other, he said.

“Primarily these homicides we have experienced in 2016 have been the result of individuals choosing to settle a dispute with a firearm or some other type of weapon” said Rountree.

He said law enforcement can’t predict crimes of passion like the recent homicides. All resources are being  devoted to those cases, with detectives working overtime. He said investigators still need the public’s help to solve some of the cases and hopes those with information will come forward.

On recruiting, Rountree said many young people are not choosing the law enforcement profession because of the increased scrutiny and unease toward police nationally.

“As you can imagine, not only in Winston-Salem but across the country, it’s become more difficult to attract people to be law enforcement professionals,” he said.

Though currently understaffed, the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) has not cut back on services but is using overtime to compensate for vacant positions. The $310,000 in the budget for police recruitment includes signing and referral bonuses, additional scholarships, expanding recruiting areas and reinstating a police cadet program at Forsyth Technical Community College.

City Council Member James Taylor, who chairs the public safety committee, said that there was a community roundtable held recently to address the increased violence. As a result of participants’ suggestions, the city increased its funding of the Urban League Summer Youth Employment Program and Successful Outcomes After Release (SOAR) grants.

The two “no” votes on the budget were City Council Members Robert Clark and Jeff MacIntosh. Clark felt the budget tried to do too much by hiring 30 new positions while raising pay. It tried to do everything while not accomplishing those things as well as it should, he said.

MacIntosh said that he was “very happy” with “long overdue” pay increases for employees. But he said he felt the final budget, which eliminated new two data analyst positions, emphasized “bodies over technology,” which makes the city less competitive.

The other City Council members were supportive of the budget, but said it was the first in a series of steps to deal with city worker pay. Among its provisions, it increases the minimum city employee wage to $11 an hour. The budget also contains a three-year study on city compensation and increasing the minimum wage to $15 within five years.

“I don’t believe that as a city we can talk about dealing with issues of poverty if we don’t take the first steps,” said City Council Member Derwin Montgomery.

The budget, which increases property taxes by 2 cents per $100 of property value, contains a 2 percent supplemental  raise next January for firefighter and police officers. There’re additional raises for police officers with five to 15 years of service to address attrition issues.

All other employees receive a 3 percent market adjustment. There’re also merit-pay raises of 1.5 percent to 3 percent for all city employees. The city will also be initiating a 401(a)  supplemental retirement plan with a 2 percent contribution by the city.

Among the new positions in the budget is the first of three fire safety inspectors to be hired over the next three years that will eliminate the need for firefighters to do fire code inspections. The budget provides money for increased demand for TransAid and Stormwater Management services, funds the change in Winston-Salem Transit Authority bus routes and provides money for major Recreation and Parks maintenance.

It provides more than $2 million in grants for nonprofits like The Shepherd’s Center, Experiment in Self Reliance, HARRY Veterans Services, SciWorks, National Black Theatre Festival and the Arts Council.

During the  public comment session, several residents expressed concerns about whether East Winston would get an equitable amount of the budget, saying they felt the area has been neglected in economic development and in its recreation centers. A representative of Whole Man Ministries also appealed to the city for funding. The nonprofit, which houses homeless veterans with its Homes 4 Our Heroes program, was denied its $25,000 grant request in this budget.

About Author

Todd Luck

Todd Luck

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors