CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The police chief in North Carolina's largest city says he is having a tough time filling the 174 openings on the force and needs leaders to boost pay to attract applicants.

The Charlotte Observer reports Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told the city council Wednesday he's trying to get the department out of a hole which produced a 20 percent decline in job applicants in the last two years.

Putney said higher pay would help. Until then, he said his department has started a marketing campaign to attract more candidates.

The department has about 1,800 people.

The Fraternal Order of Police has asked for a 15 percent base pay increase and a reduction in the number of steps needed for officers to reach full pay. The FOP has been lobbying City Manager Marcus Jones and council members this year, saying higher pay is essential to improve morale and keep officers from leaving.

Republican council member Ed Driggs urged colleagues to hold an additional meeting to discuss police pay, saying he wanted their views fully known before Jones makes his budget recommendation in early May. But other council members were unwilling to have an additional workshop on police pay after having already had two meetings on the budget.

"We ought to let the manager do his job," Democratic council member Dimple Ajmera said.

Historically, council members make only small changes to a city manager's recommended budget in the month before the state requires cities to pass a budget, in June.

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Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com