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Cornelius News

Will a public safety director help Cornelius ‘improve efficiency?’

Millionaire Bruce Wayne did not answer the phone at his stately manor

July 5. By Dave Vieser. Does Cornelius government need an administrative layer between the Town Manager and the chiefs of our fire and police departments? Cornelius commissoners believe they do. The new town budget calls for a Director of Public Safety—full time or consultant TBD.

Mayor Woody Washam said there’s not a job description at this point. “There are several options and directions to consider and will be discussing them after some initial study,” he said. Mayor Pro Tem Michael Miltich said the position could pay around $100,000 a year.

The job was not in the original town budget as planned in May. But heated discussion over firefighter pay during the budget hearing process sparked the addition, which is just a line item at this point.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy says the new job will help the town make critical decisions in a “non-political” atmosphere.  Town officials admit the precise format for the new position is still a work in progress.

“The money that has been budgeted will allow the Town to work on the goals of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of both the Fire and Police Departments,” said Town Manager Andrew Grant. “The Town Board and staff will be discussing the best approach to accomplishing this, which could include hiring an employee, retaining a contractor, and/or working with a consultant.”

Town Board members expect the director to oversee such areas as capital investment, productivity improvement, new staffing structures and even consider regional merger opportunities. Indirectly, it takes some of the politics out of the jobs of the chief of police and fire chief.

While it is geared to address both police and fire department related issues, it was the fire department which caught the majority of attention during this year’s budget adoption process. Immediate concern was placed on salaries, but the longer range picture includes a decision on what type of fire department the town should have.

At the moment, the town’s fire department is classified as a paid fire department staffed by part-time paid firefighters and supplemented by a small group of volunteers. As a separate entity from the town, the 73-member force provides services like a vendor or contractor, and most of the part-timers are full-time firefighters elsewhere, mostly in Charlotte.

The new Director of Public Safety will likely have to focus on this structure to ascertain if it is best for the town’s future.

“By having this position and/or function filled, I believe we will take politics and social media hysteria out of the budgeting process and instead receive dispassionate fact based assurances that town funds will have a major impact on public safety.” Gilroy said.

In past years, Gilroy, a budget hawk, focused much of his attention on the police department.

Not everyone is pleased. One resident, Kristen Enwright, who effectively argued for a raise for firefighters, directed her comments to the commissioners at the town board’s June 18 meeting. “Unlike you, I have full confidence in the expertise and experience of the fire and police chief.”