WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – City council members in Wilmington met for a retreat Friday to discuss a number of issues, including an update on the city's financial condition, employee compensation and changing needs for housing.
Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham talked about hourly and salary pay being behind the market on average by about 5 percent.
"Younger employees have less interest in benefits and retirement," Cheatham explained. "They want salary."
Fire Chief Buddy Martinette went on to tell council members he has trouble recruiting firefighters because of the low starting salary.
Martinette explained they hundreds of applications, but of those only a few dozen are qualified. He believes there would be more applicants to choose from if the base salary was higher.
While starting pay isn't a problem for the Wilmington Police Department, Chief Ralph Evangelous explained his officers are trying to leave in droves because they don't get pay increases for years.
"The county is kicking our butt right now," said Evangelous.
Residents in the Love Grove community are concerned there is only one access point. A train derailment essentially cut off the community from the rest of Wilmington in June.
Council members discussed the option for a second access to the neighborhood, but realize nothing will be accomplished quickly. They said a new access road will require a great deal of regulatory negotiation and won't be cheap.
A previous study recommended building the road to link Love Grove to One Tree Hill Way and would cost about $5 million.
CSX and the NCDOT won't put any money into Love Grove until a CSX rail cross study is complete, which could take at least a year.
The other alternative is for the City of Wilmington to proceed on its own, which could take at least two years.
If federal dollars are involved in the project, the time could be even longer.
"I don't think we should wait for CSX," said councilman Kevin O'Grady. "I think we'd be waiting forever."
The City of Wilmington is pursuing a temporary emergency access on old landfill property, but CSX would have to approve the project since they own the land.
The retreat is still happening. Check back for more details as they become available.