When the town’s draft budget was first presented on May 10, a cautious Town Council asked for the staff to justify its request for eight new employees in the 2016-17 budget year, with more than half coming from the police department.
Staffing costs take up a good chunk of the town’s annual operating budget, and unlike one-time capital expenditures, new employees generally remain on the budget sheet for years to come.
But at the council’s meeting Tuesday, May 24, it got what it asked for. Martha Paige, Morrisville’s town manager, made a passionate case on behalf of each of the requested positions, which comprise four new police officers, a police records clerk, a project planner, an inspector and an administrative assistant.
Paige painted a bleak picture of staffing conditions in the police department, which is stretched thin by vacancies and has not added new positions since 2008.
“We’re not doing the community policing we value for this town,” Paige said. “All we’re able to do is respond to calls. The community focus is missing because we just don’t have the resources to do that. I think everyone would tell you that’s where we want to focus our efforts.”
Towns typically add police patrol officers in fours to make an extra officer available for each patrol shift. Paige said a shortage of officers available to respond to calls has also compromised the department’s crime analysis and prevention efforts.
The council appeared convinced, although Councilman Satish Garimella had some questions.
“I want to be comfortable answering the citizens as far as why we need more police,” he said. “We are a very safe area and we want it to stay that way, but at the same time, what’s the demand for it?”
Paige’s depiction of a staff stretched too thin to attend to anything beyond immediate demands extended to the town’s administrative and planning departments.
“We’re the only municipality in Wake County that does not have a records clerk, and most have more than one,” she said.
The town’s lack of support staff means that the town’s planners and administrators are often forced into customer service roles when they need to focus on executing road- and development-related projects, Paige said. Increased development in the last few years has placed extra strain, too, on the town employees tasked with inspecting new structures in town and collecting fees.
“We decreased personnel in that department a few years ago because we were in a recession and that was fine, but we’re clearly as busy as ever now,” Councilwoman Liz Johnson said. “And it’s the one department that pays for itself.”
Morrisville’s town staff hasn’t grown at the same rate as its population, which was 23,820 in 2015, according to recently released Census results. The town has added about 5,000 residents, or increased by 26.7 percent, since 2010, according to the Census.
A chart presented at the meeting shows the town has 6.8 employees for every 1,000 residents, down from 11.4 in 2008. Nearby Apex and Cary have about nine and eight, respectively; Fuquay-Varina and Raleigh’s figures are around 9.4.
If the council approves the eight new positions, which would give the town 170 full-time town employees, Morrisville’s rate would rise to 7.4. It would be the largest single-year increase in town staff in at least a decade.
A work session, set for May 31, and a public hearing at the June 14 council meeting are the two remaining opportunities for the council to tweak the budget. Council members will vote to adopt a budget at the body’s June 28 meeting.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan