HUNTERSVILLE – In its current budget, about 42 percent of the town’s operational expenditures are directed toward police, fire and public safety services. As a result, presentations from leaders of those agencies were highlighted during the town board’s two-day preview of planned, proposed and potential costs for the next fiscal year.

At the board’s annual budget retreat, held Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at town hall, interim Police Chief Bence Hoyle and Fire Chief Jim Dotoli delivered summaries of aspirations along with funding requests they expect to include in formal budget packages submitted to Town Manager Anthony Roberts.

Shift changes, spending options

Hoyle, in his first month of duty with the Huntersville Police Department (a $12.8 million entry on the current town budget), told commissioners he was still compiling details for his budget plan, but added scheduling adjustments and in-house personnel re-assignments were his initial high priorities.

Hoyle, describing the amount of overtime currently included in department operations as “a symptom” of other issues, said he was analyzing scheduling and looking to “simplify and clarify” shift assignments. He told commissioners there may be some pushback from officers about the changes, but added “I’m not trying to make anybody miserable, just trying to be equitable with the schedule.”

Hoyle, a veteran law enforcement administrator who accepted the interim post in Huntersville in January after 11 years as chief of the Cornelius department, said he had notified officers of the pending changes and the possible impact on schedules.

“I told them if you’re ever not going to like me, this is going to be it,” Hoyle said.

Hoyle also said he also planned to make assignment adjustments to allow the officer in charge of staff recruitment and retention efforts to focus more on those duties. He added compensation adjustments the town board approved earlier in the year had helped improve the department’s retention rate, but added he was still working to fill seven budgeted, sworn officer positions.

On his list of planned expenditures, Hoyle said he hoped to use $735,000 in asset forfeiture (AF) funds for many of the prioritized acquisitions and updates. The money, primarily obtained through officer participation on various task forces, can’t be used for day-to-day operational expenses, but Hoyle said he will see if the criteria allows him to use the money on building maintenance (a $80,000 to $85,000 roof repair) and a customized crime scene vehicle ($50,000).

A crime scene 3D scanner ($83,200), a crash-data software system ($16,000), two SWAT vests for officers ($6,000) and a door-breaching tool ($4,500) were other acquisitions Hoyle hopes will fall within AF fund parameters.

An animal service truck ($34,900) to replace a 12-year-old vehicle that required $6,000 in repairs last year is an acquisition Hoyle recommends that would not qualify for AF funding.

New truck, higher pay

In his report, Dotoli previewed his request for $485,535 in additional spending for fire equipment, personnel and participation in a countywide informational network designed for first responders.

A new multi-function, 95-foot ladder truck ($1.2 million, financed with $106,800 annual payments) is the big-ticket item for the fire department, which provides fire and emergency response services as an outside vendor. It is a $4 million part of the current town budget.

Dotoli also asked for $1.50 hourly raises for the 110 members of the department (which would total $286,325 a year) and $85,410 to create the position of duty chief officer to serve as an incident commander from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day. The new responsibilities would be split among five current officers.

An annual $7,000 fee to join the county’s “First Due” system, a mobile network stocked with information about specific locations – details like hazardous material storage, elevators, school hallways and more that Dotoli said “tells us what to expect at a site” – will also be part of Dotoli’s HFD funding request.

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