HUNTERSVILLE – Ensuring residents’ safety through police department upgrades and adding new town staff were major talking points of Huntersville commissioners’ May 14 budget meeting.

Commissioners talked for more than two hours with local leaders, including Town Manager Greg Ferguson, Planning Director Jack Simoneau and Police Chief Phil Potter about the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

The budget will be discussed further in a May 20 public hearing during the regular town board meeting. It is expected to be up for an approval vote on June 3.

Upgrades to the Huntersville Police Department drew significant attention during this week's budget conversation. Potter said adding an extra officer to the police force would be “a good shot in the arm for us.

“Long term, we’ll need to add two officers probably in the future to handle the call load,” he said.

Other police-related improvements in the budget proposal include replacing eight portable radios and adding shotguns, SWAT equipment and improving uniforms.

Potter agreed with Commissioner Ron Julian that the yet-to-open Walmart near Eastfield Road in the Bryton development could bring about small crimes such as shoplifting, which would cause the need for more officers because of increased call volume to the area.

Commissioner Charles Guignard voiced his concerns about residents’ fears of crime.

“It’s one of the basic (values) of law enforcement,” Potter said. “There are a lot of things tied to the police mission that we do to help relieve the fear of crime in a community. We provide a presence. Our crime prevention people also provide tips for people on how to reduce crimes.”

Like last year, the proposed budget request includes new police cruisers.

“We’re requesting 10 cars. We got nine last year,” Potter said. “There’s probably 13 that should be replaced, but we looked at what we had and decided on 10.”

The department has about 65 marked cars and 18-20 unmarked cars in its fleet.

“Our chief and his staff do such a good job controlling crime with less headcount than other cities have,” Julian said.

But improvements weren’t limited to the police department.

Ferguson proposed adding another staff member to the town staff to handle clerical and assistant duties, citing the work he and other department directors do in filing items and administrative duties that hamper their daily productivity.

Commissioners were divided on that issue. Jeff Neely agreed with Ferguson’s idea of adding an employee.

“It’s a long overdue addition,” he said. “It will increase productivity over time.”

Danny Phillips disagreed, pointing out the staff’s ability to work at a high level in the recent past without needing to expand the workforce.

Ferguson believes the new position is warranted.

“Enough work is not being done,” he said. “Directors are routinely doing their own filing, and I don’t believe it’s an effective use of their time. This position would be of help as a backup and an assistant to (Assistant Town Manager) Gerry (Vincent) and I.

“The model has been thin and there’s things we don’t do. We requested the position (in last year’s budget), but removed it.”

Other budget discussions focused on the parks and recreation department’s continued ability to maintain facilities and an increase in advertising cost for rezoning and annexations. The entire meeting was held in a question-and-answer session which Mayor Pro Tem Sarah McAulay led.

Simoneau said he anticipates an increase in rezonings in the coming year, which will cost more money.

Julian echoed the idea and said he has wished the town would add an employee for code enforcement. He and Neely spoke in favor of the budget at the meeting’s conclusion.

“It’s a good, conservative budget for us moving forward,” Julian said. “It provides all areas in town with the assets needed to have a high quality of life.”

Neely echoed a similar sentiment.

“I’m quite satisfied with the questions and answers as well as the preparation of the budget.”