Crime costs highlight Berkeley County budget increase

March 14, 2001

Crime costs highlight Berkeley County budget increase

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

Costs related to crime will absorb most of the increase in the projected Berkeley County budget for the next fiscal year, county officials said Wednesday.

The budget plan is scheduled for a vote at the regular meeting of the Berkeley County Commission today.

From increased costs of housing prisoners in the Eastern Regional Jail to setting aside seed money for a new judicial center, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent on handling the effects of crime in the county, said Commission President Howard Strauss.

When comparing the current budget with the projected one, the county budget that takes effect July 1 will show an increase from about $11.8 million to about $13.2 million, officials said.

"The bulk of the increases are related to judicial items," Strauss said.

Heading the proposed list is an additional $400,000 to pay for the increased cost of housing prisoners at the Eastern Regional Jail. That cost is being passed on by the state through an increased per-day rate charged to the county. The county will budget $2 million for housing the prisoners and may have to spend more, depending on the actual number of prisoners, Strauss said.


The commission also has tentatively agreed to set aside $200,000 as an initial investment in a judicial center that could cost $20 million or more. The commission has appointed a 27-member committee to study the issue.

"It's one thing to say this is what you're going to do, but when you put money behind it, it shows you are serious about moving ahead," Strauss said. Work on the judicial complex will move to the front burner of the commission's concerns once the budget is approved, he said.

Another full-time assistant prosecutor would be added, adding to one already approved for this budget year. Part-time help would be added in the Sheriff's Office and the Circuit Clerk's Office, if the budget is approved.

The Sheriff's Office will add four more deputies under a federal program that will pay most of the costs. But the county will have to absorb some costs, Strauss said. It will also buy four new police cruisers to go with the two it just purchased.

Among other proposed budget items will be a one-step salary increase for county employees. The increase is based on performance and seniority. It can range from more than $300 a year to up to $1,200 a year, depending on the job, officials said.

The county also has tentatively committed $200,000 to fixing up its buildings, half of which will go to fixing the leaky roof and dome of the Berkeley County Courthouse.

"We have massive building problems," Strauss said.

The county will keep about $600,000 in reserve, as has been the case for several years.

Agencies submitted requests for about $600,000 above the amount the county has to spend.

No department suffered major cuts, only reductions in their proposed increases, he said. The prosecuting attorney's office, for example, will not get all four assistant prosecutors and an investigator requested by Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

The commission meets at 9:30 a.m. for its regular meeting, and will take up budget issues at 2 p.m.

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