The starting salary for Rocky Mount police officers is now set at $60,000.
A press release Friday afternoon from City Hall said City Manager Keith Rogers Jr., who has been on the job for nearly a month and a half, approved the raise effective immediately, and a promotional flyer began appearing on Facebook.
A municipal spokesman told the Telegram that the salaries of current police officers will be adjusted accordingly.
Rogers’ action represents a 36 percent increase over the previous rate of pay for newly hired Rocky Mount police officers.
Rogers said in prepared remarks as part of the news release that in the short term, funding for the higher salaries will come from savings related to existing vacancies in the police department.
Rogers said the proposed municipal budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which will be released next month, will include funding to maintain that $60,000 starting salary.
And he said the higher starting pay should improve staffing in the police department.
And he noted that the city is working to update the classification and compensation structure to ensure that all city employees are valued.
“An increased starting salary for our officers will directly address our significant vacancies and improve our recruiting efforts,” he said.
The Telegram, in a story published Feb. 24, said the police department was short of 41 sworn staffing positions, which was more than 23 percent of the department’s 175 sworn officer positions.
Police Chief Robert Hassell said in prepared remarks as part of the news release Friday that he appreciates the support from Rogers.
“He has given us the ability to ensure that we retain experienced, committed and dedicated officers and have the ability to recruit the best in the profession for years to come,” Hassell said. “This demonstrates Rocky Mount’s commitment to being a leader in officer compensation in our state and competitive beyond.”
And Hassell said the higher starting pay is meaningful for the police department’s officers, and the officers are second to none.
“We invest in them as they invest in our community and public safety,” Hassell said.
Facing the same challenges as other agencies across the state and nation, he said, “In today’s market, it has been difficult to retain experienced officers and recruit new individuals willing to commit to a life of service.”
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone told the Telegram that he believes what happened Friday in Rocky Mount is well-deserved.
“And other law enforcement agencies are just going to have to understand that if you want professional law enforcement, you’re going to have to pay professional salaries,” Stone said. “I commend the city of Rocky Mount.”
Stone went before the Nash County Board of Commissioners last year and got a raise for its officers. The starting salary for officers in Nash County is currently $43,000.
“But it’s clear that other city and county governments are going to have to step up their game to retain good employees,” Stone said.
Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis told the Telegram, “You never compare county government salaries to municipal government salaries.”
Davis said Nash County completed a wage study last year that was based on surrounding counties and counties of the same size and same total assessed values, and the county commission fully funded what the wage study recommended.
Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson told the Telegram that ever since he became the county’s top law enforcement officer in 2017, he has been asking for more pay for his police force.
“I have some of the most dedicated and hard-working employees in the area,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson also noted that much of his team’s paperwork is in the Edgecombe County portion of Rocky Mount.
Atkinson said his proposal is, “Our compensation should be comparable to what law enforcement in Rocky Mount gets.”
The newspaper asked Atkinson if he has been able to get help from the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners regarding a raise for his officers.
“Myself and my county manager (Eric Evans) are having some positive conversations as we speak,” Atkinson said. “And I hope this will enlighten the citizens of Edgecombe County and our leadership to take some steps like the leadership in Rocky Mount has done.”
Atkinson said the starting salary for officers in Edgecombe County is currently between $40,000 and $41,000.
Atkinson said that “obviously” he has a hard time keeping officers, but that “I have an experienced command staff and I have a compassionate group of leaders down here in Edgecombe County.”
At the same time, he said he is concerned not only for his road assistants, but for his detention center staff and his emergency operators, and that he would also like the latter two groups of his team to be paid more.
Overall, he said, “Rocky Mount stepped up and did the right thing.”
And he said he hopes Edgecombe County’s leadership steps up and does the right thing for his team.
In Rocky Mount, City Councilman Andre Knight told the Telegram he supports Hassell, the rest of the police department and the pay raise “100 percent.”
“But I also want to talk about the city employees who have been forgotten, who have fought for fair and just wages and salaries,” Knight said.
Knight spoke about sanitation workers who have been discriminated against for a long time and mistreated by previous administrations.
Knight also said there were sanitation workers who had told him they were considering going on strike over concerns about inadequate equipment, lack of help and stress and overwork.
“And they were just tired of it,” Knight said. “And so we asked them, while we were in our transition, to please give us a chance to work with senior management to get them to where they need to be. And I hope we do.”
Knight also talked about public works employees who are out digging the ditches and laying cement, about utility workers who read the water meters, and about those at the call center who have to deal with stressful communications with residents, including being cursed.
In addition, Knight said there are firefighters who are concerned and upset about the move Friday to get more pay for the police officers because they are also first responders.
Knight also said the same reaction is coming across the board from other municipal operations employees.
In his comments to the newspaper, Knight made it clear he hopes Rogers will continue to make bold moves like the one Friday for employees in the other departments.
Rogers reported to work at City Hall on March 6 after serving as manager of the city of Dumfries, Va.
The City Council voted on December 12, 2022 to hire Rogers to succeed Interim City Manager Peter Varney.
Varney had been serving as Rocky Mount’s top day-to-day municipal manager on an interim basis because Rochelle Small-Toney announced her retirement on January 20, 2022. Small-Toney had been city manager since 2017.