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Crime costs up in W.Va. county

February 25, 2001

Crime costs up in W.Va. county



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Crime is beginning to take a financial toll in Berkeley County, W.Va., a county official said last week

That's what Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Thursday as she requested the Berkeley County Commission give her a 50 percent increase in her budget for the next financial year.

If granted, her budget would increase from about $500,000 to about $750,000. Most of that would go to pay for four new assistant prosecutors - one of whom is being hired for the last few months of this budget year - and a part-time investigator.

"We've got to have more legal help," Games-Neely told the commissioners during the presentation of her budget request.

The county soon will add a fifth Magistrate Court judge, she said. She and her five assistants are already overburdened trying to keep up with the increasing court work, she said, especially magistrate court, where all legal processing begins.

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"The court docket ... is completely out of control," she said.

She noted her office now handles all the legal work for 70 law enforcement officers working in the field.

The commissioners were sympathetic to her pleas, having granted her the extra deputy last month. But they made no promises as they confront a growing criminal justice budget that is taking over much of the county's expenditures.

"Crime is taking a tremendous amount out of the budget," said Commissioner John Wright. "Crime costs us tremendously."

Costs of paying for prisoners at the Eastern Regional Jail now take up one-fifth of the county's $10.8 million budget and will increase next year, he said. Wright said citizens often think the only cost is a police officer arresting a suspect. They never see all the other costs - prosecutors, judges, court clerks, bailiffs and equipment needed to process a suspect, he said.

Sheriff Randy Smith also made his budget presentation Thursday. He wants an increase from about $1.6 million to $1.9 million for his law enforcement efforts.

Most of that increase comes from hiring four new officers, which will be paid for by a federal grant but must be included in the budget.

And Circuit Court Clerk Virginia Sine, who handles all the legal files for Circuit Court, said she will inherit at least 1,200 more cases in April, when domestic relations cases now handled through Magistrate Court are transferred to the Family Law Masters. That will make the paperwork her responsibility, she said.

The commissioners are nearing the end of budget presentations and will begin work on paring down requests to build a budget that will start July 1.

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