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Raises for prosecutors approved in Berkeley County

July 26, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Fearing a staff exodus to higher-paying jobs, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely received permission Thursday to give assistant prosecutors raises nearly four times what other county employees can get.

Two of Berkeley County's six assistant prosecutors left this month for jobs in Jefferson County - Gina Groh to be a prosecutor, and Hassan Rasheed to be a public defender.

Three other prosecutors "have job offers on the table" and a seventh position is open, Games-Neely told the Berkeley County Commission.

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"I've got to have bodies I can put before a judge," she said, noting that Berkeley County is second in the state in criminal caseload to Kanawha County, which has 21/2 times the population.

The Berkeley County Commission previously let Games-Neely give $1,500 raises next year, the maximum allowed by county policy.

By a 2-1 vote on Thursday, the commission said Games-Neely may give each assistant an additional $3,800 raise, for a total of $5,300 apiece.

The money was already in the prosecuting attorney's budget, but Games-Neely needed the commission's permission to reallocate it.

Commission President Howard Strauss voted no, arguing that raises should have been considered before the fiscal year started.

He also objected to the amount and the potential precedent.

"When you put a maximum increase at 1,500 (dollars) and then you start making exceptions, it's going to snowball," he said.

"We're not making any exceptions," Commissioner Robert Burkhart replied.

Burkhart, who voted in favor, said Games-Neely and other department heads have the power to reconfigure their budgets.

"I don't like it because I think it circumvents the salary schedule, but legally, she has the right to do it," Burkhart said.

Commissioner John Wright also voted in favor. His only comment was, "It's appalling that we're second in crime in the state."

The commission said department heads should not consider the raises for assistant prosecutors as a precedent.

The commission accepted the resignations of Groh and Rasheed June 13. At the time, Strauss said it was unfortunate they left for higher pay, but the commission must protect taxpayers' money, according to meeting minutes.

Burkhart cautioned Games-Neely on Thursday that her assistants may threaten again next year to get higher-paying jobs.

"If they don't like it, they can go out the door and we'll try to replace them," Burkhart said.

Burkhart said county departments have salary schedules so managers won't play favorites when giving raises.

Games-Neely said the money for the raises came out of the salaries of the departing assistants.

With the newly-approved raises, assistant prosecutors' salaries now range from $38,200 to $56,700, she said.

That does not include the $34,500 salary for the most recent hire.

Those salaries don't match what Jefferson or Morgan counties or surrounding states pay, Games-Neely said.

The raises will probably keep at least two assistant prosecutors from leaving, she said.

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