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Berkeley County looks at refund options

January 08, 2001

Berkeley County looks at refund options



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Berkeley County officials are trying to determine how much money to reimburse one company and one local organization for police services they paid to have provided by the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office.

Both the Sheetz convenience store at Interstate 81 and W.Va. 45 and the Shenandoah Women's Center used sheriff's deputies to provide extra security.

Although it is not unclear how much money was spent or how long the practice occurred, the money will have to be returned, county officials said. State law prohibits taxpayers paying twice for services, said county commission attorney Norwood Bentley III.

"The theory is taxpayers are already paying for services of the Sheriff's Department," Bentley said. "You're just inviting abuse and problems if you get into the job of providing private security for corporations or any other group. They've already paid their taxes."

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John Vanorsdale, former chief deputy for law enforcement, said deputies would sign up for the work at the office, then work their off-duty hours in uniform and with a police car. They were paid overtime pay by the county, which then was reimbursed by Sheetz and the women's center.

"I don't know why that is illegal for them to do that," said Vanorsdale, chief under former Sheriff Ron Jones. "This was off duty. The county wasn't losing any money."

Vanorsdale said the organizations weren't paying twice for the same services. Tax money pays for regular patrol services, while the extra money was for extra security, he said.

"For one officer to be there, which is what Sheetz wanted, is not something we would regularly do," he said. "I didn't see anything wrong with it then and I don't see anything wrong with it now."

But Bentley said the county cannot be in the business of treating people or groups differently.

"If there is a law enforcement problem, we should be taking care of it," he said. "Where does it stop? If we do it for Sheetz, do we do it for 7-Eleven? For Dupont? If they want it, then what do you do?"

Sheetz had a contract with the Sheriff's Department. County officials are trying to find it to review it.

The women's center had no contract. Center officials called police at the beginning of a week if they wanted services that Saturday when parents visited their kids.

The center used the Sheriff's Office for about 18 months, up to five hours a week. Deputies were paid $16 an hour, said Ann Smith, executive director of the center. That would total about $5,700 at the most.

"It was usually in cases where there was child abuse or neglect situations," she said.

The commissioners put a stop to the practice once it was brought to their attention earlier this year.

"I never heard of such a thing," Commissioner Robert Burkhart said last week as commissioners discussed how to repay the money.

The commissioners believe the Sheriff's Office did not have the authority to contract with Sheetz, said Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond.

New Sheriff Randy Smith hoped to be able to take the money and donate it to a worthy cause, but he was told it must be returned. He agreed with the decision to terminate the practice.

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