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Police levy proposed in Berkeley County

August 16, 2002|by CAILIN MCGOUGH

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A proposed excess police levy in Berkeley County would add 10 new officers to the Sheriff's Department, which could help speed emergency response times and allow for better in-depth investigations, said Cpl. Ted Snyder, president of the Berkeley County Deputy Sheriffs Association.

Snyder approached the Berkeley County Commissioners during their meeting Thursday morning, asking that they allow the three-year, $2.8 million levy proposal to appear on the general election ballot in November. The commissioners approved the concept, then gave a written copy of Snyder's proposal to their attorney for review.

A final decision is expected at next week's commission meeting.

If the levy is placed on the ballot and passes in November, county residents would pay 3.45 cents in taxes for each $100 of assessed Class II property, which includes one's home. By comparison, the Berkeley County Board of Education's proposed levy would charge 45 cents per $100 of assessed property.

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Sixty percent of the county's voters must punch the "yes" hole for the excess levy to go into effect.

Snyder said the levy would help with personnel shortages, which recently have been exacerbated by a West Virginia State Police shortage.

Ideally, five deputies would work every eight-hour shift every day, Snyder said. Currently that's not possible and sometimes only two deputies work a shift, he said.

"You'll see improved response times and more time that can be taken to investigate crimes" if the levy passes, Snyder said. "Solvable crimes are often lost because, unfortunately, we cannot follow up on it."

The Sheriffs Department has 35 deputies and two vacancies. Application has been made for a COPS grant for three more deputies. Another 10 would be added with levy money - bringing the number of officers to 50.

Along with hiring more officers, the levy would help pay for uniforms, 18 new cruisers in the first year, training, salary increases, benefits and other items, Snyder said.

Keeping current officers is equally important, he said. Levy money would be used for salary increases ranging from $2,700 to $4,000, depending on rank. A Berkeley County deputy's starting salary is $24,622, which is increased to $26,197 after his or her one-year probationary period ends.

Commissioner John E. Wright said he favors the levy, especially if it would help reduce the number of drunken drivers on the roads and help fight crime.

Wright said crime is not diminishing, making it important to pass the levy as soon as possible.

"If the people think ... things are going to be like they used to be, they're deceiving themselves," he said.

Commission President Howard Strauss said he, too, favors the levy. Commissioner Robert Burkhart was absent from the meeting.

"It's tough to ask somebody to dig a little deeper," Snyder said, so he plans to meet with Berkeley County deputies soon to discuss ways to tell residents about the levy and its importance.

"We are just outnumbered" by the 2 percent of the population that commits crimes, said Berkeley County Sheriff W. Randy Smith, pointing out that in one hour Wednesday, four deputies handled calls for a welfare check, larceny, burglary, traffic accident, attempted burglary and battery.

Morgan and Jefferson counties do not have an excess police levies.

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