LUMBERTON — About half of the city’s police officers will see an increase in pay in March after they City Council approved on Monday a measure that rewards officers for continuing education.
Council members unanimously approved a career ladder program that offers pay increases to officers who complete intermediate and advanced law enforcement certification. Pay increases for certified officers will go into immediate effect for about 40 officers, Chief Michael McNeill said.
“They know the same thing I know, we are losing officers and we really need them,” McNeill said. “The pay here is not really bad to start off with, but anything we can give them as an incentive helps. That is what council is doing here and what I’m recommending to them. I think our recruiting effort is going to be really good and our retention rate is going to be really good.”
David Blackwell, a Lumberton businessman and longtime Public Safety Committee member, spoke in favor of approving the pay incentives. Blackwell said Lumberton has for too long spent a lot of time and money training officers who depart within months for other departments.
McNeill said his force currently is about 12 to 14 officers short. Some of these positions are funded through council and some through federal grants.
“We need more officers is what we need. And that is my job to ask the council for more officers, too. We are in the process of asking for more officers right now,” McNeill said. “Fully staffed we are 95 strong.”
Council members also approved allowing officers who live outside Lumberton to take their police vehicles home with them if they live in Robeson County or adjoining counties. Allowing officers to take their police vehicles home fosters a sense of ownership and leads to better care of the vehicles, McNeill said.
In other business, the council:
— Gave City Manager Wayne Horne and City Attorney Holt Moore permission to work toward a package aimed at attracting local investment from national investment group Blackwater Resources.
“It’s an economic development program that we’ve been working on,” Horne said. “We are not in a position to go with full disclosure. Council has just given us authorization to negotiate incentives.”
Blackwater Resources is an investment group and real estate development company based in Birmingham, Alabama. Blackwater specializes in outdoor malls anchored by band-name stores. Blackwater currently has developments in 18 states.
— Heard Councilman Erich Hackney announce that before the meeting a Pride in Lumberton Award and a dozen roses were presented on behalf of the council to Lelia S. Thompson. Thompson celebrates her 100th birthday today, Valentine’s Day. She lives in Hacknew’s precinct..
— Approved measures to repair damage done to the Electrical Utilities Department by Hurricane Matthew.
— Approved closing a section of 27th Street through the end of the year so Southeastern Regional Medical Center can finish expanding its heart center operating room.
— Approved the payment of $176,000 to the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency for renewable energy development and service.
— Adopted an addition to the city nuisance ordinance related to household debris. The additional paragraph refers to accumulations of household items in and around a structure if it is deemed they have become health and safety hazards.
— Honored Emergency Services Director Mitchell Pate upon his retirement after 40 years of service to the city. Motor equipment operator Charles Locklear was recognized for his 30 years of service.
— Approved allowing the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education to use the city of Lumberton’s council chambers for meetings on a temporary basis.
— Approved allowing U.S. Rep. Robert Pettinger and his staff to use an office in City Hall a few hours each month.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or @MikeGellatly